My last recap of the Sunday-continuity Phantom involved a lot of walking. This is because the strip involved a lot of walking. The Ghost Who Walks was earning his title alongside a Bangallan prisoner known to us only as The Rat. The Rat was figuring to buy his freedom with information about his ex-partner, since the partner wasn’t doing anything about breaking him out of prison. The Warden would have none of it. The Phantom would have some of it. He lead The Rat out of Boomsby Prison, the plan being to capture The Rat’s ex-partner, and maybe get The Rat a recommendation for time off his sentence. The Phantom promised, repeatedly, that The Rat was going back to prison, no matter what The Rat’s ideas. As of late February, they finally got out of the prison, into the Boomsby Mines.
The Phantom provides The Rat with a horse, and leads him to the nearby border of fascist Rhodia. The Rat’s ex-partner is in there somewhere. The Rat tries, as promised, to slug The Phantom and break free. That doesn’t work out for The Rat. They go tromping into the woods. The Rat’s luck holds up: a boomslang snake drops around his shoulders.
The Phantom takes the chance to mess with The Rat’s head, holding his pistol and making ready to shoot the snake off him. He’s teasing, of course. The Phantom shoots in the air, scaring the venomous snake away. The Rat does a bit of analysis, figuring that he now understands. He speculates The Phantom had a mean life, one that beat toughness into him. Absurd, of course. Kit Walker had a kind, loving father who raised him from birth to be a crimefighting superhero, the way nineteen generations before him had done. The Rat wants to know what The Phantom gets out of all this do-gooding, when he could be amassing riches and power instead. So The Rat hasn’t heard about the treasures in The Phantom’s lair. And doesn’t suspect his ties with the Bangallan president or with the Jungle Patrol. The Phantom might need to improve his brand identity and maybe needs to seed some new Old Jungle Sayings.
But that’s got us — at last, really; this story began in early October — to The Rat’s partner’s lair. Ready to strike. And The Rat clobbers The Phantom into the side of a carport. This will turn out well for him.
As indicated, this has not been a densely plotted story. It’s had several solid sequences, the boomslang the most interesting one to me. It’s been a lot of atmosphere, with some character and a bunch of sequences of The Phantom letting The Rat make a fool of himself. This is fine for the story. It just makes for a short plot recap. Next week will be different.
So, the 15th of May came and Gasoline Alley remained in reruns. I still haven’t heard anything about Jim Scancarelli’s condition. The new story is one about Slim Wallet. He’s the current owner of the auto care place that’s the gasoline alley the strip was built on before Skeezix changed everything.
The story that’s rerunning now, as it originally ran in 2007, was built on Slim having trouble sleeping. That story had a natural stopping point the 16th of June, 2007. So perhaps in a month Scancarelli — or someone else — might pick up new strips without leaving anything hanging. We’ll see the 18th of June this year.
If the strip continues in reruns after that, then we get into a storyline that became notorious, especially on Comics Curmudgeon. Eleven years on this is still one of the iconic references. This is the story where Slim realizes that kids are playing basketball late at night in the playground next to his house. Also that there’s a playground next to his house. This goes into crazypants territory. Yes, one of Scancarelli’s comics modes is the wacky sitcom. But this … well. Here.
I will refrain from spoiling you if you want to see this nonsense play out in real time. The end of that storyline came the 28th of August, 2007. So if these strips rerun the whole storyline, then the next chance to step on with a new story will be the 30th of August, 2018.
I don’t think there are any cases where, like, a Gasoline Alley Salutes Flag Day strip would need to be inserted that wasn’t there in 2007. Or that needs to be put in because it wasn’t observed the first time around. But this might throw the story’s end date off by a couple of days. Inserts for observing anniversaries in the comic strip are what keep the 2007 reruns from being perfectly in synch with 2018’s dates.
Dear Wendy, have you ever tried to explain Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Have you ever got angry about a story, and worried about that anger considering you’ve been offended by two Gil Thorp storylines in a row now?
Signed, Person Writing From So Far After Mid-May 2018 That This Essay Isn’t Any Use Anymore.
A content warning. The last couple months of Mary Worth have included a character sexually assaulting another. They’ve also included a despairing character considering suicide. If you don’t need that in your recreation, you’re absolutely right. Go on to something that won’t be needlessly miserable instead. I’ll catch you next time.
18 February – 13 May 2018.
When I last checked in Mary Worth was looking to become rich and famous through muffins. Ted Miller, vaguely associated old friend of Mary’s eternal beau Jeff, was crazy for Mary Muffins and insisted the world would be too. His plan: Mary bakes muffins, and he sells them, and then they both get rich and she gets famous. What could go wrong? And it was a glorious time. For one, yes, people in-universe always praise her food. But Mary Worth’s cooking always looks like it’s from one of those Regrettable 70s Food blogs. You know, the ones where we were supposed to make a tuna-jello fondue with a 7-Up glaze and bake it to look like a lamb, with a dyed mashed potato “lawn” around it.
There’s a motif in comic strips where a character gets to be successful after five weeks of kind of trying. It’s a reliable giddy delight. For another, people kept saying “muffin” or, better, “Mary’s muffins”. Over and over and over. This blend of silly story and silly phrasing could not go wrong.
Last time in Mark Trail there were a bunch of animals in weird places. I mean weird by Mark Trail’s standards. A giraffe eating Rusty’s apples. An ostrich with an organ-grinding monkey teasing Doc. A rhino chasing down a couple of Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen’s friends. Mark could be baffled by these goings-on while we readers weren’t. And not because Mark or anyone was being dumb. We had information that they didn’t: “Dirty” Dyer read about how the Tingling Brothers Circus was making its last tour. How or why their animals were loose might be a mystery, but why there should be a giraffe at the Lost Forest at this time of year was not. Oh, also, Dyer is figuring to kill Mark Trail. But he’s taking his time and working up to it.
After hearing of Rusty and Doc’s weird-animal reports, Mark steps out on the porch and sees a tiger. He swings into action and steps back inside, to toss a ham outside. A big old ham, too, like you see in 1950s humor comic books. The tiger eats the ham, proving to Mark that this isn’t some hallucination, somehow? After that odd moment, though, Mark calls the authorities, who it turns out were coming to visit anyway. The Sheriff explains. The Circus train derailed and most of the animals got loose.
Then he launches into what’s almost a shaggy dog story. It’s built on the premise that the clown car took it hardest: “You should have seen it, Mark — greasepaint and rubber chickens on the tracks for miles!”. The story then goes into the clowns, who were all safely in the bar car, in full makeup and dress. The dazed group, led by the eldest and most respected clown, the Great Wilhelm — “the clown that never spoke, he just screamed a lot” — wandered away. They stumbled through a graveyard and toward a bonfire where some kids were having a camping night and telling monster stories and stuff. So you can imagine how well a pack of dazed, disheveled clowns stumbling out of the graveyard were received. The clowns, frightened by the kids’ screams, turned and fled. Old Man Basil, overseeing the bonfire, fired a load of rock salt and hit The Great Wilhelm in the back. “They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other end of the valley!”
