What’s Going On In Mary Worth? March – June 2017


Interested in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Sure, who here wouldn’t be? If you’re looking for a recap of the current plot, it’s cruise ships. But in case the cruise ships plot ever ends there might be something more to say. So if you’re reading this much later than June 2017 you’ll want to see my most recent story summary. It’ll be at or near the top of this page. Good luck, meanwhile.

Mary Worth

26 March – 18 June 2017

I mentioned last time the new Mary Worth had lurched into action. Mary Worth had taken Toby’s warnings that they hadn’t been important to a story in ages. Mary Worth decided to make her big story a cruise ship. I had understated then just how much Toby and Mary Worth told each other about how awesome cruise ships were. You know, how they let people with different interests have fun despite travelling together and all that. This had been the focus of like 18 weeks of strips in a row before my last summary. I thought that had all been prologue to make sure no readers questioned why someone might decide to go on a cruise ship as a recreational activity. And I imagined most of you would be willing to take that as read.

Since that time, Mary Worth and Toby have gotten to the cruise ship and been on the cruise ship. A lot. I’m not sure the cruise ship vacation will ever end. I’m not sure it’s capable of ending. This is a cruise ship vacation that my parents and their friend who always went on cruise ship vacations with them might well say was too much cruise ship.

Mary Worth overheard Derek and Katie Hoosier thinking about how this was their first cruise and latched onto them with the resolve and determination of Lieutenant Columbo noticing that Patrick McGoohan is in this episode. But she establishes pretty quick that the Hoosiers are indeed linked in an approved heterosexual monogamous relationship. What possible problem could they have? Well, Derek’s hoping the cruise will help him finally break his smoking habit.

Katie Hoosier: 'I can just imagine us getting LOST as we RUSH from one part of the ship to another to attend events!' Mary Worth: 'The ship is BIG, but if you ever lose your ORIENTATION and don't know if you're facing the FRONT of the ship or the AFT look down at the CARPETING. In the hallways, the FISH PATTERN points to the FRONT of the ship!' Katie: 'THANKS! That'll help FIRST-TIME cruisers like us!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 2nd of April, 2017. I have no idea if this fish-pattern thing is generally true about cruise ships. My only cruise-like experience was an overnight ferry we took once from Amsterdam to Newcastle, England, that was great fun and had soooooo many clearly-labelled vegetarian options in the buffet and then a whole table with nothing but cheeses and crackers and if we weren’t going to Blackpool Pleasure Beach I believe we would still be there, eating. Anyway, I didn’t notice the carpets that I remember and my camera was only barely working after getting soaked in a rainstorm at Efteling amusement park in the Netherlands so I can’t check my pictures.

Mary Worth and Toby talk with each other about how CRUISE SHIPS offer all manner of relaxation and entertainment options, including towel folding, lamb chops, and theater. Derek and Katie go to one of the professional entertainments, a show featuring professional entertainment professional entertainer Esme, who sings and dances and wins the wide-eyed gaze of Derek. And that attention is returned by Esme, who meets him at a secret smoke break. She’s smitten by him, which is understandable. Women with tolerably successful entertainment careers are hard-pressed to ignore starstruck young-adult males who exist and have definite physical properties and are able to set cigarettes on fire.

Derek: 'I SHOULDN'T be here!' Esme: 'WHY NOT? What's WRONG with an INNOCENT cigarette?' Derek: 'I PROMISED someone I'd QUIT.' Esme: 'Promises are made to be BROKEN.' Derek: 'I SUPPOSE. In any case, let me INTRODUCE myself. My name is DEREK.' Esme: 'We spoke BRIEFLY after my performance last night. Glad to know your NAME.' Derek: 'Where are you FROM, Esme?' Esme: 'ARIZONA.' Derek: 'I would have guessed SHANGRI-LA ... or OLYMPUS ... or VENUS!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 7th of May, 2017. The first of a great many smoke breaks Derek and Esme take, making me wonder if there’s maybe some new rule about smoking around the offices of Comic Strip Master Command that Karen Moy and June Brigman are worried about? I don’t know. Anyway, they’re staying very calm considering in the first panel the smoking deck is like sixty feet above water and in the center panel last row it’s like ten feet above the waterline.

So smitten, in fact, that when the CRUISE SHIP stopped in Haiti for a bathroom break, Esme locked Katie Hoosier in the nation’s bathroom. Derek gets all tense and worried about this. Not unreasonably, I should say, and I’m reminded of an anecdote my father tells about their honeymoon whenever he needs my mother to roll her eyes at him, about what turned out unexpectedly to be a pay toilet in Spain. They knew about the Spain part going in. Not so much about the pay part, nor about the attendants making sure users didn’t leave without paying. Mary Worth suggests Derek try checking Haiti’s bathroom, and what do you know but she was right and everyone was silly not to ask her sooner. All return to the CRUISE SHIP, but Derek ponders what kind of world he lives in that innocent American tourists can get locked in foreign bathrooms.

When Derek and Mary free Katie from a locked restroom. Mary Worth: 'WHAT HAPPENED?' Katie: 'When I went IN, the door was PROPPED OPEN, but when I came out of the stall, the door was CLOSED and LOCKED!' Mary: 'Maybe it was a PRANK. It could've been a KID who did it.' Derek: 'We LEFT the States to get some PEACE ... only to get THIS!' Mary: 'The MAIN thing is you're ALL RIGHT!' Katie: 'YES, just a little SHAKEN UP! Let's get back to the SHIP before it LEAVES us BEHIND!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 21st of May, 2017. I am not sure I have ever enjoyed a person’s emotional state more than I have enjoyed Derek’s rage at Katie getting stuck in Haiti’s bathroom.

Derek fumes about this all the way through the CRUISE SHIP’s stops at Jamaica and Cozumel. At least he joins Esme for smoke breaks through all this. The smoke breaks aren’t enough for Esme, who follows Derek to one of the CRUISE SHIP’s piano lounges to give an impromptu concert. Katie catches Derek committing some solo smoking and kicks him out of their cabin if he’s going to be doing that to his lungs. Moments later Katie checks on him and sees that not only is he smoking, but he’s kissing Esme, a woman who is not her. Derek protests that it wasn’t what it looked like. The entertainment professionals on CRUISE SHIP will just naturally pursue and kiss innocent smoking passengers.

Derek: 'My WIFE won't let me BACK in the room tonight.' Esme: 'Stay with ME ... I'm in cabin 1122.' Derek: 'Esme ... you're BEAUTIFUL, TALENTED ... and an INCREDIBLE woman.' Esme: 'Then come to my ROOM tonight! We'll make MAGIC together!' Derek: 'I'm SORRY, but I have to DECLINE ... I think I need to be ALONE right now.' Esme: 'I'M LEAVING THE INVITATION OPEN, DEREK! FOR WHEN YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 18th of June, 2017. Go ahead and mock the formalism of Derek’s “I’m SORRY, but I have to DECLINE”. Go ahead and wonder about Esme’s lung capacity if she can shout out “I’M LEAVING THE INVITATION OPEN, DEREK! FOR WHEN YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND!” (Remember she’s a professional singer: she’s surely learned a few things about breath control and good projection.) I’m saying, switch to Turner Classic Movies one of those hours they don’t really care what they’re showing, and you could slip this scene into some 1930s play-done-on-film and it could work. The cruise ship would be a canvas backdrop and there’d be none of these fancy non-level camera angles, but you know, I’d watch the rest of it.

Katie is having none of these excuses. Fair enough given that her husband’s been acting like the character in a Jam Handy film whose thoughtless behavior we, the audience, are supposed to discuss amongst ourselves. Plus she got locked in Haiti’s bathroom. It’s going to take a lot to get her to like CRUISE SHIP vacations again. But, then, Mary Worth has barely had anything to do this story except explain to the Hoosiers how CRUISE SHIP carpeting will show you which way is forward and which way is back. And eating things. And going to that towel-folding demonstration. Plus, after all, Katie and Derek are having one actual breach of trust (the smoking thing) and one crazy-but-basically-a-misunderstanding issue (Esme). I bet she has them meddled back into a happy marriage, possibly with children, well before the CRUISE SHIP finishes its tour, if it ever does.

Next week: Terry Beatty’s CRUISE SHIP Rex Morgan, M.D., if all goes well.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose seven points today as someone finally explained how to make a cell phone actually scan a QR code so it does something, although projections are for the market to drop precipitously tomorrow what with how we’ve already forgotten how to do it.

223

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? March 2017 – June 2017


Hi, reader. This is my best attempt at explaining what’s been going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail for the last couple months. If for you the last couple months do not include, like, May of 2017 then I might be writing here about a story that’s not going on anymore, if the current story ever ends. Right now it’s not looking promising. But in case the story has ended by the time you read this, try reading this instead, as a more current essay might be among its first links. I hope this helps you find what you’re looking for.

Mark Trail

19 March – 10 June 2017

My last Mark Trail report coincided strangely well with the start of a new adventure. 17-year-periodic guest star Johnny Lone Elk had invited Mark Trail to South Dakota, there to watch the prairie dog census and to find out if there’s some way to get the black-footed ferret to explode a boat. I’m interested in this because as a kid I was deeply impressed by that Peanuts sequence where Snoopy pretended to be a prairie dog. To this day I think of the punch line “prairie dogs are making a comeback” as the sort of appropriately odd not-a-joke thing to be dropped into a conversation and so make it that much needlessly weirder, so once again I’m reminded why everybody treated me like that in middle school. Anyway, this would be the start of a lot of talk about prairie dogs by Mark Trail.

Meanwhile in Rapid City, South Dakota, a local tough has robbed a bank, taken a woman hostage, and spotted in the fresh-arrived Mark Trail just the unwitting getaway driver he wanted. Mark Trail, thinking fast, has enough of an internal monologue to ponder the need to alert some official without betraying what he’s doing to the bank robber. And, to a wonder, he does it without letting the reader in on his plan.

Bank Robber: 'Being a writer must be a pretty lame job these days! I mean, does anybody even read anything anymore?' Mark Trail: 'It has proven to be a good career for me to provide for my family!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of April, 2017. Granting that this is impossible, is there any way that all cinematic portrayals of Mark Trail could be done by Michael Rennie? Because I feel like he’s just perfect for deploying dialogue like “It has proven to be a good career for me to provide for my family!” in the wake of being kidnapped at the rental car counter.

My best guess: he’s figuring to pull a Ransom of Red Chief only instead of being a holy terror, he’s going to drive the bank robber past every possible scene of animals interacting in some way. Am I being unfairly snarky? From the 19th of April through the 28th the strip showed the car driving past a clutch of groundhogs, wolf pups, some falcon-class bird learning that it can’t just pick up a jackrabbit, a herd of sheep, another falcon trying to prey upon the dialogue balloons, a couple rams head-butting one another, and some moose or something. After that the bank robber has enough of this, figures out Mark Trail’s got a tracking device put on the car, and rips that out.

Kidnapped Woman: 'Mark Trail, wow! You know, I read your work! In fact, I just read your latest article online!' Mark Trail: 'Oh yeah? What did you think?' Kidnapped Woman: 'I hate to sound like some of the snarky comments made by people online, but you're no entomologist!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2017. I would like to think this isn’t back-snarking at me for getting tired of the endless volcano explosion on Invasive Ant Island but who knows? Anyway that’s burying the lede, which is: Mark Trail is aware of the existence of snark. This changes everything!

After driving past some buffalo, antelope I guess, and groundhogs looking disapproving at a wolf the bank robber tells Mark Trail what they’re going to do. They’re going to go to Johnny Lone Elk’s, tell him that the bank robber and the kidnapped woman are his new camera crew, and put the stolen money in Mark Trail’s camera bags. Then they’ll all go off together to see these prairie dogs and an abandoned airstrip that Mark Trail exposited about earlier.

Meanwhile the local FBI, looking for the bank robbers, is following the clue that there’s something weird about how Mark Trail rented the car. I admit I have never tried to rent a car while being held at gunpoint by a bank robber, but for the life of me I can’t figure how I’d do something weird with my car rental. I mean weird enough that car rental people would notice. Maybe tell them yes, I’d love the car insurance that’s an extra $75 a day and doesn’t do anything my home insurance doesn’t do anyway.

Johnny Lone Elk's wife: 'I've got a bad feeling about this - that bald guy looks shady!' Johnny: 'That's because you suffer from peladophobia!' Other Guy: 'Ha ha ha!' Mrs Lone Elk: 'That's not entirely true ... I think guys with man buns are creepy too!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of May, 2017. Life goal: hire an acting class to figure some way of staging this conversation that doesn’t come across as some theater of the absurd stuff. And I will record every single run-through and trial and release it as an experimental film that will sweep, I tell you, positively sweep the Capital City Film Festival’s coveted “The Heck Am I Even Watching?” awards.

Mark Trail does his best not to act weird around Johnny and his wife and their handyman Nick Charles. But a stray $100 makes Johnny’s wife suspect there’s some connection to the Rapid City bank robbery, suggesting that she’s not really into this story and hopes to get it to the end as soon as possible. On the trail, Johnny knows something’s wrong and arranges for some dramatic talk about trick riding. Meanwhile a prairie dog tries to evade another swooping hawk, possibly the same one that was getting kicked by a rabbit a couple weeks back.

Mrs Lone Elk: '[ The bank robbery ] might explain Mark's odd behavior - Not coming in the house and leaving with potentially bad weather headed this way!' Other Guy: 'Plus it would explain why Mark left his new camera equipment in his vehicle!' Mrs Lone Elk: 'That's the same thing Sheriff Stober said when i told him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of May, 2017. I love the dirty look being given the cougar by what is either an abnormally skinny raccoon or else a ringtailed cat that doesn’t realize this story is taking place in South Dakota, like five hundred miles from anywhere it has any business being. Maybe he’s taking a vacation or getting in on that prairie dog census.

I know this sounds like a lot. But I gotta say, reading it one day at a time, it feels like the whole story has been waiting for stuff to happen. I expect James Allen is going for suspense in the question of how Mark Trail could possibly have arranged for help in all this, but the lack of specifics, or even hints of specifics, undermines that. I’m hoping that we’re about to see some action that brings this to a clear resolution. I’m also curious how the strip is going to turn into some major natural disaster that teaches us to never go anywhere more wild and untamed than an Apple Store. Well, there was threatened bad weather. That could mean anything.

Sunday Animals Watch

Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Bees, 19 March 2017
  • Moose, 26 March 2017
  • Platerodrilus Beetles, 2 April 2017
  • Feather Stars, “Crinoids”, 9 April 2017
  • Dracaena Cinnabari, the “Dragon’s Blood Tree”, 16 April 2017
  • Giraffes, 23 April 2017
  • Male lions, 30 April 2017
  • Parrotfish, 7 March 2017
  • Saiga Antelope, 14 May 2017
  • Alligators, 21 May 2017
  • Black Rhinoceroses, 28 May 2017
  • Sanguinaria Canadensis, “Bloodroot”, 4 June 2017
  • Tornadoes, 11 June 2017

Next Week!

Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Not to say too much about what’s been happening, but: cruise ships!.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders were feeling optimistic and full of pep today as they got like four half-filled loyalty cards at the mediterranean fast-food place merged down into … well, all right, three loyalty cards, but two of them were filled so that’s good for one free lunch today and one free lunch next time if nobody loses the filled card.

203

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? March – June 2017


Again I thank people who’re looking for help working out what’s going on in Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this much later than June of 2017 there may have been a new update. The update should be at or near the top of this link along with any miscellaneous but important news that’s broken about the comic strip’s production. For example, if the artist changes or something like that.

Dick Tracy

12 March – 3 June 2017

I last checked in on Dick Tracy as a mega-super-hyper-crossover event over twelve percent bigger than usual was going on. Perenelle Flammel was murdered just before the climax of the auction for her immortality formula. Tracy and Will Eisner’s The Spirit were going around the special guest stars looking for clues, but Oliver Warbucks, Tracy‘s own Diet Smith, Terry and the Pirates‘s Dragon Lady all have solid alibis, and Spirit recurring villain Mister Carrion was already arrested and sent back to the Old Comics Home under Jim Scancarelli’s supervision. With no other suspects in the picture Tracy and Spirit turn to God.

Hotel Siam - The Penthouse. Am: 'As my old friend Alley would say, long time no see.' Tracy: 'Am, did you just arrive here?' Am: 'Why, yes. How did you know?' Spirit: 'Am, I assume you have doubles?' Am: 'I do. You have discovered my secret! I pay them well, and it makes my life safer. Why do you ask?' Tracy: 'It's about the double that's been here in your absence. Where is he now?'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of March, 2017. Oh good grief, the Great Am is talking about his friend Alley Oop, isn’t he? He’s making an Alley Oop reference out of all of this.

God in this case is The Great Am. He’s from Little Orphan Annie, when Harold Grey figured he needed some supernatural aid in railing against the New Deal. I don’t understand his deal exactly, except he’s one of those Ambiguously God characters that can add a pleasantly mystical touch to a setting. And at least in some of the strips I’ve seen he could add a charming wicked little cynicism about human nature.

The Spirit, aware that the strip is almost out of characters, guesses that The Great Am has a body double for the vague security reasons that make impossibly rich people in pulpy adventure stories have body doubles, and what do you know but he’s right? Am’s Double and Flammel’s longtime servant Ramon Escobar are found in a state of cahootsing, still on the books as a vice rap. The two flee, with Double Am caught in a choke hold by The Spirit and Escobar struck by lightning.

The Spirit is trying to apprehend the Double Am. Spirit: (If I can get this dang sling off ... ) 'There! How do you like your NEW NECKTIE?' Double Am: URK!
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of March, 2017. I don’t know, Spirit. Is it within the power of man to truly apprehend the nature of Am? Or … well … you’re kind of dead, aren’t you? Something like that? Carry on, you seem to know what you’re doing.

The plan, explained: Escobar, denied his choice of wife by Flammel, hoped to steal first the auction money; when Kitchen and Brush failed (as recounted last update) they tried to steal the immortality formula proper. When Flammel discovered the attempted theft, Double Am strangled her. And so everything is settled basically sensibly.

Escobar, on the balcony: 'YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME IN, TRACY!' He's hit by a bolt of lightning.
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of March, 2017. This is why when we were kids our parents warned us not to use the land-line phone (the only phone there was) or our balcony guns during a thunderstorm!

I have mixed feelings about the resolution. The story seems to hang basically together, in that if you grant the premise the participants have good reason for what they do and why. The weak point as a whodunnit mystery is there’s nothing that hints, prior to The Spirit’s question, that the Great Am has body doubles. Perhaps I missed the clue, though, or perhaps somewhere in the Great Am’s past appearances this was established and Staton and Curtis just supposed that of course we’d remember. On the other hand, part of detective work is asking slightly speculative questions and sometimes those do turn out to be valuable. So one can slight the Double Am’s existence as being a deus ex machina used to give the story a plausible killer. But then Escobar’s being literally struck by lightning as he’d otherwise have gunned down Tracy? — Ah, but, this is a part of the story dominated by the Ambiguously God character of the Great Am. Doesn’t letting Ambiguous God into the story serve as all the warning you need of a dei ex machina? I’m not sure, but realizing that about the story structure made me smile, so I’m going to have to allow it.

After a couple rounds of banter the new story began the 7th of April, with some guests from the Harold Teen comic strip that I never heard of either. Also a story with Shelley Pleger doing the daily art duties in place of Joe Staton. Pleger had been part of the team doing the Sunday art before. Staton’s credit is back on the first daily after this story resolved, so I suppose it to be a temporary post.

The story’s centerpiece is a cosplay convention, which Honeymoon Tracy and her friend Astor are thrilled to attend. Honeymoon guides Tracy gently into the world of people who cosplay, a friendly mass of folks who try to work out what he’s supposed to be, anyway, Inspector Gadget? But it also makes me think about this.

The Cosplay Convention is On! Tracy: 'Honeymoon, I recognize the cartoon characters, but what are those other animal costumes from?' Honeymoon: 'They're from a CROSSOVER FANDOM, Pop-pop. Do you know what a crossover is?' Tracy: 'I think so.' Honeymoon: 'Well, in furry fandom, some people design and wear animal costumes. They're called FURSUITERS.' Tracy: 'I see. Interesting. Those fursuits look professionally made.' Honeymoon: 'CONNIE! You made it! Where are you?' Connie: 'Right behind you, Honeymoon!'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of April, 2017. Honestly not sure if I’m more unsettled by Dick Tracy learning what fursuiters are, by the gang at the Flophouse podcast talking about Sonic the Hedgehog m-preg pictures on Deviantart, or that there’s a chance my dad will ask me what m-preg is next time we’re on the phone.

A recurring minor character in Dick Tracy is The Pouch. He had been a circus freak-show fat man attraction, but lost most of his nearly 500 pounds of weight. He took his enormously many loose, flappy bags of skin and sewed them into clasping pouches, the better to conceal and smuggle items while selling balloons at the zoo. And while you ponder the question, “wait, what?” let me give you this point: He once used a popcorn popper to kill a man. And now this question: if that is the baseline normal for what human beings are and can do in the Dick Tracy universe, where do you go for imagination and fantasy characters?

Back to Cos-U-Con. A mysterious masked figure robs contest organizer Brian Miller and one of the Three Margies, a trio of women whose struggling costume shop donated thousands to the contest. The robber makes off with the ten thousand dollars cash prize. But — as was clear all along — it’s a fake. The Three Margies have arranged the theft. Big Margie and Little Margie celebrate by vandalizing a cemetery for Jewish people. And that’s rather a jolt. Yes, Dick Tracy is a crime-detection comic and that is the sort of offense that a major crimes unit would deal with. It’s just a dramatic change in tone for a storyline that, three weeks earlier, seemed to be about Dick Tracy ogling someone in a blue raccoon costume. But then isn’t “we were all having a giddy little time and then it suddenly got awful” just what the past eighteen months have been? Those nice-looking cousins all named Margie who run a costume shop turning out to hate Jewish people somehow fits.

Tracy: 'Sorry the cosplay contest had such a unpleasant ending, SVENGOOLIE.' Svengoolie: 'It was a real downer, but I'm sorry for BRIAN MILLER, the con organizer.' Tracy: 'Having the prize in cash was inviting something like this. I'm thankful nobody got hurt.' Svengoolie: 'That's too scary to think of! I wish you luck cracking the case, Tracy.' Tracy: 'Thanks, Mr. Koz. With good detective work, we'll find the thief. And with a little luck, recover the money too.'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 7th of May, 2017. I appreciate the subtle change in the color palette this strip. It’s the same location as the previous comic, but a little bit darker and sadder after the robbery. Even if you didn’t read the word balloons you could sort out whether this or the strip from the 23rd of April happened before the crime.

Tracy and Sam Catchem, after asking the Three Margies about the convention theft, realize that as the other characters in the story the Three Margies are the best bet for the perpetrators. They confirm their suspicions with a Sunday strip’s worth of actual detective work. The Margies paid two months’ back rent in cash, and that one of the Margies had come six months ago from a town that suffered similar cemetery vandalism up to six months ago.

Tracy and Cachem stake out the Margies. Big and Middle Margie lead them to a construction site, where they’re trying to bury a satchel from the robbery. The Margies aren’t very good at this sort of crime, and get captured easily, dropping some surprisingly strong anti-Jewish words for the comics page and clearing Little Margie’s name on their way out of the story.

Tracy: 'Take it slow, Ms Thatcher.' Maggie Thatcher: 'No! I won't go to jail!' (She hits him with the satchel.) 'Not again!' Other Maggie runs up with a stick. Catchem emerges from the shadows with his gun drawn: 'Drop it!'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2017. I do like the action here; it mixes the slightly slapstick with the threatening and the surprise reveal. Comic strips don’t have the space that they had in the glorious old days like when Dick Tracy was new, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t able to put together a lot when they need.

The story wrapped up, neatly for my purposes, the 2nd of June. Was it successful? I’d say so; once we grant everyone in the Dick Tracy universe going wild for cosplay the events hold together, and Tracy and Catchem do actual detective work that could logically lead them to the perpetrators. It’s not a very intense storyline, but they don’t all need to be; I appreciate that sometimes the initial major crime can be as simple as a ten thousand dollar robbery. If it comes apart because the Three Margies are not very good at laundering money, that’s fine; they seem to be dabblers in this sort of crime and naturally they’d leave an obvious trail.

A new story seems to have started the 3rd of June. It’s opened on the B O Plenty family. They’re hillbillies who long ago married into the comic strip. No guessing where that might lead. The last couple months have not included any one-off comic strips that seem to be there to set up long-running or future storylines. They’ve been on point to the current storyline.

Special Guest Stars Of Dick Tracy Have Included:

  • Will Eisner’s The Spirit
  • Oliver Warbucks
  • The Great Am
  • The Dragon Lady
  • Harold Teen
  • Pop Jenks
  • Shadow Smart
  • Svengoolie

I am certain I’ve missed some. The Cos-U-Con storyline included so many chances to draw characters in, and the only way to tell whether that’s actually Smokey Stover or just someone dressed as Smokey Stover is to talk with them. I do recommend going back looking over the art; there’s probably something you’re a fan of in there somewhere.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index bounced up seven points today as investors had a spare five bucks when they noticed the reverse-bungee ride at the mall’s food court was running for a change. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

207

Writer Tony DePaul Quits The Phantom


And then some breaking comic strip news disrupts my daily plans. Tony DePaul, longtime writer for The Phantom daily and Sunday runs, has quit the comic strip. The last of the strips he wrote, both continuities, should be published sometime in the fall.

He’s resigning, he states in the link above, over a dispute that began in November when King Features Syndicate wanted him to sign a contract. Before then — since 1999 — he’d been just turning in stories to get the comic strip ahead of deadline by up to two years, and would get paid as he turned in copy a couple times a year. I admit this seems like a surprisingly casual way of running things, but then I remember I’ve never had a contract at my current workplace and I’m not quite sure either my boss or I know exactly what we think we expect from the other, which surely will never lead to any unpleasant surprises ever.

Anyway, the contract DePaul was offered attempted to classify all his work for the strip as work-for-hire, which has implications for how to license things: as work-for-hire he wouldn’t get any money in case, say, a Phantom movie used one of the characters he created. He reports making counter-offers that sound to me like quite modest requests to get paid for derivative uses of his work, and getting nowhere, and then, that’s that.

In his post DePaul writes in greater detail about the dispute, and reviews some of the characters he’d created and that won’t be seen in a Phantom move or other property, under current circumstances. (I’m unclear whether they can continue to be used in the comic strip.) Several of them seem indispensable, particularly the terrorist leader Chatu and the seafaring hero Captain Savarna (worth her own strip, or movie, really). It’s hard to imagine the Phantom universe without them.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point, inspiring a feeling that we’ve been exactly here before and wondering if the system hasn’t got stuck somehow and maybe we need someone to go out and give it a push? People just have their doubts, that’s all.

208

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? February – May 2017


And as with my other low-daisy-content story strip reviews, this one might be out of date. This post should be good for explaining plot developments in the couple of months before late May of 2017. If it’s later than, oh, August 2017 when you read this, then if all’s gone to plan I have a new post updating things further. My most recent Gasoline Alley posts should be at the top of this link. Thanks for reading and I’ll do my best to be not too wrong in describing the goings-on.

Gasoline Alley, 27 February – 26 May 2017.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has four major kinds of storyline, with many variations possible in those types. Three have been seen since late February. The missing one is the magical-fantasy storyline, wherein Walt Wallet or crew visit the Old Comics Home or something similar. The kind of story that just warps what reality could be. That hasn’t been around the last few months.

The second time is your classic old-style sitcom, ah, situation. The kind where one of the main cast has some scheme that gets advanced and then falls apart. You know, every sitcom from the 50s and 60s, and many of the radio sitcoms from the 40s. It’s an old-fashioned format but it’s still a perfectly workable one. Last time we looked at Gasoline Alley they were coming near the end of one of these. Walt Wallet had been invited to the TV show Shark Bait to pitch inventors his idea: put every household appliance together in one big raging appliance monster. The millionaire or billionaires (the strip made a point of raising confusion about this) don’t see how it would work, and one of them finds that exactly this idea was patented by the Hotenkold Appliance Company in 1935 and still makes the things. As predicted by everyone who’s encountered stories before, Walt Wallet does not go home wealthy. (The strip didn’t pay off the millionaire-or-billionaire question.)

'Skeezix! Do you think it was worth the embarrassment going on the 'Shark Bait' TV show?' 'Well, you're richer by $500 and a case of cereal, Uncle Walt!' In the other car: 'Boog! I want Chipper to look at you when he checks out Aubee!' 'Can he multitask?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of March, 2017. One storyline gives way to another. Yes, Boog is the kid’s name and yes, much of the online comics snark-reading community is horrified by his name and his appearance but that’s just because he has those huge devouring-void black dots of eyes that suggest the Mirror Universe Dondi.

The strip passed things off to Hoogy Skinner and her kids Boog and Aubee, for a medical check. This led a couple of weeks of pediatrician jokes and let us follow the Physician Assistant, Chipper Wallet, into the third of the stock Gasoline Alley plot kinds. And I’d like to mention the smoothness of the segue: we followed Walt Wallet out of the TV show plot, passed off by switching from one car to the next with characters that brought us to Chipper Wallet, and from that into his story. It’s all smoothly done; I wonder if daily readers even notice they’re being passed on like that.

Chipper: 'I love my kids and am proud they decided to go into the medical field ... ' 'Excuse me, Chipper! I hate to interrupt, but there's someone here to see you!' 'Who's that, Reg?' 'You'll see.' In the distance a barely visible woman approaches.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of April, 2017. I never spend time discussing this in the main articles so let’s take some here. Boy does Scancarelli draw well. The scenes are well-composed and nicely balanced, and look at how good Wallet’s hair and beard look in the second panel there. The third panel is also a treat; comic strips rarely get to display depth of field, but here it is, used for good dramatic effect.