Okay. So. First. I’m not afraid of clowns. Not in the slightest. I don’t get what is supposed to be frightening about clowns. I think the pop culture default assumption that of course clowns are evil terrifying monsters who have to be stamped out of society is a sickness. I’ll grant there are people afraid of clowns, but, I mean, there are people afraid of any living matter that has lots of holes in it, like some kinds of fungus have. We don’t grant that phobia a privileged place in society and tell each other that of course the phobia is correct. “But wait,” people trying to talk me into fearing clowns say. “What about the clown from It? Aren’t you scared of that clown?”
I’ve never read It, nor seen the movie. But as I understand it, the clown from It is an unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death. The scary thing there is “unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death”. That he manifests as a clown doesn’t enter into it. I would not feel less menaced if the unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death were a freelance insurance-claims investigator.
Second. Wilhelm Scream? As in the scream that I guess is in every movie nerds like. James Allen put into Mark Trail a nerd-culture riff like that? And I didn’t notice? Even though he quite fairly set it up and underlined it several times, talking about The Great Wilhelm who “just screamed a lot”. And I didn’t notice. Well, fair enough. I’ve never noticed the Wilhelm Scream sound effect even though it’s apparently in every movie I’ve watched more than three times, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Mister Bug Goes To Town. (Don’t @ me. I’ve listened to the scream in isolation, and I’ve listened to scenes with it in. I’ve learned that it turns out I just don’t care.) I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail making nerd culture jokes. But he put in a good one, and did it well, laying out the setup where anyone could see and trusting people wouldn’t notice.
Anyway. Back to the story. Mark and Dusty go looking for animals. There’s the ground rumbling. Mark says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and I see what he did there. It’s an elephant. Mark gets to the tranquilizer gun and knocks out the elephant before anybody can come to particular harm.
Then a new, bearded, bald guy comes in. In Mark Trail tradition this signals that we’ve finally met the villain. But no: he’s Marlin Creed from the Eden Gardens Zoo. There is no villain in this piece. He and his assistant Jim are here to help trap the animals and to ask if you get the reference there. Well? Do you? BETTER SAY YES! (2 points to the first person who gets what my reference there is. That person will be Roymark Kassinger.). (5 points to the first person who figures out what I’m referencing with this points-to-the-first-person-who stuff.)
With the arrival of Marlin and Jim, and the news that the circus people are getting organized again, the story looks like it’s finally ended. Mark mentions he’s going to have a vacation in Mexico soon. And then it turns out there’s a ruckus off-screen. There’s a tiger fighting a rhinoceros, because hey, how often do you get to justify having a tiger fight a rhinoceros? I mean outside March Mammal Madness? (I have not forgotten #Unsettlegate. Don’t ask what this is all about. You’re better off not knowing.)
The tiger runs off in one direction, the rhino in another. Mark, Marlin, and Jim chase the rhino in a cool zebra-striped jeep. Meanwhile Joel Robinson in the corner of the screen whispers out, “Daktari”. After the Wilhelm Scream thing I’m not getting nerd-snookered again. Marlin sends Jim out to annoy the rhino with a stick. Mark asks “is that safe?” Marlin says “No.” Like in the jokes about Wild America made back when we made jokes about Marlin and Jim and Wild America. The rhino is successfully annoyed and smashes the jeep. But Mark’s able to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart.
With the 14th of April this story is officially closed. We’re told the circus has recovered all their missing animals. This includes “Twinkles, the flaming-log-juggling hippo”. I assume this is a reference to something and I’m waiting to see what it is in Dick Tracy.
The 16th of April starts what might be the current story. It’s in the Bahamas where Dirty Dyer has been lounging on the beach and scaring resort guests with his knife-throwing practice. Also shooting off guns. Also reading Weapons For Dummies, Calvin and Hobbes, and To Serve Man. Dyer glad-handles the guy sent to report on how he’s alarming the guests into becoming his assistant.
I say this might be the current story. We’ve seen one or two-week interludes with Dirty Dyer before. James Allen is letting this story simmer. I don’t know whether Mark Trail is going to encounter Dirty Dyer yet.
So the 26th of April starts what is unambiguously the current story. The Trails are flying to Mexico. Rusty has an honestly endearing moment where he’s amazed at the size of the airport. “We’re only going to Mexico — I didn’t think we’d need an airport this big!” I sincerely like the kid-logic that how far you’re going should affect the size of the airport you go to. It’s even got enough bits of truth to it to make sense. Rusty Trail comes in for a lot of jokes about being a terrifying homunculus. I’m glad to see him being a normal-ish child.
Yeah, me neither. Mark explains, “Interestingly enough, Santa Poco was saved from bandits in the silent movie era by three American cowboy actors!” So I do thank James Allen for explaining he was making a Three Amigos reference. Rusty’s already wandered off to meet someone named Mara, whose family is also going to Tulum. And that’s where we are as of Saturday.
So all in all, I don’t know why Mark Trail is making so many nerd movie jokes lately. I think Allen’s just having fun with the strip’s hip-because-square reputation.
Sunday Animals Watch
What bits of nature have been showcased on Sundays recently? These have been:
Sea Turtles, 11 February 2018. Really, really endangered.
Bougainvillea, 18 February 2018. Not endangered except by spelling bee contestants who’ve just been knocked out.
Prairies Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets, 25 February 2018. Finally. The Black-Footed Ferrets are incredibly endangered. Prairie Dogs are making a comeback.
Spiders and Great Heights, 4 March 2018. While public-speaking on an airplane naked in front of the House Centipede convention.
Blue Tarantulas, 11 March 2018. Freshly-discovered and so very popular so we’re going to destroy it any day now.
Rhesus Macaque Monkeys on this island near Puerto Rico, 18 March 2018. They survived Hurricane Maria and the future disgraced former president hasn’t ordered their gizzards drilled for coal yet!
Black-Footed [wild] Cat of southwest Africa, 25 March 2018. Really, really endangered.
Feral Pigs, 1 April 2018. Endangering you. Seriously. That bit at the start of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls in the pig pen and the Cowardly Lion’s farmhand’sona rescues her? That’s showing off his bravery. The movie thought that part out.
Tiger Sharks, 8 April 2018. ThunderCats, but for sea life, why wouldn’t this be a hit? Because it didn’t make sense even by the standards of the SilverHawks universe is why. I mean, when your show would have been less baffling if you didn’t include the pilot episode laying out how everybody came to be Tiger Sharks and what their powers and all were you have world-building problems.
Chameleons, 15 April 2018. All my attempts to learn about how their faces fluoresce were obliterated by noticing Mark Trail calling them “squamates” and I have to sit and stare at that word for a long while even though (a) I know full well it’s a legitimate way to refer to them and (b) I knew the root word “squamous” before Mark Trail got onto it so there.