Anyway, this third kind of storyline is the public service announcement. Chipper Wallet leaves the office to drive to Durham, North Carolina, where he’s to speak at the dedication of the Veteran’s Memorial Garden of the Physician Assistant Society. Wallet gets waylaid by some car trouble and meets Reverend Neil Enpray and mechanic Don Yonder whom I’m just going to assume are from the Earth-2 Gasoline Alley. They gave me the vibe of being established characters but I don’t know the canon nearly well enough to guess. But it’s mostly a chance for the characters to explain to the reader about what they are, what they do, why they’re important. The story ends with Wallet being reunited with a woman he, as a Navy Hospital Corpsman in Vietnam, helped deliver a child. As I say, a bit of story and a good bit of public service announcement. It’s also a chance to fundraise for the historical society.

Scruffy: 'I ain't ate since yestidy!' Rufus: 'Well, hadn't yo' better run home an' get yo' momma t'feed you'? 'T'aint my day t'eat! It's my sister's turn!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of May, 2017. I know this is my own peculiarity, but: oh, I’m not looking forward to this. Not because I expect the story to end badly. I project it turning out pretty well for Scruffy and his family. But just because I know, deep down, there’s a depressing number of real-world families going through this and the story will end without things getting better for most of them, and that’s the sort of thing that breaks my heart. It’s not Scancarelli’s fault, and I certainly don’t blame him for telling a story about one of those sadly realistic problems and having it turn out well for his characters. But it does make me think of deep down what a rubbish job we do at having a society.

And this led into the current storyline, one of the fourth type. It’s the weepy melodrama. It stars Joel and Rufus, two of the (bluntly) stupider adults in the strip. They’re usually busy with more outlandish hijinks and misunderstandings. (The segue for this story was Rufus bringing his cat in to see Chipper Wallet on the grounds that of course he’s a vet; he served in the Coast Guard.) Rufus has just met Scruffy, a kid whose family just moved into the abandoned old grist mill and is so poor they can only use parts of the Walt Kelly Pogofenokee comic-strip-southern dialect. The story’s in its earliest days so not much has been established past that the family’s desperately poor. I expect this is going to lead Rufus and Joel in a story in which they make some grand and slightly overcomplicated gesture to help that which misfires but still results in their being a little better off. (At this stage it’s playing Santa Claus Running Late. This may evolve.) That’s the kind of story Gasoline Alley does.

The Sunday strips have all been one-off jokes, mostly characters setting up and delivering corny old gags well, and not part of any continuing storylines. That’s fine and pleasant but there’s no context I can usefully give to them. They’re whole on their own.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eleven points as everyone was relieved to learn everyone else had clicked on that silly clickbait ad about ten ways to earn money from your hobby and there was no reason everyone should feel ashamed that, like, apparently there’s people whose hobby is investing in real estate? I mean, come on. Anyway the index is at 210 and that’s not even an all-time high and isn’t that amazing too? It’s amazing, yes.

210

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? February – May 2017


While Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant runs fewer strips than any of the other syndicated story strips, it’s still worth reviewing. They take a good bit of space, and they pack events into it. If you’re reading this much after May 2017, you may want to check if I have a more recent update. It should be at or near the top of this page’s links. Thanks for reading.

Prince Valiant, 19 February – 21 May 2017.

We left Prince Valiant and crew resuming their journey to the Mystic East. They’d defeated the tyrant Azar Rasa and scattered his armies and detonated his Soul of Asia bomb. The grateful giants who’d created the Soul of Asia prepared a boat, with a pilot and a team of dolphins pulling their craft. So a giant alligator attacked.

This set off an earthquake that set the dolphins free and knocked the giant out of the story. It’s the groundbreaking for a new waterfall, which the gang falls down. Valiant gets knocked in the head and misses just how they make their escape. It’s pink dolphins. Prince Valiant and company are recovered on shore by (checks encounter table) some refugees from Azar Rasa’s wars.

The subterranean world has split open, sending Val and his companions cascading helplessly down an abyss. Then the bottom comes with a bone-wrenching jolt ... that tears their battered craft to splinters. Val is aware of being thrown into a body of swirling water, before his head smashes into something hard ... and there is - nothing. Six bodies float limply in the turbulence ... before they are joined by several dark, finned shapes ... (river dolphins) Next: Cast forth
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of February, 2017. Ah, dolphins: have any animal got so good a reputation despite having such a little chainsaw in their mouths? Also, despite the Next: bubble the next installment was not about the roster of characters in Sally Forth so, be ready.

But all’s not well at refugee camp. They’re plagued by attacks from (checks encounter table) bandits on horseback who’ve been plaguing the refugee herders. Large hairy man Numair goes naked bathing. It’s in the same pond the robe-dressed Karen means to use for laundry, and they talk about how glad they are they’re not totally into each other since that would mess things up with Karen’s husband Giovanni.

Korsheed continues the story of her people's migration. 'Long and far we journeyed, harried always by bandits and hostiles. At last we arrived in this scrubby, marshy borderland. It offers poor foraging and hunting ... but the local people have little use for it, and so mostly leave us alone. The roaming bands of brigands, however, never cease ... ' Val interjects: 'Then we bring good news - Azar Rasa is dead, and his armies dispersed ... you can now return home!' Korsheed sadly shakes her head. 'To what? Our flocks and our men are gone. We are sick and weak, and could never survive such a trek again.' Not much is said after that - all turn to their own thoughts. Later, Karen walks to the river to wash some travel-worn clothes, and comes upon Numair, similarly occupied. There is an awkward hesitation - the two have not been alone together since their flight through the high mountains ... NEXT: Circumstance and duty
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 2nd of April, 2017. I don’t see what Korsheed is worried about. We know how peaceful and tranquil a war-ravaged countryside always is once the despotic warlord that’s amassed a giant army has been knocked out and the soldiers are all dispersed.

After thinking hard about it Valiant decides to save the refugees; he, Bukota, and Giovanni work on building shelters. Karen leads a fishing class, and Numair goes off with bow and arrow to hunt for the next plot point. While hunting the small game he (checks encounter table) finds a badly wounded woman who’s killed three bandits. He recognizes her as Taloon, the excellent huntress that head refugee Korsheed had mentioned, and he ties some sticks around cloth around her leg as a show of healing.

While hunting, Numair stumbles upon three slain brigands - leading him to a very alive woman, prepared to defend herself. But Numair sees that she is in distress. Her hands shake - obviously she is in great pain. Numair recalls Korsheed's parting words, and believes he knows who this is. Slowly, carefully, he places his weapons on the ground, and speaks calmly: 'I won't hurt you. I am a hunter too, with no love for brigands.' The girl slumps, resignedly. She nods to a twisted leg. 'I stupidly managed to break my leg while taking the last of these dogs' worthless lives. Let me die in peace.' Numair approaches cautiously. 'Nonsense. I know who you are - I am a friend of Korsheed's. Trust me.' Next: Taloon
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 30th of April, 2017. This is maybe not the most plot-heavy of the comics from this story thread, but it is the most visually exciting. I especially like Taloon’s second panel there with her hand reaching out of the panel border and her arrow reaching over into the next panel. That said, last panel, why has she got some of those Second Life sleeping bunnies? Are we supposed to believe the Prince Valiant universe crosses over with the Linden Labs virtual reality? Please. Worst. Episode. ever. Shut up, they are too just sleeping bunnies. I’m the reader. I have rank.

Numair follows the dead bandits’ footprints back to their horses and bribes them with some sweetgrass. He and Taloon set off back to the refugee camp, thinking of how swell everything is and how cute it is they met one another, but (checks the encounter table) there are three brigands lying in wait. So somebody’s going to have an unhappy next installment.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose an astounding twelve points to an all-time high as traders were buoyed by how well the new computer is generally behaving, and also by rumors that there might have been a second 80s cartoon about robot cowboys in Space Texas. Analysts are skeptical but, you know, it was the 80s. And we’re trying very hard not to suppose that since everything is going swell that everything is doomed and will never be good again.

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What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? February – May 2017


And now the Sunday continuity for Tony DePaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom. If you’re looking for the weekday strips that’s a separate line, most recently covered here. If you’re reading this much later than May 2017, look at the top essays at this link instead. It’ll have both the Sunday and the weekday continuities in it, and unless I change the order in which I go around the story comics, the Sunday one will more likely be at the top. So there’s that.

The Phantom (Sundays), 13 February – 13 May 2017.

When I last reported on The Ghost Who Makes Up Proverbs About Himself, Sunday pelage, he was in a Chicago mobster’s bedroom, encircled by Chinese-hired ninjas. You know, as protectors of coastal African nations will. The Phantom was drawn there when a plane crash brought to his attention Mikey D’Moda, who at age maybe fourteen is the over-promoted scion of the D’Moda crime family. After listening to the kid for about ten minutes The Phantom figured we can’t let people like this run around and flew to his great-grandfather, the only other blood relative who’s part of the story and whose first name I can’t find. Sorry.

Phantom: 'Your great-grandfather hasn't been your ONLY bad example, I see. You don't have much time before you go. Know that the family business dies with you. I'm turning your great-grandson over to the authorities who can sort out the mess you're leaving. PROSECUTORS will get every scrap of paper I find here! Every computer drive, every account number, everything you've stolen over the generations will go to a restitution program for crime victims!' Elder D'Moda: 'GAKK! What Th! Mikey! Gimme a GUN! I'm TAKING THIS BUM WITH ME!!' Mikey: 'W-What would happen to ... me?' Phantom: 'You'd have a shot at being a MAN! Not a thug! How does that sound?'
Tony DePaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 19th of February, 2017. Oh, yeah, and I guess The Phantom finished punching out all the Chinese ninjas. I’ll own up to losing track of how many there were and how many were left to be punched. Anyway, it’s nice to see Mikey D’Moda developing an awareness of the future.

The Elder D’Moda, bedridden since his death by old age twenty years ago, sees in The Phantom a strong man, a potential new consigliere. The Phantom won’t have any of it, and offers the deal by which Elder D’Moda makes restitution and the Younger D’Moda never speaks to anyone, ever again. Given a good hard look what his family business has come to, Elder D’Moda off and dies, and Mikey leaves for a farm upstate.

A life of crime ends. Prosecutors unravel the empire. A new life. Judge: 'I'm ordering you into protective custody, Mr D'Moda.' Mikey: 'Do what you gotta do, Judge!' Phantom: 'Walker, Box 7, Mawitaan, if you need to reach me.' Mikey: 'Box 7! Got it, big guy!' Judge: 'You're not what you seem, are you, Mr Walker? I have a feeling if I were to check your name, your prints ...? You're not in the SYSTEM, are you? I'm due in court. Good day, sir. And THANK YOU!'
Tony DePaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 19th of March, 2017. I do find it endearing how about one time in four that someone addresses The Phantom as Mister Walker a narrative box pops in to explain that it’s ‘For The Ghost Who Walks’. Over-explaining the stuff that’s obvious? Maybe, but it’s obvious because we see it all the time. Let the new readers have the stuff they need, so they don’t wonder how judges really feel about mysterious, eternally-masked, obviously pseudonymous figures with no legal history popping in to arrange the disposition of complex cases regarding generations-old mob families.

So this story, begun the 26th of June 2016, officially wrapped up — by the “Next: NEW ADVENTURE!” box — the 2nd of April. The new story, started the 9th of April, is titled The Phantom Is Everywhere, suggesting the surprising return of Klondike Kat’s nemesis Savoir Faire in a comic strip other than Dick Tracy. The suggestion is wholly unrelated to the actual content of the story and I apologize for wasting your time with it. Phantom Wiki reports this is the 185th Sunday story.

The story opens in a Wambesi village terrorized by a trio of “agressors” who in Lee Falk’s words “preach a hateful ideology” and loot the place now and then. But Jungle Patrol is there, hiding among the villagers and waiting for their moment. One of the Jungle Patrol blows a whistle, and the bandits are caught when they go to the free throw line. Jungle Patrol’s speculation afterwards is that it may be tied to The Python, the terrorist leader whom The Phantom broke out of Boomsby Prison to hold himself, privately, in a secret grass hut guarded by villagers.

The Phantom, watching: 'Takedown! Three terrorists out of action! Well done, Jungle Patrol! Colonel Worubu always did enjoy getting out from behind the desk!' Patrolwoman: '[ The villagers ] love us, Colonel! We're hereos!' Worubu: 'ENJOY it, Patrolwoman! There will be days when people call us OTHER things!'
Tony DePaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 7th of May, 2017. Yes, I know this makes Colonel Worubu look like the kind of guy who pointed out after V-E Day that all central and western Europe was a lawless wasteland of human misery that none of the victorious allies had any sufficient plan to rebuild. But in fairness: I’m going to bet that there are many people with names for a privately-run army out of the control of any government except by the personal links the current President of Bangalla happens to have with the person he doesn’t properly know is the head of the Jungle Patrol. Just saying.

And that’s about where things stand today. The disadvantage of these Sunday strips is there aren’t so many Sundays in the week, so there’s not as much to write up. But if you the reader are curious about the stuff I’ve elided, or want permanent links to strips not featured here, please comment. I’ll try to be useful.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose six points after everyone gathered around to hear my annual rant about how the Mother’s Day Card industry somehow has cards for every possible relationship except the person who has a good relationship with their mother-in-law and wants to send a card as a person and not as the person who happens to be married to the mother-in-law’s child. It brings everyone a strange amount of joy to see me upset at the injustice of it all.

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What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? February – May 2017


And now I’m in The Phantom zone. This week I’ll do my best to explain the weekday continuity in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s comic strip. Next week I’ll catch things up on the Sunday continuity. If you’re reading this much later than May 2017, you should be able to find a more recent review on this linked page. It’ll have both the Sunday and the weekday continuities in it; I’m sorry, I don’t know a good way to sort those out. Thanks for bearing with me.

The Phantom (Weekdays), 6 February – 6 May 2017.

Since the last we left The Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks punched his way into large beard entrepreneur Orson Burley’s home. The Phantom call on the aid of a pack of Bandar locals in a scene that doesn’t look at all like some racist British newspaper cartoon advocating the takeover of Bangalla to safeguard white people. And they easily kidnap the wealthy man of wealthiness. After a night spent tied to Horror Trees Burley’s dumped in the midst of The Phantom’s Cave and given his orders: no stamps! Because The Phantom is really, really horrified by the prospect that his legend might be graded in philatelist journals. We’ve all been there. Burley agrees and he swears off forever his plan to … have the nation of Bangalla depict a centuries-old legendary guardian of the people and supernatural defender of justice on its postage. That’s a win for the good guys.

Have to admit this is one of those stories where I just could not get into our protagonist’s mindset. I would get The Phantom wanting to protect his image, and using his iconography on something trivial can serve to trivialize him. But I’m just not seeing how someone who’s cultivated several dozen and often very specific Old Jungle Sayings about what The Phantom does or what you do when you meet The Phantom is doing saying this is the step too far. The case could have been made, but I didn’t see it.

Burley, dazed, sleep-deprived, and possibly drugged: 'Phantom I --- I just wanted to promote YOUR BRAND!' The Phantom ponders, my what? And declares, surrounded by melty screaming skulls, 'I forbid you to promote my band.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 3rd of March, 2017. Also everything we write back to LinkedIn.

That wrapped up the 11th of March. From the 13th of March started a new story, The Curse Of Old Man Mozz, which Phantom Wiki says is the 247th Phantom Daily story. Lee Falk promises that in it, faithful mystic and old-guy Old Man Mozz will foretell the death of the 21st Phantom, our current purple-clad superhero.

The action opens with The Phantom raiding a Thug Factory, punching and taking names. Then he punches the names and throws them down a well. He spends a couple weeks at this, since the Thug Factory is churning out product like crazy. He grabs guy after guy eager to beg for a deal and who learn their deal is they’re being left for the police. Or, well, the Jungle Patrol, who’re totally legitimate and respectable forces for law and due process rather than a self-sustaining militia.

Snitch Guy: 'Hold on! You picked me [ to deliver a message ] because I look like a SNITCH to you?' The Phantom: 'You look like anything but. THAT'S why I picked you. The story loses something when a weakling tells it.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 24th of March, 2017. Also a masterpiece of personnel management considering that after smacking down Snitch Guy for at least the second time in his life The Phantom is sending him off with a credible-sounding claim that the guy is actually a strong and important person. He’s giving Snitch Guy reason to feel good about himself even despite his getting smashed up some.

Along the way Devil, the Phantom’s pet wolf, took a pretty nasty tumble along with one of the Thug Factory’s newest products. Ghost Who Punches finds medicine guy Guran is strangely uninterested in his medical guy work. Phantom figures to work out what his deal is, although it’s his wife, Diana Palmer-Walker, who successfully follows him. Guran’s destination: The hut of Old Man Mozz, where he’s sprawled out on the floor surrounded by mysterious vaporous mists and muscle loss. Mozz is not ill, Guran promises Palmer-Walker. He’s just having visions.

Diana Palmer-Walker finds Old Man Mozz, sprawled out on the floor, emaciated and quite possibly naked, surrounded by mysterious fumes.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 4th of May, 2017. It’s terribly dangerous for people to go through their adolescent I’ll-just-sleep-on-my-mattress-on-the-floor phase. Also but you just know he insists on calling the band The Pink Floyd.

We haven’t heard officially what he’s envisioning, but Lee Falk may have dropped a clue when he said Old Man Mozz would foretell the death of the 21st Phantom. Misdirection? Possibly, although The Phantom has noticed how end-of-life-y things feel lately. What we’ve been given doesn’t promise the current Kit Walker’s going to die before it’s over. But I’m curious how it’s going to affect the continuity of the series. The Phantom 2040 cartoon, back in the 90s, tells stories of the 24th Phantom, after all, and while it accounts for the short career of the 23rd Phantom, there is the 22nd, who last year was sent to get himself shot in Tibet, ready to become part of the comic. Just observing.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose nine points today in response to a Reuters report that frozen orange juice concentrate was selling at 150.80 on the commodities market, which seems like a good deal for orange juice concentrate? Also it’s something there’s a thriving international commodities market in? All right, we never see that in grand strategy games where you do trades of goods with other countries but what the heck. Frozen orange juice concentrate. Business is weird.

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What’s Going On In Alley Oop? January – April 2017


And I’m back around to Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. While I’m writing about the current storyline, it’s possible you’re reading this while trying to figure out what some other storyline in my future is about. That’s only fair given we’re talking about Alley Oop, isn’t it? Anyway, if you’re reading this much later than about May or June of 2017, you may want to look at whatever essay’s at top of this page. It should have my most current low-daisy review of what’s going on.

Alley Oop, 30 January – 30 April 2017

When I last checked in on Alley Oop the land of Moo was invaded by this pantsless alien plant-frog guy with a mind control ray gun. The planet Jantrulle has an exploding population. Their explorer, Volzon, found Earth to be a lovely spot with plenty of ecology, raw materials, and nipple-free cavemen who’d be a good labor pool. At least would be once they stopped complaining about the mind control, which is after all part of how mind control works.

Dire? I suppose, although the comic strip — while taking its adventure seriously — never get all that dire. Plus at that point only Alley Oop himself had been taken over. He was joined by Zan, while fellow Moo bit player Bug ran back to his sergeant to report on the alien invasion. Ooola overhears; the soldiers work up a story about how Oop’s just got so much meat to bring home he hasn’t had time to get mind-controlled by an invading pantsless alien plant-frog guy, a story she pretends to believe.

Bug and Sarge are on their way to free Alley Oop and an from Volzon's grip. Meanwhile Volzon's mind-control device is still at work on the two. 'This would be the perfect spot for the power plant, wouldn't it? Before we can build, though, all these trees must go! Can you do that?' 'Sure! Happy to!' Bug: 'OK, Sarge, this is where I saw Zan get taken prisoner by that thing! Zan and Oop were right over there!' 'I don't see any creature here. I knew it! You imagined the whole thing, bug!' 'NO I DIDN'T! But maybe we can rescue them before he comes back! Just be careful! He's really dangerous!' And Volzon gets the drop on Bug and Sarge.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 26th of February, 2017. Really I’m not sure why everyone saw Volzon’s invasion as that big a menace since according to his sleeve stripe he’s just a lieutenant, and a red-shirt at that. He’s the first one going to be taken out by the episode’s dangerous alien menace! .. Oh, wait, he is the alien menace, isn’t he? Well, it’d still be plausible he might take himself out.

Volzon, warming stuff up for the reinforcements by having Oop and Zan punch trees, spots Bug and the Sarge and takes them over in time for the mind control ray to wear off Alley Oop. And while Oop had been under the ray for like six weeks of reader time, in story time it can’t have been more than a couple hours. It suggests there’s some practical problems in an economy built entirely on mind controlling cavemen. At least it means they’d be spending a lot of time re-zapping Moovians instead of enjoying stealing the fruit of others’ labor.

Volzon: 'Excellent work, gentlemen, but it would go faster if I recruited more help! I'll see what I can do!' Elsewhere in Moo. Oola: 'Dinny! I'm so glad I found you! I need a favor!' Dinny: 'Eep!' Trnslation: Eep!
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 20th of March, 2017. I admit I’m not sure I need this panel given the ones that have run before, but I like the playfulness of translating Dinny’s ‘Eep’ after the strip spent a week translating Volzon’s reports.

While Volzon gloats about preparations for his totally hip log-cabin spaceport being underway Ooola gets tired of not being in the story. She teams up with Dinny, Alley Oop’s pet/friend dinosaur, and go looking for him by the ancient Moovian technique of trying. Volzon’s startled by the big charging dinosaur somehow living at the same time as cavemen, but before he can question the plausibility of this worldbuilding the invading pantsless alien plant-frog guy discovers his mind control ray doesn’t work on dinosaurs. Yes, I enjoyed writing that sentence. I’m going to be cheery about it for days to come.

Volzon continues to report to his fellow Janthullians. 'Ikthio Frontigan Al ... Drudonga stungali freg!' Translation: perfect atmospheric conditions ... structural preparations progressing well!
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of March, 2017. It may seem quirky that the first priority of the invading Jantullians is to send out a scout who gets a track and field stadium out of logs. But remember, the Jantullians are able to use some dimensional-warping technology to fit an entire starship into a ball small enough to fit in a dinosaur’s mouth which is totally not a giveaway for what happens by the 20th of April because the spaceship gets away. Anyway, so they don’t really seem to need Earth space for buildings or stuff, just, play.

It gets worse for the invader. Even when Ooola’s separated from any dinosaurs it turns out her boogie board is an effective defense against mind control rays. With Oop coming out of control and Dinny coming close to suppertime, Volzon retreats to his pocket-dimensional spaceship and takes off for some easier invasion target. Possibly, like, the place forty miles down the road but, that would be in a different comic strip.

Volzon: 'Get away from my workers!' Ooola: 'We have to go now, Alley! That thing is back!' Volzon: 'Stop!' Ooola and Alley Oop duck under her shield as Volzon's mind-control ray bounces off it. Dinny charges Volzon. 'How is it possible that my mind-control device doesn't work on this beast?' And Dinny eats it.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 16th of April, 2017. So if any of you were wondering how modern capitalism can be brought to its much-needed end, this pro tip: mind-control-resistant dinosaurs. I’m surprised you needed the advice.

If this isn’t the end of the story it’s darned close. The past week has been Oop explaining what was going on to Zan, Bug, the Sarge, and someone else who joined the story while I wasn’t looking. There might be another week of transition left in things, but we’re getting onto a new story soon enough. I thank Jack Bender and Carole Bender for organizing stuff that neatly.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose four points today on rumors of investor confidence and a sense that what’s the worst that could happen? The folks shorting the index have their answers, but nobody listens to them until the market crashes and they’re the only ones with money until everyone else gathers around and punches them.

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What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? January – April 2017


If you’re here to follow the most recent storylines in Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man, the newspaper-syndicated comic strip version of the character, thanks! This link should bring you to whatever the most recent post is, at the top of its page.

The Amazing Spider-Man, 23 January – 23 April 2017

I last reviewed Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man at what felt like the one-third mark in the current story. Ronan The Accuser had crashed his spaceship in the Arizona desert and slurped up the contents of a diner. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Parker, on a road trip, couldn’t do anything about that, but they do witness Rocket Raccoon’s arrival. Rocket and Spider-Man complete the Ritual Battle of Superheros Meeting, and they pretended to be a costuming family for a motel owner. So what’s the story since then?

Rocket: 'Thar she blows!' Spider-Man: 'But at least there's no lava coming out!' Rocket: 'Yeah, but look what did!' Ronan: 'Hail - Sentry 714!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 15th of February, 2017. I’m not on my own here about thinking there’s something Stooge-ish about The Sentry, am I? Also, am I alone in being disappointed Rocket doesn’t explain that he’s thinking of space-whales in the first panel? Maybe say something like “Thar She Space-Blows”? … No, wait, that sounds really, really bad. Never mind.

Rocket warns that Ronan The Accuser is looking around for The Sentry, an 80,000-year-old alien-built contraption that looks faintly like a robotic Moe Howard. Ronan figures he can use this to unleash all sorts of accusations on the whole galaxy. Peter, Mary Jane, and Rocket deduce The Sentry must be somewhere in Petrogylph National Monument, as the road sign for it is clear and fills up nearly half a panel. Ronan The Accuser follows similar clues and he and Spidey punch each other until The Sentry wakes up. It goes off to blow up Albuquerque. Rocket remembers that Ronan (“please, my dad is Mister The Accuser”) is extremely vulnerable to Earth air. So he and Spidey try to knock his helmet off, which goes great.

Ronan: 'If I can't reach you at least I can HURL you off my back!' Spider-Man: 'Not with my WEBBING binding me to you!' Ronan: 'Then I'll SQUASH you!' and falls over backwards on Spider-Man. Rocket, to Mary Jane: 'Y-you think your significant other coulda SURVIVED that, Red? Red ... ?'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the for the 3rd of March, 2017. The scene shows off just how new Rocket Raccoon is to all this; if he’d been around he’d know that Spider-Man is very good at scenes that involve someone lying down.

Luckily Newspaper Spider-Man is extraordinarily good at taking blunt force traumas. He uses this to do a “why are you hitting yourself?”, using Ronan T A’s own large hammer to smack his helmet off. Spider-Man tries to put the unconscious Ronan’s helmet back on, on the grounds that he can’t just suffocate the guy even if he is trying to blow up the world or galaxy or whatnot. And I admire this idealistic bit from Peter Parker, who’s not going to be more cruel than he must be, however much trouble it makes. The resolve to be kind even when it’s hard, or worse, inconvenient is something we should take from superheroes. Anyway, Spidey accepts Rocket’s promise that Ronan isn’t dead, he’s just sleeping, and they go off to fight The Sentry.

Spider-Man: 'We'll race to town in the car so that we can stop that ROBOT from trashing the place!' Mary Jane: 'I'll drive.' Spider-Man: 'No, honey --- you've got to stay here and give us a call if Ronan shows any signs of life.' Mary Jane: 'You know, I really wish that didn't make so much sense.' Rocket: 'That's quite a mate you've got there, web-face.' Spider-Man: 'Yeah! I never could understand why so many superheroes stay single. I just hope we reach the city's downtown while it still has a downtown!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the for the 19th of March, 2017. I didn’t get the chance to highlight this, but Rocket and Spidey spend a lot of time telling Mary Jane to hang back and not do stuff. When they’re talking about who’s going to punch Ronan or The Sentry this makes sense, since Mary Jane is last I looked still a very squishable human. But they also toss off some casual “huh, you know, dames lines that make the sexism of the “you stay where it’s safe” that extra little bit less subtexty.
Also, regarding the line about superheroes getting married: a couple years back Comic Book Spider-Man made a literal deal with the devil to undo his marriage to Mary Jane in order that his 2000-year-old Aunt May would not die a little while longer. This was reflected in the newspaper comic for one story before it gave that up as too stupid a Spider-Man story to respect. And if you don’t know how stupid that must be, search for “stupidest Spider-Man story idea” and be awed.

Rocket and Spider-Man leave Mary Jane to watch Ronan just in case he wakes long enough to gasp out something plot-relevant. And hey! So she flags down a truck and buys it and a bunch of day laborers to bring Ronan to the big Albuquerque fight, because she always travels with that kind of cash. Using the unconscious Ronan — whom The Sentry can’t harm — as body shield Spider-Man teases The Sentry mercilessly. Meanwhile Rocket climbs inside and punches stuff until it breaks.

Spider-Man: You're programmed not to hurt a Kree - but you're so eager to blast ME into atoms - you're darn near short-circuiting yourself, aren't you, Robot? Well, maybe it's time I gave you a HAND at that!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 12th of April, 2017. Now, gotta say, teasing the robot with the one thing on Earth it must not destroy? Good idea. Giving the one thing on Earth the robot must not destroy so it can go off and put it somewhere safe? Kinda dumb. It works out, because the story was near the end, but sheesh.

Mary Jane: 'There's Peter - but it looks like that robot's getting the BETTER of him! And - where's ROCKET?' [ Deep within the sentry: ] Rocket: 'Got to DISABLE this thing from the INSIDE! But HOW? It's got more parts than STARLORD has pop TUNES!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 18th of April, 2017. Don’t fear, True Believers. Back in February Rocket Raccoon also name-dropped Groot in a way that was no less awkward or inorganic. I love this sort of thing. Also I love that while comic books have grown many different styles, the comic strip still draws “heaping piles of alien technology” the same way they did in Like 1980. Sincerely. I like those webs of lines drawn against a solid blue background. It gives me nostalgic enough vibes to not worry what’s going on with Rocket’s face there.

So that looks like it’s ended the Ronan and The Sentry menace: this Sunday’s comic teases that coming next is “Farewell to a furry comrade!” A shame, since I’ve loved Rocket’s time on the strip. I mean, all his guest stars insult newspaper Spider-Man relentlessly. And Rocket’s depiction has varied from “pretty raccoony” to “maybe a small, bug-eyed werewolf” to “EEK! wasn’t that the deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare Tommie brought home to Apartment 3-G that one year?”. (Here’s the Apartment 3-G deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare for comparison. Warning: deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare content.) But they really click as the effective and the put-upon members of a team. It can’t last, of course, and I’m sure Rocket is about to deploy some suspiciously vague explanation of how he needs to be … elsewhere, with … other people, soon enough.