Marbled Crayfish, 22 April 2018. You know, those crayfish that are doing way better since they stopped dealing with the males of the species.
Orange Crocodiles, 29 April 2018. Probably Just About Dead.
Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not endangered yet, but just you wait.
I don’t know what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli and don’t know anyone who does, but we may know in two weeks and two days. I say this for people who want to know what’s the deal with Gasoline Alley but aren’t willing to read more than the preview text of this article. If I get any news, though, I’ll post an article that you can find at this link. Also, if you want a summary of the plot that’s relevant for later than about the 16th of May, 2018, it’ll be there if I’ve written one.
I’ve heard nothing. I’ve encountered nobody who knows who’s said anything. I hope that Scancarelli’s well. The centennial of the comic strip is this November. There would be something terrible in cutting down a comic strip so close to that milestone. And for Scancarelli not to draw the strip for that milestone would be cruel.
And yes, Gasoline Alley is an old-fashioned strip. Some of this is Scancarelli’s personal interests. He has old-fashioned interests. He’s an old-time-radio enthusiast. Or he makes way more references to Frank Nelson than average for a person in 2018. He also has a lot of riffs on Bob and Ray, but any reasonable person might do that. But some of this is also built into the structure of the comic. Gasoline Alley is that now-rare creature, the serialized comedy strip. Serialized comedies, in which there’s a long-running story but (pretty much) every installment is meant to be funny, used to be common. The style has fallen out of fashion; the last important serial comedy in the comics page that I can think of is Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby is also a great serialized comedy, and has recently got collected into some handsome books. Oh, yes, Popeye was serialized and mostly comedic. But that’s been in reruns ever since Bobby London did a three-week sequence in 1992 that made people aware Popeye was still running in 1992.
There are plenty of comic strips that blend comedy and drama, or try to. The standard model for this is to pick a storyline for the week and do riffs on that, and then (usually) pick up a new storyline the next week. You saw this in Doonesbury. It’s still like that in Funky Winkerbean or Luann. It’s not much different from comic strips that don’t try to advance narratives, which will often do a week’s worth of riffs on a premise and then pick up a new one.
Gasoline Alley runs a storyline until it’s resolved, regardless of how many weeks that takes and whether it finishes midweek or not. That’s almost unique among syndicated comics. The only other humor strip I can think of doing this is Bill Holbrook’s Safe Havens. That strip began as the antics of a bunch of kids at the same daycare. Holbrook allowed them to age in roughly realtime and grow up. The comic strip, having picked up a few new cast members (a pop star, a mermaid, a time-travelling babysitter, the genetically-engineered revival of the dodo birds, an infant Leonardo da Vinci) has sent everyone off to explore Mars. It’s a bit of an odd strip when you stop and think about it. I’ve considered whether to start recapping its storyline in my rotation here.
Anyway, I don’t like institutions passing from the scene. I say this the weekend that my neighborhood is losing the Fish and Chips. It used to be an Arthur Treacher’s until the franchise shrank out of the area. They ripped the name ‘Arthur Treacher’ off the signage and carried on like before. Whether the lost institution is the serialized comedy genre or merely this one comic strip doesn’t make much difference. Oh, gosh, and now I realize I don’t know when I last went to the Kewpie Restaurant, and yes it’s a burger place based on Kewpie dolls. If that closes we might as well shut the whole city down.
(Yes, I’m aware web cartoonists do great work in serialized comedy stories, except that no web cartoonist has ever finished a serialized comedy story. Um. Hi, my friends who are web cartoonists. I say hurtful things out of love because we’re all friends? Besides, most comedy web strips do finish their first long-form story, and their second. It’s the third that doesn’t make it.)
And yet there are signs that someone is at work at Gasoline Alley Master Command. The first ambiguous sign was the 14th of February, and a panel celebrating the birth of Skeezix. His discovery on Walt Wallet’s doorstep madeGasoline Alley, as he aged in roughly real-time and his story made the comic must-read stuff. The strip copyright was 2018. But there wasn’t anything to it that couldn’t be a modified reprint from an earlier birthday.
The stronger sign was an exciting Sunday, the 25th of February. It’s a musical number from the Three Blind Miceketeers. It’s a running thing; the singing trio of mice do old-time-radio/50s-live-TV style advertisements for Chef Meowrice’s Cat Chow. Yes, Chef Meowrice is a white cat in a chef’s hat. Anyway, this is a song dedicated to Gasoline Alley’s centennial. Signed by Scancarelli. Looks like his line art, to my (I grant) inexpert eye. I wondered if it were a reprint from an earlier anniversary, the 90th or 95th or 85th or so, but couldn’t find it. It seemed to be a new comic. Hopeful sign that Scancarelli might be back once the ongoing daily-comics story reached its end.
And last Sunday, the 22nd of April, was another new comic. This with a logo for the comic strip’s centennial, and a song to go with it. It’s presented as a musical performance by the Molehill Highlanders. One of the GoComics commenters said the Molehill Highlanders are a band Scancarelli was in. I can’t find corroboration for that, but the mention, and the more-realistic drawing of the Highlanders, make this sound plausible to me. Also according to Wikipedia, Jim Scancarelli is a well-known bluegrass fiddler. And a onetime prizewinner for the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Virginia. He’s also a model railroader. The only thing that would make this bundle of facts about him less surprising would be to discover he has a ham radio license.
The Sunday strips are new work. The modified daily strip implies that someone is at least reading the comics before sending them out for reprinting. So the comic isn’t wholly on automatic pilot. Will Scancarelli get back to writing the strip soon? I don’t know.
But: if the storyline from 2007 continues reprinting each strip, without insertions or omissions, then it’ll wrap up the 14th of May, 2018. This would be a natural time for Scancarelli to resume the strip. That’s not to say he will. If he’s had some problem keeping him from working, then making new Sunday strips while recuperating, or finding help, would make sense. There are plenty of reruns that could fill the daily strips. I am interested in what we’ll see the 15th of May.
(I’ve also wondered if GoComics is going to start running Gasoline Alley Classics, showing the strip from decades ago on purpose. I understand if they don’t want to run the strip from the 1918 start. Strips from that long ago take a lot of restoration and curation to publish. And then it always turns out there’s some impossibly racist figure in a small, unavoidable part. But from, say, World War II? From the 60s or 70s? It would let people better appreciate the comic strip as it was read at the time.)
While tearing out a countertop, Suds discovers an envelope with … The Lost Deed To Corky’s Diner. Pert Bobble, before his death, had deeded the diner and its land over to Corky. And so Wilmer Bobble was not the land owner and had no right to evict Corky. With the bulldozer at the front door Corky rushes to a lawyer to figure out whether this long(?)-lost deed is valid.
Now, um. I can imagine circumstances in which this might ever hold up. They amount to: you live in the world of an old-time radio sitcom. Or a sitcom from the 50s or 60s. It happens Jim Scancarelli’s characters pretty much do. It’s an old-fashioned sort of storyline resolution. If you accept the conventions of the genre then this is an acceptable way to save Corky’s Diner. If you don’t, well, then the story’s lost on you. Sorry for you, but it’s good news for the oatmeal shortage. I don’t know what to call this genre. But there is a kind of story this is an example of. And this resolution works for this kind of story.
(Okay, I can imagine another way this could work. The first element is if Pert transferred over the deed recently so that the place isn’t too far in arrears on property taxes. Or if in a fit of generosity he paid the property taxes anyway. The second if is Pert died recently enough that his estate’s still settling. I don’t see offhand a reference to when Pert died, or when the new deed was written. So there’s a possible thread by which this resolution could kind of work. If you need to have that instead.)
Bobble tries to bribe the sheriff into ignoring the deed, and that doesn’t go over well. The sheriff concludes Corky has a good title to the diner and the land it’s on. Not sure that’s the sheriff’s job. But someone has to tell the bulldozer driver what to do. They run Senator Bobble out of town and have a merry reopening.
And then the past month’s story, roughly: Suds, the dishwasher, is missing. After a couple of spot-joke interviews Corky hires a pair of young women, Joy and Dawn. They giggle a lot. They’re overwhelmed by the number of dishes. Also they’re kind of dumb. There’s a couple sitcom-class fiascos. Mostly broken dishes. Also putting enough soap in the dishwashing machine to cause a 50s/60s-sitcom-style mountain of suds.
And this brings Suds back into the picture. He got “shick” after “shellebratin’ Corky gettin’ t’own th’diner” and you get the picture. So Joy and Dawn are incompetent, but Suds is unreliable and only intermittently competent. Who keeps the dishwashing job? This turns into a contest to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn using the dishwashing machine, or Suds by himself using sink and scrub brush? Who! Will! Win? That’s where the story stands as of the 28th of April.
It’s got two weeks more to play out. If you are aware of the genre Scancarelli writes in you have a fair guess how this is going to play out. But if you want to know before mid-May, I’ll not stand in your way. I would like to know what’s happening after that, myself.
Will Mark Trail die at the hands of Dirty Dyer? Will he die at the airport when a vehicle of some kind explodes from under him? Will he die at the hands of a flock of inadequately counted prairie dogs? There’s no telling, not until next Sunday when I look at what’s going in in James Allen’s Mark Trail.
Oh, all kinds of things are going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. (Also, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher routinely work on the Sunday strips. I’m not sure how often they work on daily strips. I want to be fair about crediting the people who make the comic but I don’t always know.) This is my best attempt at bringing you up to speed for mid-April 2018. If it’s a lot later than that, try at or near the top of this page. If I have later-written summaries they should be up there.
Back in late January, Dick Tracy and the Major Crime Unit were arresting Mister Bribery. The crime boss himself was going mad after his meeting with the former Governor of the Moon. The Lunarians had abandoned their city in the no-longer-habitable valley on the moon and gone into hiding … elsewhere. The Moon Governor himself was just poking around to figure out the deal with Honey Moon Tracy and the surgically-created Second Moon Maid, Mysta Chimera. Can’t exactly blame him for not taking all this well.
Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Dick Tracy in a slow and painful manner, skips town. Tracy wasn’t killed slowly nor painfully. Lee Ebony breaks her months-long cover as bodyguard T-Bone to arrest Bribery. Meanwhile Honey Moon rescues Crystal Ugly, Bribery’s niece and a new friend, from where she’d fled in the snow. All seems settled. The 11th of February there’s a coda about the Moon Governor meeting Diet Smith and Honey Moon Tracy. And about Lee Ebony going on vacation.
And that starts the next big plot, the one that’s dominated the last several months. It’s at Pepper’s, a popular restaurant apparently unrelated to the setting of the ended Tina’s Grove comic strip. Billionaire Simon Stagg — whom commenters identified as someone from DC Comics that I don’t know about — has a briefcase full of cash to buy Pepper’s restaurant. But Pepper declares he’s got no intention of selling. He’s poisoned the billionaire, after establishing that Stagg had eaten fugu earlier in the day. The coroner thinks it’s blowfish toxin, accidental poisoning. But the mayor has doubts, and calls Dick Tracy in from his fishing vacation with Popeye and Alice the Goon.
Tracy goes to Pepper’s with just a few questions, and Pepper allays them by chasing him off the property, the way innocent people with nothing to hide do. Tracy returns, hoping to talk with the chefs while Pepper’s caters a political dinner at the Winrock Mansion. One of the cooks offers that he can talk, if Tracy will meet him outside, away from witnesses, over by Ambush Rock. Tracy’s good for it, and the cook’s good for clobbering him with a bowling pin, like he was in a George McManus cartoon.
Pepper takes Tracy’s own handcuff and hooks him up to his trailer hitch. This raises several questions, like: wait, would a handcuff actually keep someone on a trailer hitch for a twenty-mile ride by country road? I’m never confident those things are secure with actual proper hitches and it sure looks like the handcuff should pop right off the first good bump in the road. The second question: wait, so Pepper figures he’ll get away with murdering Stagg if the city’s most famous detective, whom the Mayor and the Major Crimes Unit know is investigating Pepper, goes missing and maybe turns up dead? (Although, in fairness, it was barely two months since the last time Dick Tracy was abducted and left for dead so maybe his murder would be lost under a buffet of suspects.) Third question: what does Pepper hope to gain from killing Tracy instead of, like, actually hearing any of his questions?
Despite the high speeds Tracy’s able to call Sam Catchem. And to get his handcuff key, maybe to get free. Before he can, Pepper has to stop short, avoiding a deer in the road. Tracy gets free and shoots out the truck’s tire before Pepper can run him over. Pepper’s truck crashes down the ravine, and the restauranteur makes his escape before Tracy can follow.
Pepper finds a hideout with Phishface, who — reluctantly — sets Pepper and his fugu chef up in an unused part of the city aquarium. That’s good for almost days before, fleeing staff, Pepper falls into the tank hosting the new Portuguese Man-of-War. And so, the poisoner himself dies with appropriate dramatic irony but not the particular involvement of Dick Tracy, who was busy arresting the fugu chef.
And this highlights a bunch of other questions. First: wait, what the heck? Second, like, what did Pepper hope to gain from killing Stagg in the first place? Simon Stagg’s money seems like a good enough motive, and (on the 28th of March) the fugu chef does think he’s making off with Stagg’s briefcase full of cash. But it seems weird to kill a guy for money he was going to give you in an actual legal and above-board transaction. I guess keeping the money and the restaurant is good, but, sheesh, having a restaurant grow successful enough to be worth selling out is winning the lottery. What more does he want? Third, so, the final toxicology report (delivered the 22nd of March) is that Stagg died of blowfish toxin. I take it this is meant to signify that Pepper got away with it, killing Stagg in a way that looked like it was an unrelated accident.