Also, yes, Spider-Man did pretty near nothing to drive the story. Rocket did most of the heavy lifting and Mary Jane overcame plot-related sexism to do something too. Peter Parker was mostly there to, I dunno, get hit with stuff. This is healthy.

Peter and Mary Jane Parker were in Arizona to start with as they were taking a driving trip to Los Angeles. I don’t have any guesses who’s going to be the Hollywood antagonist. And I hope it’s not long before they bring Rocket around for another session.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index continued its downward slide as investor confidence was shaken by the realization that after so much hype about the testing of the state’s tornado warning system nobody actually heard any sirens. That’s even more suspicious than the earlier things we were suspecting.

118

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? January – April 2017


Hi! Thanks for coming here trying to understand what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. The most recent of my posts tracking the stories should be at the top of this link, until I forget to tag some of these installments. Thank you.

Gil Thorp

16 January 2017 – 15 April 2017

When last I checked in on the goings-on of Milford school coach Gil Thorp and his band of students it was basketball season. The story was about Aaron Aagard, who’s 46% punchable, 51% charming for a teenager and 3% basketball phenomenon or something. It’s a good enough mix. His problem was he was really good some days, really bad some others, and he’s known to go to raves even in whole other towns. Some teammates overheard he was “taking Molly”. My “hep” “cat” informants assure me this is how “the kids” refer to the ecstasy when they “rap” about drug habits. Aagard had promised Coach Thorp he’d clear up their misunderstanding. I predicted it would turn out he was taking his “generically-disabled niece or something” Molly to the raves.

'Let's pretend I remember 6th-grade Career Day. What about it?' 'Aaron's Mom gave a presentation. She was a -- what do you call it? Actuarily?' 'An actuary.' 'Right. Making solid coin. So why are they living in a dumpy apartment?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 6th of February, 2017. On the one hand I admire the kids for remembering Career Day from like four years ago and that one of their classmates had the job of actuary. On the other hand, what are they doing remembering Career Day from like four years ago and that one of their classmates was an actuary? I don’t even remember if we ever had a Career Day, and if we did, all I could say about it is that one year my Dad played Santa Claus for the Winter Concert. Not really his career, though.

Shows what I know; Molly O’Herlihy is his girlfriend who totally exists and all, he just doesn’t want to show her off because you know how teenage boys are. There’s no group less prone to ostentatious displays of deployed heterosexuality. Thorp tells Aagard’s teammates to stop trying to figure out his deal, so they continue trying to figure out his deal. They have a breakthrough when they realize Aagard lives in an apartment far below his mother’s standing as an actuary. It’s good thinking on their part. Any mathematics major who’s bought his department’s propaganda will tell you how actuaries are just rolling in cash. If I ever need a quick 25 grand I just have to walk down to the business district and mutter about how I’ve got an advanced degree in mathematics and then, like, Jackson Life Insurance supposes I might be an actuary and they should pay me something just to be safe.

'My Mom had a drug problem before. That's when we lost the house. Now it's the same deal. She'll buy a few groceries on payday, and then the rest of the paycheck disappears. It's funny how being hungry can get in your head!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of March, 2017. I do like Aagard’s body language here and the way he’s moving. He’s showing that he does believe himself to be the lead actor on a sitcom in his head, yes. But he’s also showing how he’s the sort of outgoing, open, inviting person whom I like being around for maybe three minutes before I start thinking, “oh no, I think he likes me, how do I get out of here?” and have to set a tablecloth on fire to escape.

Coach Thorp, roused into something like action, checks in on Aagard’s mother. She’s not even actuarying, just doing bookkeeping for a couple small businesses. Aaron Aagard, deploying the sort of pacing that indicates he thinks he’s the charming star of an occasionally-serious three-camera sitcom, explains that the problem is not drugs. It’s drugs. His mother’s opioid habit. So he does well when there’s enough money in the house for, like, food and all. This leaves Thorp some unpleasant responsibilities. Thorp tries to figure out what he can do without screwing up Aagard’s life all the more. It’s not like he can even just pass Aagard some money to get groceries without inviting a world of scandal. So he covers where he can, inviting his student for one-on-one dinners in public areas.

An extra push at practice. 'Oxygen! Plasma! Something!' And a standard meal for Aaron. '*Another* piece of pie?' Another scene. Thorp. 'I'm coming in. It's time for a heart-to-heart with your mom.' 'Good luck with that.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 15th of March, 2017. Moments before the big climax, and Aagard’s mother realizing that she has failed Actuary Law and shall be hauled off for “rehab” that consists of her being stripped down to her basic demographic elements.

After being fed enough pie and I’m going to go ahead and assume cheese fries, Aagard consents to turning his mom in to the Actuary Police. Before she’s taken off to answer sumptuary charges of living beneath her actuarial station she gets to see one last, and first, basketball game starring Aaron. Pressured, he has a lousy game, at least until Thorp points out that as a person with advanced mathematical skills and training, Tina Aagard completely lacks the ability to tell whether a basketball player is doing well or badly. I agree, although the boo-ing from the rest of the audience might clue her in. Anyway, with that reassurance Aagard finishes up decently and goes into foster care with one of the teammates who did so much to change the set of hassles he’s dealing with.

Got to say, honestly, I did enjoy the story. I’m snarking about it because it’s more fun to recap stuff with a little silliness. The pacing was decent, the star was appealing, and Thorp got to be charmingly exasperated with the kids who insisted on figuring out what Aagard’s deal was. And the underlying problem was credible, and that the characters were stuck in their situation made sense too. It wasn’t anybody being stupid, just, stuck over their heads in a situation that just grew bad.

April started softball season. Its plot starts with student reporters for the Milford Journal discovering the school board’s vice-president way padding his expense accounts and he gets all angry at them for doing this. I understand. When I travel for work I live in fear the company’s going to decide I’m indulging my hedonism at their expense. And I fly United. Meanwhile in sports, transfer-student pitcher Ryan van Auken reveals that he’s handled his anger issues by putting that energy into having a large face. That’s been about all the time we’ve had for this story so far, so I don’t figure to predict where it might be going. When there’s updates, I’ll pass them along. Thank you.

'Yeah. Like I *said*. I used to have a temper, but it's *handled*. Got it?' 'Sorry, dude. I didn't mean anything by it.' 'Me, either. I was just messing with you.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of April, 2017. This is more nostril than I’m used to getting this early in a story. But it does make me excited to think of just how much eye-rolling Coach Thorp is going to have to do in dealing with this.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell two points over wait Princess Lolly of Candy-Land was removed from office when Queen Frostine became a Princess herself ? Also there was a Princess Lolly? Also wait, since when are there even characters in Candy-Land? What do you mean since 1984? What is with reality anymore? What?

133

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? 1 January – 8 April 2017


Hi! Looking for my most recent report on Judge Parker? This might be it. But check this page, with all the Judge Parker-tagged essays, just in case it’s not.


When last I talked about Judge Parker, new writer Francesco Marciuliano had finished his round of thoroughly blowing up the Parker and Spencer families’ incredible streak of fantastic good luck and fortune’s favor. Judge (Retired) Alan Parker’s movie deal had stalled and his new book was going nowhere. Sophie Parker had reappeared after months missing, with the rest of her band still gone, abducted by strange parties unknown. And Parker Sr had received a mysterious bouquet and message from shadowy intelligence-types, and made a promise to “have it done for you soon”.

Blowing up plots is fun and, relatively speaking, easy. How has Marciuliano handled putting things back together?

Judge Parker

1 January – 8 April 2017

Sophie Spencer, returned just in time for Christmas, has as rough a time of it as you might figure. Finding her father’s Crazy Evidence Wall, full of clippings thumbtacked in around circled notes (no strings of yarn connecting stuff, though) sends her into a rage which she takes out on her room, setting off a potentially-fatal-to-their-marriage fight between Sam Driver and Abbey Spencer. But Sam persists, setting back up his Crazy Evidence Wall, growing out his beard to Not Obviously Unhinged levels, and finally (this week) agreeing to go to Ambush Ridge with Sean Ballenger, father of the first abducted teen to have been released. That should turn out well. He can still get his beard out to Riker In The Borg-Are-Everywhere Timeline levels, if need be.

Abbey: 'Sam, please! Don't do this! We just started healing and now you're walking right into a crime scene without even discussing it first?' Sam: 'Like I said, there will be police. I will be with a cop. This isn't the first crime scene I've investigated.' 'Sam, you're not listening to me! You're doing the lone wolf thing again!' 'Abbey, I am listening to you. And I'm not being a lone wolf! This whole time, feeling like I couldn't protect us. Feeling helpless because I couldn't solve Sophie's case. But if I go where Sophie was held, maybe I can solve this. Maybe I can end this for good. And not as lone wolf but with an officer.' Meanwhile the officer, out of uniform, is loading a shotgun into his personal car's trunk.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of April, 2017. Not to be distracted by petty things but since the start of the year Abbey and Sam have talked about his being a ‘lone wolf’ approximately 628,969,274,033,384 times. I think it might mean something special between them.

Sophie, understandably still traumatized, gets into therapy. It played as a belated move, but just because even when stuff is happening swiftly there’s only a few panels per day and a lot was going on. In-story it was clearly set up within days of her release. This might still be late, but after all, nobody expected her tolerably safe return. She reveals that the only thing she knows of her kidnapper is that she soundd “so much like Abbey”, calling her adopted mother “a cheat” who “doesn’t deserve what she has”. It’s hard not to see this as teasing the fourth wall, or smashing right past it, given the years during which the Parker-Spencer-Drivers were in fortune’s favor. Marciuliano had a more literal, and classically soap-operatic, idea in mind.

Sophie at therapy. 'Neddy and I had nothing but each other after Grandpa died, until Abbey adopted us. But the kidnapper said Abbey doesn't deserve what she has, and I don't either. The kidnapper kept yelling at me that the good fortune wasn't ours, wasn't mine. I wasn't even a Spencer --- it was time for the other shoe to drop. What did she mean?' 'Did you tell this to the police, to Abbey?' 'No. I was afraid! What did the kidnapper mean? It made me feel that everything in my life was an illusion. That's all I could think of when I was trapped --- is it true? Is my life with Abbey based on some lie?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 26 of February, 2017. I haven’t talked about Mike Manley’s art, so please take this chance to look at it. This is a big talky scene, and it’s not boring. Good coloring helps, certainly, but I think the page would read at least as well without that. Sophie gets to emote, and her speech is well-paced, especially in the second row.

The other kidnapped kids reappear with their own harrowing tales. They had been kept in a remote shack, fed occasionally, waiting for any sign they might be able to escape, or any hint about what this was all about. They don’t get much. Some kind of ransom, some kind of torture to make Sophie Spencer “fall in line”. And then the gradual and then sudden collapse of the kidnapping scheme, as the woman in charge — the one who sounded so much like Abbey — has a fallout with another woman, “the only one who ever helped” her. The One Who Sounded Like Abbey shoots her partner, and then starts shooting the guards. The kids escape when she comes around to kill them, injuring but not killing The One Who Sounded Like Abbey.

Deep in the woods, a standoff between two women holding guns on each other. 'You never had a handle on this plot! You had a vague idea, a dream, but you never knew what you were doing!' 'I wasn't going to be forgotten. I had to remind everyone I'm also family.' 'If family's so important to you, then why are you pointing a gun at me? I'm the only one who ever helped you! I took the boys in case of ransom. I took care of my crew so no one would talk. You were too insane to do anything!' 'Call me insane one more time.' 'And you still wonder why the Spencers abandoned you.' Two gunshots.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of March, 2017. So how did Francesco Marciuliano’s Reddit AMA back in November go? … Oh yeah.

So who is The One Who Sounded Like Abbey? The clear implication is that she’s Abbey’s sibling, or some other person with a claim to the Spencer family (and fortune), denied for reasons not yet revealed. Or at least someone who believes she has a claim.

Not yet resolved: who the mysterious intelligence-type guy was that phoned Judge Parker Senior, or what he was promising to do.

I say Marciuliano’s succeeded in both blowing up the old status quo and putting things together into a plausible, credible, and intriguing new storyline. I’m looking forward to the next couple months of this.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose five points when someone looked up legendary 19th Century baseball player Tim Keefe and found out he first played in the major leagues for the Troy, New York, Trojans, inspiring a round of looking up 19th Century baseball team names and subsequent merriment that hasn’t been dimmed even by Richard pointing out how difficult it is to say what a baseball team’s name, as opposed to the nickname they were called by for a while, was before about the 1920s.

126

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 In Mary Worth? December 2016 – March 2017


[ Edited the 15th of May, 2017 to add: ] I’m grateful you see this site as a place to learn what’s going on in Mary Worth. My most recent story summaries should be at or near the top of this link’s essays, if you are looking for the current or for more recent stories than this post has.


When I reviewed Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth back in December I wrote that it had changed rather less than Mark Trail and Dick Tracy had. Only the artist had changed; the writer hadn’t. And that’s still so, although I suspect a pretty significant change in the nature of Mary Worth may be happening. Let me explain.

Mary Worth

12 December 2016 – 25 March 2017

If readers have any expectations for Mary Worth it’s that there will be a series of relentlessly literal, linear stories resolved by people having very heteronormative romances ideally ending in weddings, thank you, and recapped on Sunday with the decoration of a dubiously-sourced quote of dubious relevance. I’m not saying the strip doesn’t provide that anymore. But I do think it’s getting a little more textured than that.

When last we left things Iris and advice-columnist Wilbur had agreed to a pause on their relationship while he went around the world interviewing sandwiches of other lands. Mary Worth gives Iris some legitimately useful advice, helping her ambivalence following a dinner invitation from Zak, a much-younger community college student pursuing an Associate’s degree in Probably Being A Rotten Millennial, Those Rotten Millenials.

'I really like him, Mary. I don't know him well yet, but I really like him! He wants me to have dinner with him! If I continue to see Zak, it may lead to ... something more. He's my son's age, Mary! Should I still see him?' 'Iris, I think as long as you're seeing Zak out of genuine interest and not backlash at Wilbur ... Enjoy getting to know him better!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of December, 2016. I admit I have not been in a situation like this. My relationships have been almost entirely with people who have names that were trendy around the time of my birth, so they don’t seem trendy or weird or anything but instead proper and right. The bigger problem is more that it’s not clear Zak has anything to talk about. But not having anything to talk about is a common problem in the youth, and it can be cured by doing stuff, which, must admit, youth is good at.

Meanwhile Mary Worth keeps on grinding out “Ask Wendy” columns for Wilbur, who’s too busy globetrotting to tell people to listen to their hearts. She gives some wishy-washy advice to a person torn between two jobs, and that surprised me. The relationship between the two-jobs and the two-boyfriends questions is obvious. But it seems unusual to me that Mary Worth would manage the trick of having characters talk about something that isn’t directly the plot. It’s a basic storytelling craft, but it’s one of those crafts for a story that’s more than just a plot delivery service. Case in point: Mary’s original advice isn’t enough, and she has to give it again, at a later point in Iris’s Zak-versus-Wilbur debate.

Iris tries dating Zak some. She goes to a concert with him and some of his rowdy college friends, who notice that she’s way older than him. She makes a reference to Casablanca that goes completely over Zak’s head, and she decides it isn’t working out. This might be premature. There’s a lot of pop culture from before you were born to catch up on, even the great movies. On the other hand, “Here’s looking at you, kid” is not an obscure reference these days shut up I’m not old have you thought about how you’re the old one instead huh? They part amiably, anyway.

Iris: 'I see you with your friends ... and I know you belong with them. Not with me. Zak, thank you for everything. It's for the best we say goodbye.' 'If you say so. Iris ... ' 'Yes?' 'One last thing.' And he gives her a deep, bending-over-backwards kiss.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 12th of February, 2017. Must say that Zak’s taking it well, possibly because they were only on maybe two dates and they were pretty casual ones and it’s possible he doesn’t yet understand that she’s breaking up with him.

Now for the next bit that surprised me. Before the Zak story started, Iris’s son Tommy got addicted to Vicodin. But he’d been assigned a help group and resolved to stop getting fired and that seemed like the resolution of that. The storyline reappeared, though, at the end of Zak’s adventures in the comic. The Sunday panel even noted how recovering from an addiction like that isn’t a straight path; one will have setbacks and feel like any progress is lost. To see that fact faced directly in the comic feels novel. I expect a problem fixed to stay fixed. It’s another bit of better crafting.

'I wonder if I should be further along by now. Better. Stronger. Calmer.' 'Give yourself credit, Tommy. Embarking on your recover is a brave and wise thing.' 'Thanks, Ma.' 'Like the tide, progress is made in an ebb and flow pattern. Rarely is progress advanced on a straight path. You're doing fine. It's okay to pause and wrestle with demons along the way. I've had to do it myself.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worthfor the 5th of March, 2017. I’m not sure which demons Iris is talking about here. Her most recent encounter had been deciding whether to girlfriend it up for Zak or to stay true-ish to the globe-wandering Wilbur. That’s not demons, though. But the comic has a long run behind it and Iris has probably been up to all sorts of weird yet minor problems during it.

Life continues. Wilbur Weston pursues his around-the-world tour for his column about disaster survivors, showing up to ask people who’ve been through a mudslide why they haven’t died. Just imagine. You’re in Sao Paolo. The earth itself slides out from under you, and from above you, washing away the whole world in a cataclysm that takes a moment yet goes on forever. You make it out somehow. And then, there, is longtime Charterstone resident Wilbur Weston. He’s standing with notebook in hand, camera strapped around his neck, and a jar of mayonnaise wedged under his opposite arm. He says one thing to you, heedless of whether you speak English: “What are you doing, being alive like that?” He surely must be an image from the deepest recesses of … well, not the deepest recesses. Maybe one of the lighter ones, from the less-serious areas. A vision from the outskirts of the Greater Heck Metropolitan Statistical Area, the place where it’s all strip malls and commercial office parks just before the farmland takes over from the main drag of Heck. Seeing that wouldn’t haunt me to the end of my days, but it would throw me off for as much as a half-hour, like the time the cashier at Wendy’s saw me come in and warned they were out of potatoes. How can I have gone to any Wendy’s enough times they know I’m there for the potatoes and Freestyle Coke machine? How?

Toby mentions to Mary Worth how the two of them haven’t been in any stories worth anything in donkey’s years, hint hint, and they figure to take a cruise. Mary’s longtime would-be fiancee Jeff doesn’t come along, what with Mary figuring he probably wouldn’t have any fun anyway what with his knee and how it connects his upper to his lower leg through a complex mesh of cartilage and muscle and she’ll totally talk with him about how he didn’t want to go after they get back.

And here I’m not sure if the storytelling is getting clever or if I’m just giving them too much credit: Wilbur’s current round-the-world trip interviewing disaster survivors got its start when he went on a cruise and that ship had your usual sort of cruise-ship disaster. He was so moved by the experience of not dying he wanted to find out about other people not dying from stuff instead of writing the “Ask Wendy” advice column he’s turned over to Mary. Are cruise ships a new leitmotif of change and new beginnings? Or is it just fun drawing people on boats? We’ll see. I’m just surprised the craft is getting more advanced like this.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell seven points today as someone came across the French franc on the street and it started haranguing them about how nobody calls or visits or checks up on it anymore, and the whole scene was so awkward and tense nobody was in a good mood all day.

120

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? December 2016 – March 2017


[ Edited the 10th of June, 2017 to add ] Hi, persons trying to catch up what’s going on in James Allen’s comic strip Mark Trail. This article’s true enough for when it was posted, but it’s out of date by now. Less out of date? The plot summaries at or near the top of this link. Thanks for reading and I hope something here helps you out.


Mark Trail was the second story strip I reviewed as having had a sea change considerably improving it. And I’ve talked in passing about the major event of November and December. But let me recap the whole of the last few months as best I understand it.

Mark Trail.

4 December 2016 through 18 March 2017

When I last talked about Mark Trail he was off on a remote Hawai’ian atoll, there to document an invasive species of ant that was bothering the local birds. While human-induced carelessness will create ecological problems nature has its ways of restoring the balance. In this case, nature chose to go with “titanic volcano explosion that destroys the island, the invasive ants, and everything else on it”. Nature has a real problem figuring out the appropriate scale for its responses. This by the way isn’t the first time in James Allen’s tenure as Mark Trail author-and-artist that an invasive species has been solved by fire. Some kind of beetle boring into woods was solved by a particularly well-placed bit of semi-controlled wildfire.

At the smoking ruins of the island: 'I've been a charter pilot through the islands for many years and I've seen coral atolls rise and sink from time to time, but I've never seen one totally erupt, crumble, and sink into the sea before!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 24th of December, 2016. And yes, this may look bad, what with Mark Trail having declined the insurance on Firecracker Island. But look on the bright side: now that the island has erupted, crumbled, and sunk into the waters there’s probably someone looking to build a Monty Python reference on the spot already.

Anyway, the volcano exploded a lot, and then exploded some more, and then went on exploding to the point that some readers got a bit cranky wondering if there was even any island left to explode. It reads better if you look at a week’s worth of strips at once, which Comics Kingdom’s web site makes easy to do, at least if you have a paid subscription. Once again, I recommend subscriptions to both Comics Kingdom and to GoComics if you like newspaper-grade syndicated comic strips. Both web sites do their jobs very well.

With the island escaped, Mark Trail observed the ritual of cleansing between storylines: eating pancakes while sharing stilted dialogue and promising his son Rusty that they’ll go fishing someday.

Cherry: 'I made your favorite!' Mark: 'Pancakes! - Indeed you did!' Rusty: 'I enjoy pancakes too! Thanks, Mom!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of January, 2017. So yes, that friend of yours who’s way too much into Mystery Science Theater 3000 would like to know whether any of these people would say “I like coffee”. (It’s a reference to the episode Red Zone Cuba, but I’m going to say it’s from The Skydivers in order to trick MST3K fans into commenting to tell me I’m wrong. I’ve always been an awful old-school Internet troll that way.) The rest of us are busy pondering the exact differences between the curls in Cherry Trail’s hair and the wisps of we-hope-that’s-steam coming off the mound of pancakes. Are they a life form trying to communicate? Surely not or Mark Trail would have known what to make of them.

Meanwhile, Lee Hunter, whom I don’t know anything about either, arrives in West Africa for a licensed safari hunt. In the West African village of Village, where all the lionesses and cubs have been shipped off to zoos, there’s an elderly male that’s turned human-eater. Possibly from loneliness; he’d hardly be the first person to go a little crazy at work because of an unsatisfying home life.

As she arrives she bumps into Chris, nicknamed Dirty, a guy who’d been in some Mark Trail story a couple years ago when the strip was all about poacher smuggling. He’s on his way to the United States, and we haven’t seen Lee Hunter again since that encounter. I don’t have any guess whether Village is going to have anything to do with the current storyline, or whether James Allen is setting up a future storyline, or whether the strip just wanted to put in a good word for licensed exotic-animal hunting. (It feels out of character for Mark Trail, but it is a difficult question of ethics, and a character is under no obligation to make choices that even the author thinks correct. A character is only obliged to make choices that the author thinks credible for the story.)

That’s also just about all we’ve seen from Chris Dirty, too. Since that airport encounter Mark Trail’s been talking about how his old buddy Johnny Lone Elk spotted a pair of gray wolves and some cougar tracks at the Cheyenne River Reservation. Also evidence of a bear, which is quite exciting stuff when Mark was just thinking about getting in on some black-footed-ferret and prairie dog census work. Cherry Trail mentioned that it isn’t tornado season, so we can look forward to a tornado catching on fire and blowing up in the near future.

Doc: 'Johnny found evidence of a bear? Does he have any idea what kind?' Mark: 'It's probably just a black bear. Not likely to be a grizzly!' Cherry: 'Wasn't someone out there doing a black-footed ferret and prairie dog survey? A bear isn't going to help that at all!' Doc: 'How's Johnny doing? We haven't seen him in years!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 2nd of March, 2017. You might ask if Cherry Trail is too quick to judge the bear’s unwillingness to help with the black-footed-ferret and prairie dog survey. Perhaps. Me, I wonder if in the third panel that’s Lampy, finally finding work after the end of Apartment 3-G.

Cherry’s also mentioned some water park incident that I don’t know anything about. Trusting that it’s something that really happened back when Jack Elrod was writing and drawing the strip I’m going to suppose that someone was smuggling otters down the lazy river. I have no further information about this incident.

Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • The Pink Frogmouth, 12 March 2017
  • Toucans, 5 March 2017
  • The Western Pacific Biotwang (whale noise), 26 February 2017
  • Flying Lemurs, 19 February 2017
  • Amethyst, 12 February 2017
  • This Leaf-Shaped Spider In Yunnan, China, 5 February 2017
  • Hooded Nudibranches, 29 January 2017
  • New Zealand Keas, 22 January 2017
  • Spiders and Giraffe Assassin Bugs, 15 January 2017
  • Good news for bats affected with white-nose syndrome, 8 January 2017
  • Pyrosomes (which are these giant glowing sea-dwelling worms so don’t say I didn’t warn you), 1 January 2017
  • Blue Nawab caterpillars, 18 December 2016
  • Frog rescue and this amphibian-threatening fungus, 11 December 2016
  • The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize, 4 December 2016
  • Dodder Vine, 27 November 2016

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points when someone saw a tweet talking about a Victorian epidemic of “poisonous socks” and thought we ought to be spending more time hiding under furniture about this.

127

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? December 2016 – March 2017


I started out this strikingly popular series of “What’s Going On In” story strips by describing how Dick Tracy had gotten pretty good. I stand by that assessment: the comic has been telling stories at a pretty good pace and with enough energy and excitement to demand attention. I discover reading my earlier piece that I didn’t actually describe the then-current storyline except to say it was going to have a guy get eaten by a hyena. Let me fix that and bring you to the present day.

Dick Tracy

29 November 2016 through 11 March 2017

So, the guy did not get eaten by a hyena. I apologize for the mistake, but it was after all only my best projection as to where the story was going. The fellow was a new Tracy-esque villain named Selfy Narcisse, whose gimmick was that he was always taking selfies. They can’t all be The Pouch.

Narcisse had been embezzling campaign donations to Representative Lois Bellowthon (herself proposing some anti-Lunar-people legislation); he was fleeing with a literal satchel of cash after poisoning the finally-wise-to-him Congressman. Yes, he used his selfie stick to inject the poison, so at least that keeps on-theme. He took refuge in the zoo where he had a friend willing to disguise him as a zoo keeper, which is a thing that happens in real big-city zoos.

Selfy Narcisse panics as police close in. 'This is all Vic's fault! He blew my cover and wasted all my poison ... if he weren't already dead I'd kill him!' Tracy discovers Vic's corpse. 'It's the missing zoo worker! He doesn't appear to have been mauled, but my Wrist Wizard isn't showing any of his vital signs. Get Baker to open the door, Lizz. I'll check for another way in.' Meanwhile Narcisse plans: 'Better stay put, Tracy. There might be enough poison left in the selfie stick for you!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 4th of December, 2016. While I admit I kept losing track in the climax of the difference between the Narcisse’s selfie stick and the electric prods used for pushing animals around, I don’t blame the artists: they’re hard things to differentiate. Especially when it doesn’t seem like that big a leap for a poison-dispensing selfie stick to also have an electric prod. Anyway, look at the center panel, bottom row: that’s a great rendition of a scene viewed through a window, and most of that texture is made by good color choice.

His cover fell apart when his hat fell off for a moment and zoogoers put pictures that happened to have him in frame on social media. So again, that’s good work by Mike Staton and Joe Curtis in being on-theme. His friend accidentally drank Narcisse’s poison stash, thinking it alcohol. Narcisse tasers Tracy and drags him into the water buffalo pen. One of the water buffalo, annoyed by the villain’s selfie-taking, gored Narcisse, but was scared away from Tracy when his Wrist Wizard handheld computer’s battery exploded. Yes, I wrote that sentence, and you read it. Go back and read it again until you believe it.

In December a major new story started and it involved a major crossover event because everything in Dick Tracy does anymore. Their Christmas strip was the characters singing Deck Us All With Boston Charlie, Walt Kelly’s great Pogo doggerel, for crying out loud. The main attraction for this storyline is The Spirit, the great superhero character created by Will Eisner in a line of books I never read. Sorry. I know, I know, everybody who’s stood in a comic book store more than ten minutes will tell you they’re the greatest things ever made. I’ve been busy.

Tracy: 'Spirit, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine, The Great Am.' Am: 'The pleasure is mine, Mr Spirit. I presume the object of your visit is to keep an eye on Perenelle Flammel?' Spirit: 'Yes ...' (Thinking: who is this guy?) Am: 'I've encountered her about five times through the years. In fact, the first time we met was at her funeral in 1397.' Tracy: 'So Perenelle Flammel is truly immortal?' Am: 'Yes, I am sure of it, Tracy.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 1st of January, 2017. This strip may not convince the casual reader about Perenelle Flammel. But it is delivering to us the Word of God that Flammel is indeed immortal. The Great Am will be recognized by devoted longtime readers of Annie, where he’s God. All right, he’s Ambiguously God. But that’s who he is because that’s the kind of thing Annie was up to when Harold Gray wasn’t ranting against social security or the minimum wage law or stuff.

The Spirit’s in town because one Perenelle Flammel is auctioning off the immortality formula that’s kept her from dying since the 14th century. The auction brings together The Spirit, Dick Tracy‘s own super-science-industrialist Diet Smith, Oliver Warbucks (as Staton and Curtis are fostering the orphaned Annie cast), Mister Carrion (whom Wikipedia tells me is one of The Spirit’s recurring villains, and whom the story revealed to be an agent for The Octopus, which Wikipedia says is another of The Spirit’s recurring villains), and the Dragon Lady (allowed into the story via special passport issued by Terry and the Pirates). The preliminary auction helps convince bidders the formula might be legitimate because it checks out with a Doc Savage reference. Low-level con men Brush and Kitchen attempt to rob the preliminary auction’s treasury but get easily caught by Tracy and Spirit. And Tracy, doing some actual detective work for once, finds that Carrion brought cash from a bank robbery, so he’s out of the plot or so we think.