In which case, yeah, Pepper committed a perfect crime and undid it by kicking Dick Tracy until the super-detective got curious. This isn’t by itself a problem. People committing crimes they aren’t actually smart enough to succeed in can make for great storytelling. Elmore Leonard, the 2016 Electoral College, the Coen Brothers, and the Florida Man Twitter feed make compelling material out of this. And Tracy (on the 31st of March) says he hasn’t met any smart criminals yet. All right, but if the point is that Pepper piddled away his chance to get away with killing a rich man for money, I’d like that made clearer. Tracy didn’t even ask Pepper any specific questions; why was he panicked already?
One of the hallmarks of the Staton/Curtis era of Dick Tracy has been rapid, relentless pacing. And that’s great; story strips don’t need to be lethargic, much as they seem to be trying to be. But they do fall into a counterbalancing failure, where the plot logic and the motivations behind things are unclear or just baffling. I have no idea why Pepper figured “try and kill Dick Tracy” was the sensible thing to do after killing Stagg. I’d like it if I did.
The new, and current, storyline started the 9th of April. Britt Reid, publisher of the Central City Daily Sentinel, is in town, poking around organized crime. This has attracted the interest of old-time radio fans, because yes, it’s a crossover. Britt Reid was known for years on radio, and for about one season on TV in the 60s, and for about 45 minutes in the movies in like 2011, as the Green Hornet. Reid’s gimmick, then and now, was to pose as a respectable newspaper publisher — so you see how far back this schtick goes — pursuing the super-villain the Green Hornet. But the Green Hornet is himself Reid, using the reputation of being a super-villain to infiltrate and break up actual crime rings.
This is unrelated, but, there was a little bit on one of Bob Newhart’s albums where he thought about the TV show I Led Three Lives. This show was about one Herb Philbrick, who was a communist for the FBI. Not from the show I Was A Communist For The FBI. Newhart opined that he wished, just one, in one of the Communist cell meetings that someone should have stood up and said, “Say, has, ah … has anyone else ever noticed, uh, whenever we assign Philbrick to anything, we all get arrested?” I’m not one to spoil a good golden-age-of-radio gimmick, but, like, the original Plastic-Man was only able to use this same approach about four issues before the mobsters caught on that Plastic-Man’s secret gangster identity was bad luck.
Anyway, Britt Reid and Dick Tracy meet, to review what they know: Central City mobster Cyrus Topper is trying to hook up with the Apparatus, the organized crime syndicate in Tracy’s town. The Green Hornet seems to be following. Tracy’s sure that Topper and the Hornet will get justly deserted. No, neither one of them knows what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli. You’d think he’d be all over this meeting of former Golden Age of Radio crime-detection superstars. And that’s about where things stand.
There’s only a few threads left loose from the last couple months’ stories. One is Matty Squared, the artificial intelligence/uploaded semi-personality of Mister Bribery’s former accountant. He was last seen the 10th of February, planning to head to “the server farms down south”. His companion: a mouse named Ignatz that’s got to be the oddest Krazy Kat reference in a long while.
It’s never said what the Moon Governor talked about with Diet Smith, Honey Moon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera. The Moon Governor himself emerged from the Lunarians’ secret hideout (somewhere on Earth) to investigate telepathic signals. Mysta? Honey Moon? Someone else? It hasn’t been said explicitly so anything might be yet entered into evidence. And no, I haven’t forgot that someone’s trying to scare B O Plenty and family out of their estate by making ghost noises.
A thread that hasn’t been brought up, and might never be: Britt Reid was, canonically, the grand-nephew (or something like that) of the Lone Ranger. The characters have been owned by separate companies since the 50s, so allusions to this have to be more deniable or involve more negotiation ahead of time. But the comic strip did show Vitamin Flintheart and Joe Tracy watching a Vista Bill movie. I think that’s made up for the in-universe continuity. But a western hero with the wonder horse Comet crying out “Fly, Comet! And Awaaay!” is reminding people of something. Merely for world-building? Perhaps, and plausibly so. For something more? Goodness knows.
What’s going on in Gasoline Alley? There’s evidence that at least someone is there as reruns go into their sixth month. What’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I haven’t heard anything today. But a whole week from now? Maybe that will have changed. Come on around and let’s see what we might find out.
It’s always a good question what’s going on in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. I’m writing what’s my best explanation for as of mid-April 2018. If it’s later than about July 2018 for you, maybe look at or near the top of this page and there’ll be a more recent recap.
Last time you’ll recall, Prince Valiant, Karen, Vanni, and Bukota were sailing the rivers of what is now Uzbekistan on their way back home. They saw a raven, joking how it was a messenger for Karen’s mother Queen Aleta. So it was, and carried the report that the team was fine. So the next week their rafts came upon some rapids, in a sudden squall. This all smashed the rafts. The four climbed onto a ledge. And there we left them; we haven’t seen them since the 4th of February.
The story has instead moved to Queen Aleta of the Misty Isles. Which led me to realize the place was a Vaguely Roman territory. Here I have to confess: I only resumed reading Prince Valiant a couple years ago. And only started reading it seriously for these What’s Going On In series. I had always supposed that Valiant’s home base was England somewhere around the early Heptarchy. You know, the era when pop culture thinks we don’t know who ruled England or whether anybody did or if there even were people there. And I guess not; the Misty Isles are somewhere in the Mediterranean, says Wikipedia. Valiant himself was from Thule, off the coast of Norway. I think I kind of knew that.
Since the 11th of February the story has been Queen Aleta’s. It opens on murder: two servants of a noble house are dead, as is Ingolf, first mate of one of the Norse shipbuilders. The bodies are barely discovered before Senator Krios is at the market. He denounces the Queen’s refusal to protect the Misty Isles from violent, opportunistic foreigners. And cites the murder of two of the island’s natives by “one of [ her ] drunken Norse bullies”.
A suspicious Aleta turns to the CSIatorium. She observes the “precise, deep stab” under Ingolf’s ribs. And how he holds a strand of black hair tied by a gold ribbon. She sends her daughter Valeta out to ask into the Ingolf’s whereabouts. Aleta also asks Krios to explain his deal. He complains the growing trade partnerships put too much foreign influence into the homeland. He hopes to have trade confined to a single district, with foreigners excluded outside that area. He proposes the islet of Kythra. Aleta runs a check of the records. Krios has been buying up properties there, all right. But it’s a mystery how he’s doing it, as he’s deep in debt. But he’s leading a mob into the Senate to demand protection from foreign threats.
Meanwhile Valeta visits Haraldr, Ingolf’s captain and also her crush. Her rival Zulfa is there. That promises to add some needed awkwardness to the proceedings. Haraldr confirms Ingolf had a relationship with some woman of the Misty Isles, but not who. That’s all right. From the gold tie of the hair locks Valeta already suspected Krios’s daughter Andrina.