Early morning in Flammel's suite: 'Good morning, Mistress! Your Monte Cristo is ready. All the bidders will assemble at noon for the auction. Is there anything else you need, mistress? ... MISTER DOUBLEUP! COME QUICKLY! Mistress Flammel! Please, help her!' 'I cant. It's too late. Too late. She's DEAD. Go call Dick Tracy, Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of March, 2017. Repeating the last two words he says is Doubleup’s gimmick. I suppose he’d repeat more if the word balloons were bigger. The valet’s gimmick I’m not clear on, but he seems to only be a minor character there because Flammel needs a valet.

And then Flammel turned up dead, because the immortality serum doesn’t protect you against strangulation. Flammel’s bodyguard, recurring Tracy villain Doubleup, seems a poor suspect as he was being paid in Scarlett Sting comic books, so we’re on to Flammel’s valet and then check out anyone else who’s been in the story.

In miscellaneous plot threads, since there’s a lot of those planted in spaces between the main action: Sam Catchem’s wife has finished chemotherapy and been declared cancer-free. A crime boss name of Posie Ermine noticed Mysta Chimera, who had been his daughter Mindy before the mad science treatment that destroyed her memory and made her into a synthetic Moon Maid replica. He crashed his car into hers to try to recover her. This didn’t get him permanently back in her life, but he’s undeterred. I’m sympathetic to Posie Ermine here and not even being snarky about that. There’s some deeply emotionally messy stuff going on here.

Somewhere deep in an Antarctic valley someone who appears to be a Lunarian pledges to investigate “the halfling”, “my granddaughter”, which has to be Mysta Chimera. This matches a couple references in October with Mysta asking Honey Moon Tracy if she’s heard any telepathic contacts from anybody else. Tracy and the Spirit have been trading stories including The Spirit mentioning how he went to the Moon too. I think that’s all the stuff that sounds like threads ready to go somewhere, but for all I know that Pogo reference for the Christmas strip is setting up a scene late this year when Albert Alligator mistakenly swallows Gidney and Cloyd. We’ll see.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

While the Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another three points during trading nobody trusts the result and everybody is walking gingerly on the trading floor lest they tip something over.

127

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley?


[ Edited the 24th of May, 2017 to add: ] Hi, fans of Gasoline Alley looking for summaries of the plots. I’m glad to provide what I have. This post might be out of date, though. My most recent report on what’s happening in the strip should be at or near the top of this page. The rest of this essay is about what was going on as of February 2017, which it no longer is, and is becoming less so every day. Thanks for being around.


I, too, thought I was done with story strips. And then I realized I’d forgot one. And what a one to forget: it’s, I believe, the oldest syndicated comic strip that isn’t in perpetual reruns. Coming to us from the 24th of November, 1918, it’s …

Gasoline Alley.

If you know anything about Gasoline Alley you don’t need me to tell you anything about Gasoline Alley. It’s one of those comic strips that’s been around forever even though the last child to grow up enthusiastically reading it went on to fight in King Philip’s War. Have to admit, a someone who only started paying attention to it in adulthood, the kids are missing something. That something is a lot of old-time radio references. I honestly wonder how artist/writer Jim Scancarelli wasn’t hired to draw the Lum and Abner comic strip.

So the comic strip is a slice-of-life serial comic. Its big gimmick, and the thing that’s let it last nearly a century, was the day in 1922 when protagonist Walt Wallet discovered the orphan Skeezix on his doorstep. Since then most of the characters in the strip have aged more or less in real time. People get born, they grow up, they move off, they move back, they marry, they have careers, they bring new people into the strip, they retire. The whole cast is impossibly vast and interconnected in ways that only Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury compares to.

Walt Wallet is still around, even though the progression of time makes him something like 115 years old. I imagine Scancarelli is a little too sentimental to kill the comic’s original star, even if there have been like four whole generations of plausible lead characters since then. He doesn’t even have to kill Walt. Scancarelli embraces a bit of magic whimsy in the comic (a lot, really), and one of the conceits is the Old Comics Home. It’s the boarding house for all the characters from the classic old comic strips. They have a visit every year or so. I can’t imagine anyone objecting if Walt, and maybe Skeezix too, were to pay their annual visit to Mutt and Jeff and Buster Brown and Smokey Stover or whoever and just … not come back.

But Walt Wallet does come back. And the current storyline, begun the 16th of January, stars him. He’s inspired by a newspaper advertisement offering “big bucks for your inventions”. After several days sleeping on it he has an inspiration. It’s a combination freezer-fridge-stove-grill-microwave-TV, the sort of thing you might create as a dubiously practical all-in-one contraption for a 60s sitcom. Wallet admits he got the idea from thinking about how in Dick Tracy the B.O. Plenty clan had a stove with a built-in TV set. I don’t know that this actually happened, but I believe it. Scancarelli shows a love for this particular kind of pop culture. He is not so reference-crazy as the actual current staff of Dick Tracy, but then neither is the writing staff of Family Guy. Still, he could hold his own in a highly referential conversation with them.

'Isn't this the invention of a lifetime? A combination freezer, fridge, stove, grill, and microwave! Well! Aren't you going to say anything?' 'I'm speechless!'

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of January, 2017. There’s an optional TV also. No, it isn’t connected to the Internet, because there is no non-ridiculous reason to connect your refrigerator to the Internet. Will say that’s a pretty good example diaram considering so far as I know Wallet hasn’t been trained in graphic design and he’s also older than graphic design.

Wallet’s idea underwhelms Skeezix and his nurse. But he attracts the attention of Gasoline Alley TV’s Shark Bait. So he goes to the TV studio to pitch his idea — or really the novelty of a 115-year-old inventor — to the jury of millionaire investors. He gets to the studio and meets, who else but Frank Nelson.

You know Frank Nelson. OK, you know that guy on The Simpsons who goes YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess? That’s Frank Nelson they’re impersonating there. He appeared in a lot of Jack Benny Program episodes as the clerk or ticket-taker or information desk guy or anyone at all that Benny would have to get information from. And he’d instead get “YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess” and “OOooOOOoooh” and insults. This may sound like thin stuff, but, again: character actor. And done for one or two minutes a week, two weeks a month, the character doesn’t exactly get old. It gets familiar, the way a fun running gag does. Frank Nelson’s reappeared in Gasoline Alley to torment Walt Wallet because, like I said, Jim Scancarelli’s an old-time radio fan. The comic probably reads fine if you have no idea what’s being referred to here. If you know how the lines should be read, I imagine they’re funnier.

But I don’t know what it reads like to someone who doesn’t get the references. Scancarelli likes them, and will keep making them. Even if they’re a little baffling. A while back he introduced Molly Ballou, radio reporter. Who’s carefully introduced as the sister to Wally Ballou, famously mis-cued reporter for Bob and Ray. And shortly after that he introduced Polly Ballou, Wally and Molly’s other sister. I understand wanting to do a little Bob and Ray fanfic because who would not? And it’s simple professionalism to do it with your own character, because that way, if you screw up nobody’s qualified to tell you you’re wrong. (Frank Nelson’s appearances have, I believe, avoided coming right out and naming him, allowing for some deniability if the character goes completely wrong. At the cost of confusing people who realize there’s a reference to something here that they don’t have enough stuff to Google.)

But why make them Wally Ballou’s improbably young-looking sisters? In the comic strip that defined “comic strip that passes more or less in real time”? Why not make them his daughters, or granddaughters? And why Molly and Polly, when it seems like one would do? Maybe it’s pure self-indulgence. As cartoonist self-indulgences go this seems quite tolerable to me. Or maybe I just like that I get the references.

'Uh, excuse me! Where do you want me to go?' 'Oooh! I'd love to tell you ... but I can't.' 'Why not?' 'This is a family newspaper!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of February, 2017. Fine, call it a dumb old joke. It was my best laugh of the day from the comics. Also I hadn’t thought of it before but now I realize Scancarelli could totally slip in Harold “The Great Guildersleeve” Peary in too. He’s got the basic design down.

So, as of this week, Walt Wallet’s gotten onto Shark Bait. It’s going out live because Gasoline Alley TV just does that. You can roll with it or you can read something else, okay? There’s an odd bit of confusion in the show’s opening about whether the jury is a panel of millionaires or billionaires and that might be a hint there’s some mischief up. I make no predictions for how it’ll resolve except that at the end of it Walt Wallet will not be a millionaire. The strip doesn’t break reality that much, plus, think of the biographies of every inventor you know. How many of then end with “died in poverty after long court fights with the companies that ripped off his/her patents”? Yeah.

This is the storyline running Monday through Saturday. On Sundays the comic strip runs separate gags. They’re usually one-off panels, not connected to any storyline. And they’re usually the sort of big dumb old-school sketch comedy stuff that was old when old-time radio was new. And Scancarelli draws it in this warm, friendly, very gentle style. It works for me. I like that kind of comedy. Don’t know that it communicates today.

'I'm the Genie of the Lamp! I'll grant you 3 wishes for letting me out!' 'Can I have 10 billion dollars?' 'Your wish is my command!' 'How about world peace?' 'Easier done than said! What's next? This is your last wish! It better be a good one!' 'Make me lose 200 pounds and look like I did when I was 20!' 'Gad-zooks, man! I don't have that kind of power! I'm only a genie!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of February, 2017. The typical sort of Sunday business for Gasoline Alley. Since the joke is old, take the chance to look at the art. This is some pretty lively stuff, especially considering the scene is just two characters talking and would play just as well without any visuals. There’s not enough good art on the comics pages; good on Scancarelli for insisting on it in his work.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell eight points following uncertainty as to which of the paczki is the strawberry and which is the red raspberry. This might have been weathered but similar doubts were raised regarding the blueberry and the prune ones.

98

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant?


[Edited the 20th of May, 2017 to add] Hi! Thanks for being interested in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. This essay carried the story up to February 2017. I should have updates for times later than that at the top of this link. Thanks for reading and thanks for being interested.


I remember reading this week’s story strip as a kid. It was obviously an important one as it got so much space in the Sunday Star-Ledger‘s pretty good comic section. It didn’t look like a story strip, what with it having knights and sword fights and I would swear the occasional dragon. But I never knew what was going on, since there weren’t any word balloons and everything was explained with these giant blocks of text that I thought were trying to sound olde-tymey. I’m curious how my memory matches the actual fact, but it’s so hard online to look up stuff from the 70s and 80s.

Prince Valiant.

Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant has good reasons for looking like that. The strip, created in the late 1930s by Hal Foster, keeps that close to its roots, with the action in the panels and the dialogue kept quite separate. This separation was not idiosyncratic when the comic strip started. Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Flash Gordon and other adventure strips of the time similarly ran their Sunday continuities with action and dialogue separated.

There is, yes, a lot of history to read in the comic strip, which just finished its 80th year. The comic strip reached panel number 4,176 this Sunday. They put the number right there in the comic, as if they’re trying to lure in the slightly obsessive reader. Kind of them. You don’t need to know it. The characters are straightforward enough to drop in on. The settings are classics, at least for a kind of story I didn’t really read while growing up. But that are at least good backdrops for cartoons set in those kinds of settings. The home setting is Camelot-era England and the lands surrounding the North Sea. But sometimes the gang goes on an expedition. Like, now.

I’m not sure when Team Valiant set out on an adventure to the east. But they’ve been tromping around the Far East for well over a year now and I forget what they set out to accomplish. What they have done is have a series of adventures in fresh, attractive settings. And they have looked great, which is tolerably true to both longstanding Western European folklore about the riches of the East and to how, historically, Western Europe of that time was a pit. At least compared to rich, stimulating places like Byzantium and Arabia and India and China.

The sorcerer-king was made welcome in the subterranean city; but he grew jealous of his host's knowledge, and greedy for power. He learned their secrets and then he deceived them. He stole the terrible key to power that we call the Soul of Asia. To us, that artifact appears sorcerous --- but it its creators, it was a device that released the most basic forces of Nature, the unseen forces that build and destroy our material world. Aristotle posited that our world is made up of infinitely small quanta of energy. The Soul is the key to that primal energy! It rends the fabric of matter and opens gateways to things that would seek to destroy our world! Brandishing the terrible thing, the sorcerer-king could not be contained in the hidden city. He struck a deal with the rightful owners: he would never unleash the artifact's power so long as they did not seek to take it from him.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 29th of May, 2016. I’m delighted to have a story where Aristotle is used to explain the nigh-omnipotent travel valise instead of it being a lost invention of Archimedes. Alas, the Soul of Asia gets taken by a baddy and that takes the rest of the year to deal with.

The current part of the storyline is just a few weeks old, so it’s a good chance to hop on Prince Valiant’s boat if you want. Valiant has just overseen the downfall of a Himalayan-or-so tyrant named Azar Rasa who was hoping to use the awesome powers of the Soul of Asia to conquer Asia. And what is the Soul of Asia? It’s some kind of briefcase-size magical energy construct thingy with an awesome lot of power. It’s potent stuff, built on the learnings of the giants living deep in the Earth.

With the Soul of Asia finally in his posession, Azar Rasa turns the awful weapon toward Karen, Val, and Numair. A figure suddenly rushes from behind and skewers the unsuspecting sorcerer with a savage lunge! It is Vanni 'I have failed my responsibilities too often. Let me make amends now!' Azar staggers and falls into the volcanic well, carrying the Soul of Asia down with him! A massive explosion roils up from the depths - the demon writhes and disappears into a geyser of molten rock and the subterranean chamber convulses and begins to shatter! Vanni and Karen, Val and Numair all rush for the stairs leading out ...
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 25th of December, 2016. Don’t worry, it turns out the gang outrun the Soul of Asia’s tripping of the false vacuum and collapsing the universe in a spasm of zero point energy’s release. Also if you aren’t squicked by giant centipedes then check the previous Sunday’s comic for a really huge view of that demon. It’s dramatic but not for everyone.

So, Valiant escaped Azar Rasa’s prison by trying, since even in long-running comics security guards aren’t any good at their job. And with the help of the giants, who dress like yetis — did I mention the giants dress like yetis before? — the good guys blew up the mountain and killed the last of Azar Rasa’s followers. They pitched the Soul of Asia and Azar Rasa into Mount Doom, and all is as well as could be. That’s where 2017 started.

Val and his company have barely started their long journey home when three giant figures appear before them. Their eyes are magnetic and an alien voice seems to form in Val's head: 'This Karen and Numair have done us great service, and we would repay them. Come, we will show you a safer route through these mountains.' As if in a dream, Val finds he has no will to refuse. Save for their native guide and the pack animals all follow the giants into a cleft in the ridge and deep into the earth. Val finds he cannot fight the cloudy unreality that settles over his mind. Karen touches his shoulder: 'Do not worry - Numair and I have come this way before. They mean us well.' Time itself loses meaning and Val has no idea how long it is before the passageway opens up onto a vast subterranean gallery holding a shining city like no other he has ever seen!
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of January, 2017. Prince Valiant is strangely reluctant to just trust giant, weirdly-dressed strangers using telepathic coercion to lure him into remote, untraceable redoubts. Strange fellow.