Valeta needs to confirm Andrina had something going on with Ingolf. Zulfa volunteers to bodyguard, under the pretext of being Valeta’s handmaiden. The confrontation goes well. Valeta pretends that she and Ingolf were very much in love. The jealous Andrina pulls out a dagger and attacks. Zulfa moves to stop her, but Andrina’s brother Antero rushes from the curtains and grabs her. Antero begs forgiveness for her “tortured mind”. Valeta says of course, and promises to speak no more of Ingolf. As Valeta leaves, Zulfa drops a flirty smile and a bracelet to Antero. He sends her a note, setting up a date.
And that’s the current situation. Krios is trying to lead a populist faction to close the Isles to foreigners and get himself out of debt. Ingolf was murdered. It seems by someone within Krios’s family. Also two islanders were killed. This may be to cover up that murder. Zulfa has some secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. Oh, and I bet Prince Valiant and all have managed to have an adventure, build a new raft, and get that one wrecked too. We’ll follow how things go.
Hi there, readers curious about the 248th weekday-continuity story of Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. Or about the 249th story, which is partially completed as I write this. If you want my most recent Phantom plot updates please look at or near the top of this page. Any later-written essays — Sunday or weekday storyline — should be there.
The Return of the Locust was the story’s title. The Locust, a magical superhero poking around the American Southwest, warned The Phantom that this weird cult was hanging around Walker’s Table. The Table had been in The Phantom’s family since 1499 and this got Kit Walker out of Africa and into Arizona-ish climes. There, the Ghost Who Walks discovered Savior Z, a messiah-ish figure warning his flock of the alien spaceships hovering by the Moon and ready to invade. (An event of low but not dismissible probability, I have to say. The Phantom shares the universe with Mandrake the Magician, and all sorts of crazypants stuff is always happening there. Or was before Fred Fredericks had to retire. But DePaul and Manley have brought Mandrake into The Phantom in recent stories.) Savior Z had identified The Phantom as one of the aliens, part of the invasion vanguard. And, having knocked him out, the cult was now rolling The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.
But they don’t call him The Ghost Who Rolls Away From The Cliff Edge, Regains His Footing, And Throws Cult Members Around Like Rag Dolls While His Wrists Are Bound Together for nothing, and guess what happens? But it’s still pretty dire, and the cult is ready to charge the still-bound Phantom again, when finally The Locust does something. To wit, he sends a bunch of locusts to swarm around the cult. In the confusion Walker breaks his bonds. The cult members aren’t so fortunate, and follow a wildly charging Savior Z right to the edge of the Table, and past that, and then all the merry little fun of this is over. He’s not able to even save one life of the bunch.
The Phantom waits for The Locust to come in and explain what the heck, man? The flipping heck? The Locust explains how the cult members had lost their lives years ago, following Savior Z. Savior Z meanwhile had come to Walker’s Table, desperate and alone and following a mystical coyote (or wolf, perhaps) who knew about the water underneath. Savior Z, saved from certain doom by this mysterious figure who disappeared in a cloud very like the Locust’s own swarm, decided he needed to use his chance save mankind. Anyway, that’s The Locust’s story. The Phantom isn’t impressed with The Locust at this point. Have to say, I agree. It’s hard to read this as much besides The Locust stirring up a weird but basically stable scenario until a lot of people died.
(Yes, the cult did have anti-aircraft guns and was shooting at the Phantom’s airplane. See earlier essay. I missed where the artillery came from. The cult doesn’t seem big enough to be able to afford equipment like that. If it’s The Phantom’s own defense gear that explains where it came from. But then it’s his own fault for leaving it unsecured and in operable condition. I think he was taken by surprise by the gun’s existence, too. Did The Locust have something to do with the artillery getting there? In which case, what the heck was he thinking? And if it was the cult that got it on their own, well. Yes, it’s a bad idea to leave guns in the hands of irrational people. But was this the best way to handle that?)
But as Walker’s readying to return home he sees a weird sight: The Locust, in his more-human guise, leading the members of Savior Z’s cult through the desert, away from the Table. (No Savior Z, though.) And on that strange, palatably mythological note the story ends, the 17th of February. The Phantom Wiki logs it in at 20 weeks for a total of 126 strips. That seems more like 21 weeks to me but it’s their arithmetic.
The story starts with Kay Molloy and Hawa Aguda, of “We Quit! We’re Joining The Jungle Patrol!” meme-fame. As Jungle Patrol officers they’re surveilling a person unknown to them, at the behest of the Jungle Patrol’s leader, the Unknown Commander. Meanwhile they speculate about the identity of John X, whom they suspect (correctly) to be the Unknown Commander, and who is also The Phantom. (And whenever I get to looking closely at that I wonder how they can get compartmentalized information to work this well. Really seems like with so many unidentified figures in key positions there’s all sorts of room for trouble, even before deliberate mischief-makers get into things.)
The person under surveillance is indeed Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. And getting all this intelligence is Kit “The Phantom” Walker. He’s figuring to do something about The Nomad just after he gets back home. He and his wife are flying to New York City, to see their daughter Heloise at the Briarson School. There, she’s attending classes with Kadia Sahara. Who is, The Phantom realizes, the daughter of that Eric Sahara. They’re roommates. The Headmistress of the school put them together several storylines ago. She’d figured, basically, they’re both from Africa, they’ll have so much to talk about.
Kit, Diana, and Heloise Walker, and Kadia Sahara, spend some time doing some appropriate Manhattan tourism. It’s a pleasant time except for how The Phantom is busy thinking all the time about how revealing Eric Sahara’s identity as an international terrorist is going to wreck Kadia’s life. Diana’s aware of something on Kit’s mind. On the flight home, he reveals to his wife this bunch of secrets. She’s not amused by how thoroughly her husband concealed this from her. She’s only slightly mollified by his explaining that with the collapse of The Nomad’s terrorist networks it’s becoming safe to reveal his identity to the world.
Then on TV, Africa Today has a piece on the True Identity of The Nomad. A failed airport bomber is offering to reveal his identity. The Phantom figures his best chance to take The Nomad is to catch him before the bomber can reveal what, if anything, he actually knows. And The Phantom refuses Diana’s suggestion to have the Jungle Patrol catch The Nomad. He figures to get in and take The Nomad by surprise, so that “half his men won’t even know I was there!”
And that’s where the Ghost has Walked to by the first week of April, 2018.
Where were we at the start of the year when I last checked in on Moo and its associated areas? The well-meaning but dumb rich guy M T Mentis III was on his way back to Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab and hoped to become a new supporting character. May not sound like much, but a part in a longrunning comic strip is nothing to sneeze at. Mentis tried, though, getting a faceful of snot all over Alley Oop as he disappeared back to the present day.
I guessed that was the start of a story, and so it was. Alley Oop gets a cold in record time, something neither Oop nor anyone in Moo has ever got before. Wizer understands what it is right away, though, and tells Oop to sit still a while so he can whip up a cure. Which includes echinacea, by the way, something Wonmug recommended as he zipped back to the 21st century. Wizer explains to Ooola that if Oop spreads his cold to the never-exposed population of Moo it could be disastrous and wipe the population out. Oop overhears exactly enough to figure Wizer’s said he’s dying. And figures Ooola is telling a comforting lie when saying Wizer’s getting the ingredients for a cure.
So Oop goes around Moo saying his goodbyes to everyone. The first: to Ooola, saying how he regrets they never got married and had kids and all. To Foozy, the relentless poet, he gives his trusty axe. To Dinny, the dinosaur, Oop gives his thanks and the command to go off and be free now. To Guz, Oop gives his honest opinion of the way the King of Moo runs things. In exchange, Guz gives several solid punches and a banishment for life. This all takes about as long as Wizer needs to gather a bunch of leaves and branches and bits of tree bark.
Wizer mixes up his potion which works great. Oop’s recovered even faster than he got sick, and explains what he did while he thought he was going to die. After rolling his eyes all the way into Dick Tracy and back, Wizer mixes up enough potion for all the people Oop contacted. I’m not sure whether I’m more impressed that Wizer knows how to cure colds or with his advanced understanding of infection vectors.
Anyway he sends Oop out with the potion to apologize to people and, where needed, get his stuff back. It’s easy to apologize to Ooola, who teases for a moment holding Alley Oop to his declaration that they should have gotten married. But Moo exists in a land before there were reach-of-promises suits.
At his cave Oop finds Foozy’s kids playing, and figures “I must’ve told Foozy he could have the place”. He didn’t say this on-panel, by the way. Also Foozy has kids I guess? Beau, Moe, and Joe. They take after their father by speaking in rhymes across one another’s dialogue. Foozy’s sick, but he and Wizer have the healing potion, so there we go. He’s glad to return Oop’s cave (“You never gave away your house!”) and also his axe except the kids kind of broke it (“cracking coconuts”).
All that’s easy, since who wanted it to be hard? King Guz is a tougher case because besides calling him an incompetent, Oop also gave him the cold. The cure brightens Guz’s feelings, but he still insists on an apology from Oop before lifting the banishment and all that. And Oop doesn’t see why he should apologize for calling Guz out on his incompetence. Wizer encourages Oop to think of the long history he has with Guz, and to apologize anyway. And Oop apologizes for telling Guz he’s a bad king. That’s close enough to peaceful for Wizer to get on his real point.
Which is: what are they going to do about infections passed back and forth between eras of history? The cold was nothing big, but what’s next? Guz figures the cure is to ban time travel into Moo. Oop says that Guz has finally found an idea even stupider than his border wall. Wizer suggests that maybe Wonmug has an idea and proposes visiting the Time Lab. Oop’s only supposed to use his time-travel device in an emergency. But surely this counts in a way the invasion of mind-controlling plant-aliens didn’t, right? So he hits the button and starts a new story. Let me log that as the 17th of March, admitting that there’s some leeway in when you pick.
Meanwhile in the 21st century Wonmug’s headed out to do some contracts stuff with a lawyer guy and all. When Oop’s time beacon calls for a pickup, Mentis is alone in the lab. Wonmug’s forgotten his cell phone, which yes I do all the time too. Well, Mentis does his best to respond to the message ‘URGENT! ALLEY OOP REQUESTING TRANSPORT’ while studiously ignoring the declaration `DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781 40.0285 ° N 75.1750 ° W’. Mentis hits Enter and so far has shown no signs of wondering what that whole ‘JULY 31, 1781’ business might be about. He stands there waiting for Oop to appear. I mean, I know, he’s barely even seen the Time Lab. But when Phineas Bogg is more on the ball you have to step up your “noticing things” and “drawing reasonable conclusions” games.
Meanwhile in the 18th century Alley Oop and Wizer have popped in just in time to have boats shooting cannonballs at them. By the way, the given latitude and longitude are inside Philadelphia. So I guess there was more action on the Schyulkill River in July 1781 than I had remembered? Also meanwhile Alexander Hamilton is turning in his commission if George Washington. He says only a field command will keep him. Of course we all know how that turns out. Washington writes out Hamilton’s assignment to command the 1st and 2nd New York Regiments and two Connecticut provisionals. Meanwhile at the same time, Oop and Wizer hide from the Redcoats.
That’s where we stand, right now, about two weeks into the Revolutionary war, and at a curious point. I mean, you say Revolutionary War and 1781 and where are you going but the Siege at Yorktown? I mean, obviously the action the Caribbean and in India was important but this is for an American audience. One might speculate that Alexander Hamilton’s recent return to the popular consciousness has something to do with this story. I cannot promise that this story will end with Alley Oop attempting hip-hop but I don’t know that we can be sure this will not happen, either. So, you know, prepare yourselves.
Recapping the plots of the story comics has been good for my readership. It’s also good for my spirits. There’s usually something delightful going on in the strips. They’re not always as glorious as, say, Mary Worth on a cruise ship or that dopey mob kid in The Phantom Sundays. But there’s usually something. And some comics just keep delivering glories. Among them is Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. I reliably look forward to recapping this strip’s plots.
This is the recap for the end of March 2018. If I’ve had another post about it since then look at or near the top of this page. I’ll try to have it there. And, yes, if there is news about Stan Lee — who’s been reported to be in bad shape — I’ll share what I do know. His name’s always been attached to the newspaper comic strip, although there are people who wonder how much he writes it himself.
The Amazing Spider-Man
31 December 2017 – 24 March 2018.
There was a spectacular super-crossover going on last time I checked in. While visiting reformed rampaging monster supervillain Dr Curt “The Lizard” Connors in the Everglades, Peter Parker met up with Bruce Banner. Banner hoped that Connors might cure him of hulking out. But an alligator attacked Connors and Banner hulked out. While the immediate alligator-bite problem was passed, Connors was losing a lot of blood and maybe his remaining arm.
So the challenge was getting him to a hospital as quick as possible. Spider-Man’s plan: grab the severely injured man suffering massive blood loss and carry him, leaping across traffic, to Miami Metro Hospital. You know, the way you safely move a critically injured person. At the hospital he barges through the emergency room and into an operating theater. You know, the way you get medical care in an emergency situation as efficiently as possible.
There’s a complication. Even before Connors had been a rampaging lizard-monster he had a weird blood type. Bruce Banner has the same weird blood type, but he’s making his way through traffic while warning traffic not to make him hulk out. With Connors going into emergency surgery Spidey plot-drops that he’s O-negative and could be a universal donor if that’s still a thing. Fortunately, Bruce Banner, with Mary Jane, arrive. So they can start a glorious two months of blood transfusion follies.
I understand that I may sound like I’m being sarcastic here. But there’s a bunch of blood-transfusion-based plot complications that are just gloriously Silver Age Nonsense in their workings. And I love that. The science may be nonsense and it might be hard to fathom why people would act like this. But that they act like this is great fun. It’s what I hope for in this sort of goofy-science superhero tale.