The giants who dress like yetis are grateful to Team Valiant for helping clear up this mess where they kind of let humans get their grubby hands on a briefcase of unimaginably vast destructive power. (They hadn’t wanted to let the original sorcerer-king take it, but he had the thing, and promised not to grab it back if he didn’t use it.) So they offer help, promising to show an easier way that Our Heroes can get to wherever the heck they’re going. They lead the gang deep into the earth and hook them up with a boat and a team of pink dolphins to haul the boat through the underground river.

What had been a dreamlike journey down a subterranean water world has turned into a nightmare! A great behemoth heaves its bulk onto the craft bearing Val and his company. Their giant pilot responds with a blinding ray shot from his strange weapon but the creature's attack sets the boat to capsize! The best recoils, the pilot throws himself athwart the craft in a desperate attempt to steady the violent rocking and falls over the side! The crisis snaps Val out of his lethargy, but a fraction of a second too late to catch the guide. Then the low rumble from the river grows into something terrifying ... earthquake! The walls begin to crumble, the river begins to boil, and the dolphins that pulled them forward abandon their harness! What else could go wrong?
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 12th of February, 2017. Won’t lie to you: any time a giant behemoth rises from the sea I get more interested in the story. Doesn’t matter if it’s Prince Valiant, Star Wars, Sally Forth, Paw Patrol, or Alley Oop. You have my attention. Use it well.

It’s going well.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point today and everyone is blaming the peanut-butter-yoghurt-shelled pretzels they got at the store.

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What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)?


[ Edited the 13th of May, 2017 to add: ] Hi, Sunday Readers. This might be an outdated report on the current plot in the Sunday editions of The Phantom. My most recent recaps of the Weekday and the Sunday stories — which are separate — should be at the top of this link. I haven’t figured a way to separate out the Sunday continuity from the weekday ones, but you can roll with that, I hope. Good luck.


So The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks, is a bit of an overachiever. It’s understandable. He’s the 21st in the line. Consider how many family businesses fall apart when the fourth generation would have taken over if anyone could be found to run things. He must’ve been raised barely able to imagine anything else in life. So while Mark Trail might take Sundays off and Alley Oop might just reiterate his adventures and Spider-Man might get a bit of work done, The Phantom gives us a whole separate story. It’s the only story strip doing that. So it gets a second round of story-recapping from me. Last week I covered the dailies and stuff hasn’t changed much since then.

The Phantom (Sundays).

The Phantom is sworn to defend the people of Bangalla. But it’s a complicated, global world. It always has been. The first Phantom was an English sailor caught in the spice trades. The Phantoms who’ve been on-panel since the comic strip began haven’t been less worldly. This serves some good purposes. For one, it defuses the strip’s built-in concept of the White Savior To These Helpless Black People. That’s also defused by the development and ongoing presentation of Bangalla as a functional liberal democracy. But it helps if The Phantom uses his time and suspiciously great wealth to fight crime wherever it leads, anywhere in the world. And it means the strip can leave the jungle behind without straining its premise.

The current Sundays storyline began the 26th of June, 2016, with a plane crash, always the start to a good jungle adventure if you’re not on it. The plane carries Mikey D’Moda, teenaged idiot scion of the Chicago Mob who’s being traded to the Chinese crime syndicates in exchange for not having him around until he’s eighteen. That and a shipment of authority-attracting guns are supposed to bring a truce to the underworld, because that plan always works out.

Mikey D'Moda tells his great-great-great grandpa of his plane crash in 'Nowhere, Africa', and that his mob boss's Chinese friends have gone missing. The Phantom snarks on how Mikey talks. But Mikey offers to help The Phantom get a better suit if he's ever in Chicago.
Tony Depaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 14th of August, 2016. I appreciate The Phantom for its action and adventure, but I really like moments like this where the characters get to kick back and consider how silly everything is. Also I appreciate how completely you know who Mikey is by the end of this one installment.

Mikey escapes to a freedom lasting whole minutes before The Phantom catches him. Meanwhile the grownups in the Chicago and China Mobs get arrested and interrogated, there to scatter some plot seeds that haven’t yet blossomed. Incidentally along the way the Jungle Patrol gives one of the prisoners the private phone call to his lawyers he’s entitled to, but “accidentally” records it on a phone. I mention this because it’s something true about The Phantom universe.

The good guys are, basically, good guys. But they fall way short of the superhero ideal. They’re not scrupulous about civil rights or the law or ethical behavior. See, for example, The Phantom’s vast wealth, said to be acquired from among other things pirate treasures. That’s fine for a pulp adventure hero; but, in the real world, stuff doesn’t stop having a legitimate owner just because someone else stole it. The Phantom could probably make a claim on stuff that has no recoverable provenance, but he’s not going to that effort.

The good guys typically get away with their cheating because the writers are on their side. But it does come back to bite them sometimes. One of the lingering human rights abuses has been The Phantom keeping the terrorist Chatu in a private, secret prison. This is understandable. Chatu arranged the kidnapping and faked-murder of The Phantom’s wife from his actual professionally-built prison cell. But, still. Is keeping him in a wood hut in the jungle really better? I believe that’s being left around to generate future stories.

Mikey advises his great-grandfather that his being kept hostage in China would never have brokered peace in the Chicago mob, which I agree with but don't understand fully anyway. Then Bruno calls and warns that 'our Chinese friends ain't too happy you come home, Mikey', even though that really does seem to be the fault of a plane crash of unexplained cause.
Tony Depaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 25th of September, 2016. And, again, I like how Mikey seems to have learned everything about his crime syndicate from watching the Saturday Night Live parodies of mob movies. He’s probably a little young to have picked up anything from the “Goodfeathers” segments on Animaniacs but he would have too.

After spending minutes listening to Mikey, The Phantom decided the thing to do was punch the crime out of both Chicago and China. He heads first to Chicago and then, conveniently, China follows along. Or someone does, anyway. In a long sequence The Phantom’s chased around the D’Moda Crime Estate by mysterious shadowy figures who look to be ninjas. Yes, I associate ninjas more with Japan and turtles than I do with China, but c’mon. It’s the Chinese Mob. They can hire out. My supposition is that the Chinese Mob is offended that the truce fell apart when Mikey’s plane crashed. This seems to me unfair. But I suppose if you aren’t sure about the good faith of another party then it’s not worth your time to work out the difference between accidents and betrayal.

The aged D'Moda warns The Phantom that in his prime he'd have mopped the floor with the Ghost Who Walks. Phantom warns 'there's a dangerous man on the estate tonight. Other than me.' Cue the ninja throwing stars!
Tony Depaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 1st of January, 2017. Honestly a little surprised that D’Moda here hadn’t been punched by one of The Phantom’s ancestors, possibly repeatedly. He does often turn up people who’d encountered his ancestors. Comics Kingdom’s vintage strips reveal he always has. It’s one of the little things that gives heft to a continuity.

So, now, The Phantom is in the dying elder D’Moda’s bedroom, as at least one ninja closes in. The Phantom’s getting to some Peter Parker-y levels of snark against his opponent. It’s a good way of keeping the panels from being too much just guys hitting each other and grunting.

Phantom getting inside his ninja attacker's head: 'You've come a long way to put in a day's work, friend. Do you get expenses on a job like this? Travel? Meals? I'm sure you must. Only an amateur would work for a flat fee and end up flat on the floor for his trouble!'
Tony Depaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom for the 5th of February, 2017. The Phantom does raise some fair questions about working as a ninja for hire. I suppose they’re all the sorts of thing you learn to charge for as any kind of consultant, but you do still have to learn that. This implies there’s someone who trains people to be ninjas for hire. Might be someone who got out of the ninja game directly. Might be someone who’s just a standard consultant and realized a lot of ninjas handled their freelance business badly. Never know.

The Sunday Phantom is written by Tony DePaul, just as the weekday ones are. The Sunday strips are drawn by Terry Beatty, who also writes and draws Rex Morgan, M.D..

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

And now the index rose back above the psychologically important 100 barrier. Likely this reflects people’s relief at having that whole index-rises unpleasantness behind them and how we’re just going crazy eating the Valentine’s Day candy while it’s in style.

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What’s Going On In The Phantom?


[ Edited the 6th of May, 2017 to add: ] Hi, Readers. Thanks for being interested in the goings-on of The Phantom, the comic strip. This post may be outdated by the time you find it. My recap of the most recent Phantom stories should be somewhere in this link, though there might be a recap of the Sunday continuity in the way. Weekday and Sunday strips have independent stories and I cover them separately. Good luck.


Today’s, and next week’s if all goes well, What’s Going On segments are about the same strip. That’s because it solves the problem of Sunday and weekday readerships being different in decisive form. The weekday and the Sunday strips carry on different stories. Neither sequence has to wait for the other. Surely these can be fit into some order so as to preserve the all-important continuity of The Phantom‘s universe. I admit I’ve never tried.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

I snarked about the importance of continuity to The Phantom. It’s reflexive. The comic strip, started in February of 1936 by Lee Falk, has a continuity. An important one, even.

The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks, is the 21st of that line, descendant of a chain of superheroes defending the African nation of Bangalla from, in the 16th century, pirates. In the 21st century, it’s … pirates and terrorists. Sometimes stranger stuff. The comic strip shared a universe with Mandrake the Magician and some of Mandrake’s weirdness would leak over. Some of the Mandrake characters have made appearances in The Phantom since that comic ended.

The rough premise of The Phantom may seem overly familiar. Costumed superhero who lives in a secret cave watches for menaces to his homeland. When he finds them he’ll punch them hard enough to leave a mark for decades. (A specially-constructed ring helps with this.) He hasn’t got any superpowers per se. But he deploys intelligence and great physical shape and training plus stunning private wealth to get as close as practical. If it sounds like every costumed superhero comic ever, then remember it got started a couple years before Batman did. I figure to talk about The Phantom‘s universe more next week.

The comic strip, weekday and Sunday threads, are written by Tony DePaul and have been since 1999. The weekday comics have been drawn by Mike Manley since May of 2016. Manley also draws Judge Parker. The Sunday strips have been drawn by Terry Beatty, the artist and now writer for Rex Morgan, M.D..

Lee Falk, strolling through town. 'THREE PATHS intersect here in the minutes ahead. None of the parties know they've entered the realm of The Ghost Who Walks!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of November, 2016. The start of the story. The third path for all this is the Jungle Patrol, the Phantom’s self-raised auxiliary army, although it isn’t clear at this point what’s supposed to be life-changing about their story just now.

So here’s the current Phantom weekday storyline. Its essentials were laid out in a week of strips starting the 7th of November and hosted by “Lee Falk”. That’s one of the charming conventions of the comic: a representation of the strip’s originator gives the dramatis personae and necessary backstory for the adventure ahead. If the story’s run long he might pop in again to recap for new or simply lost readers. Or to advance the story to a new point. It’s common enough for cartoonists to be characters in their own strips, but it’s almost always humor strips. Story strips usually leave narration as done by some anonymous source. “Lee Falk” doesn’t really say anything that couldn’t be done by unattached narrative box. But it adds a neat personal touch to the starts of stories that he does.

So the first element is Orson Burley, big, bearded tycoon in the enormous-wealth industry. He’s heard this legend of The Phantom and figures it’d be a good subject for a postage stamp. I have to say I’m on Burley’s side on this. It seems odd that the Republic of Bangalla wouldn’t have already used a semi-mythic protector-legend as subject for a stamp. Local mythical figures on stamps seems like elementary nation-building. Issuing cultural stamps are the first thing you do after gaining independence from the British. Well, the first thing after renaming the street Government House is on to the native word for “Freedom”. But President Lamanda Luaga is cold to the idea, and warns The Phantom of Burley’s investigation. I understand a secretive superhero trying to keep his secrets. But the legend’s been going for four centuries now; this can’t be the first serious scholarly investigation of the thing. Well, so it goes.

Burley’s insisted on learning as much as possible about The Phantom and going ahead with his postage stamp. This despite the warnings of the President and of his limo driver. And Burley’s startled that anyone could see The Phantom as a legend dangerous to investigate. I confess I’d be, too.

President of Bangalla: 'Orson Burley hired the best! Top people at the University! Experts! I was certain he would [ drop his investigation of The Phantom ], out of respect for the highest office in the land! He turned me down flat!' The Phantom: 'I could always have a word with him.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 2nd of December, 2016. I know what you’re all wondering: how did The Phantom get broadband Internet into the depths of his Skull Cave secret lair? I don’t know either. The fellow lurking behind The Phantom’s chair is Guran, his childhood friend and faithful assistant. Don’t worry about him. He regards the clothing outfits of everyone in that first panel to be normal.

Second piece is Akini Ogutu, “CEO of a multinational giant headquartered in Mawitaan”. While Bangalla’s a basically functional democracy it still has problems, even in its capital city. She got targeted and kidnapped, for ransom, by one of those gangs you hear about that hold executives for ransom. The Phantom’s not-at-all-worrisome private army, the Jungle Patrol, finds the hideout. The Phantom goes in alone and rescues her in a daring, exciting raid that full of the sort of superheroics you’d expect. Also that make you wonder, well, why does he have his Jungle Patrol if they aren’t at least doing support on this sort of thing?

(OK, it’s because The Phantom tries to keep his Phantom life and his Jungle Patrol life separate. The Jungle Patrol doesn’t even actually know their leader is The Phantom. They know him only as The Unknown Commander, who issues orders over the phone, and that’s not a potential danger pit at all, is it? But that does shift the question to why not have his army move against the criminal gang, which would seem safer all around?)

Anyway, it must all have been brilliant because he rescued Ogutu. Burley can’t believe Ogutu’s claim that she was rescued by The Phantom, and figures to go on with his research and stamp production. And this week The Phantom has gone to Burley, presumably to explain why not being on a stamp is such a freaking big deal for him. Maybe the 16th Phantom was betrayed by someone selling a fake Penny Red or something.

The Phantom hustling Akini Oguto away from her kidnappers. 'I'll be back for you. Keep your head down.' 'Please don't leave me! I - I'm Frightened!' 'So are they,' says the Phantom, shooting one without looking.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 6th of January, 2017. Oh, yeah, The Phantom doesn’t have that old-fashioned superhero thing about not using guns. I admit I’m still surprised to see it happen, though. He does punching pretty well, though.

I mean, the best I can figure is The Phantom figures he’s most effective if he’s surrounded in clouds of mystery and legend. And getting a commemorative postage stamp is the start of a process that leaves him as exotic and remote as Santa Claus. But part of The Phantom’s schtick is that he’s surrounded by a lot of legends and I don’t get how a postage stamp depiction is going to make that greater or lesser. And it isn’t like he hasn’t got, and encouraged, a lot of “old jungle sayings” about his legacy. Is he worried they’ll paint him from an unflattering angle? It seems like a misplaced reaction and I hope something in the coming weeks clarifies matters.

Next week I’ll try to explain the Sunday storyline.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell nine points today, inspiring people to point out where we were at this time a week ago. This time a week ago we were at 124. Hoo boy but it’s been a long week.

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