Because here’s what happens. The hospital staff recognizes Bruce Banner’s purple stretchy pants as those of the Incredible Hulk. But they go along with the transfusion anyway. It seems to help Connors, but this knocks out Banner. Spidey’s hypothesis: being the Hulk probably requires a lot of blood. Maybe Banner can’t donate as much of it as a normal person could without crashing his body. This far, I’m with Spidey; that works for me. So Banner just needs more blood, right? … And since his body was exposed to gamma radiation he’s probably got all sorts of weird irradiated stuff in there. You know who else has radio-active blood? Look out, here comes your Spidey-Donor.
So there’s the first stage of wackiness. It makes a nice goofy dream logic, mind, and that’s why I enjoy the storytelling even as I don’t buy it.
The Hulk blood in Connors’s body causes, first, his lost arm to start regrowing. Then his tail grows back in. Then his scales and snout and pointy triangular teeth and forked tongue. He then leaps off the operating table and starts to rampage, promising the destruction of humanity beneath the onslaught of his telepathically controlled reptile army, while he himself keeps growing into a larger and more muscular super-beast. This is a rather faster than average recovery for injuries of this type, must say. The Lizard barely has time to knock Spider-Man out before Bruce Banner agrees Spider-Man is helpless and he’ll have to become The Hulk. But, infused with Spidey-blood, Banner now has the proportional haplessness and ability to whine of a Spider-Man. While he’s quite angry and says he is so several times over, he can’t summon the transmutation into The Incredible Hulk. He just stays … a large, poorly-shaved shirtless man in torn purple pants. So there’s the second stage of wackiness.
Now and then you have to wonder if the story comics are trolling their ironic fan base. James Allen has slipped stuff into Mark Trail for his friends on the Comics Curmudgeon. There’ve been bits of wry self-awareness on Judge Parker since Francesco Marciuliano took over writing. And here? Connors gets blood from the Incredible Hulk and turns into a giant rampaging monster. I see the internal logic there. And Bruce Banner, after getting blood from the Amazing Spider Man, and he becomes helpless and a little whiny. Core to Spider-Man’s character is how the universe doesn’t give him any respect. But this is also kind of the joke we’d be making about the comic strip while reading it only partly in earnest.
The Lizard climbs to the top of the hospital, declaring the launch of the “Reptile Revolt”. Spidey climbs up the building, gets knocked off, climbs up and up again, and gets thrown — with Banner — over the edge. Spidey actually saves them this time, with his spider-like powers of holding on. (His web-slingers were crushed somewhere in his fights with The Lizard.) But The Lizard escapes to the Everglades.
Spidey, Banner, and Mary Jane go off towards Connor’s swamp laboratory. And then we visit a plot point mentioned early on in this story and forgotten since then: J Jonah Jameson! He’s skipped the newspaper publishers convention along with some other publishers(?) who don’t really like him to putter around the swamp. They notice lots of pythons and alligators swimming in the same direction, toward The Lizard. The other publishers turn their boat around and flee fast enough to knock Jameson overboard and they don’t make the slightest attempt to rescue him. But Spider-Man’s swinging into action. (He must have got replacement web-slingers somewhere.)
He rescues Jameson from a python. They banter the way the leads in an 80s action-romance comedy do, sniping at each other while waiting for the moment they can start making out. Also being swarmed by alligators under The Lizard’s telepathic control. Bruce Banner shows up and spends several weeks of strips explaining how he’s angry but he can’t change into the Hulk. And then, finally, this past week he explained he was angry but he did change into the Hulk, the better to throw telepathically-directed pythons and alligators around. And then he charges for The Lizard, reasoning that it’s better to do the boss battle while he’s powered up and maybe he won’t even have to deal with the minions after.
And that’s where we are as of the 25th of March: with two giant irradiated green monsters in purple pants trash-talking each other in the swamp. I am so happy with where we’ve gotten. To sum up, no, no part of this has not been great, even by my ridiculous standards.
How did Alley Oop’s cold work out for him, and has it wiped out prehistoric humanity or what? And what about the rich idiot? We’ll check in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the start of April, all going well.
I last checked in at Christmastime, and an exciting time. April Parker escaped Rogue CIA Agent Prison, with the help of her father Norton. The plan: the Parkers flee the country and take up a life as fugitives. When Judge (Retired) Alan Parker refused this as bonkers, Norton left him unconscious on the floor of his house and, for all we could tell, dead. April burst into her and Randy Parker’s house. She announced she was taking their daughter Charlotte, who would not be growing up without her father.
With every police agency in the world closing in Randy and April argue it out. April advances the thesis: what’s crazy about them becoming international fugitives anyway? Randy answers: every single piece of this. With time running out Norton’s henchman Wurst grabs at Randy; April orders him to stand down or “I will bury you so deep the magma will burn you”.
The aftermath, as revealed following the New Year: April did not take Charlotte or Randy before leaving, promising to always love him. And also to be back for Charlotte one day. She flees into the police headlights and gunfire and only Marciuliano and Manley can guess what. There is (on the 18th of January) a suggestive picture of a good-sized ship sailing to sea. I suppose that says what the authros’ intent was.
Randy, seeing his life ruined, takes the chance to ruin someone else’s. Not on purpose. But the accidental target is Toni Bowen. She was the reporter covering the last of previous writer Woody Wilson’s crazypants throw-money-at-the-Parkers schemes. That was the opening of the aerospace-factory-loaded-with-cargo-containers-and-made-a-clothing-factory-for-the-elderly. I told you it was a crazypants scheme. Anyway, Bowen was there when Marciuliano had all that dropped into a sinkhole. This propelled her to a reporting job at a national cable news channel. Randy gives only her an interview about all the current craziness.
Bowen’s already on a Performance Improvement Plan. The sinkhole was an exciting story. But nobody was actually to blame for it. And emergency responers were efficient and effective. That sort of thing spoils a good cable-news feeding frenzy. She was there to report the embezzling-stalker truck driver that was another of Marciuliano’s first plot threads. But that story, in-universe, ended up too weird and confusing for it to be exciting reporting. Her boss has one item on the Plan: make Parker admit something about April’s whereabouts and plans. If he won’t, at least emotionally destroy him live on nationwide television. But Randy doesn’t know anything about her plans. And Bowen doesn’t move in for the kill. So she’s sent back to local TV news where at least she can insult the camera guy being all passive-aggressive about her failure in the bigger leagues.
Those threads take a pause. Over to Alan Parker and his attempts to reconnect with Katherine. (And putting the lie to one of Norton’s parting-shot lies, by the way, that Katherine had moved on and would have nothing to do with her husband again.) Their let’s-try-dating-anew has got to the point of bed-and-breakfast weekends. They spend theirs in a town being all overbearing with its apple cider thing. Also possibly being out of season for apple cider, if my experience with Quality Dairy proclaiming Cider’s A-Pourin’ is any guide. But the town was also doing a special showing of The Cider House Rules. This raises the question of whether the town watched the movie before scheduling it. (And I mention this because my love had, in teaching, shown The Cider House Rules enough to get truly sick and resentful of every frame of the movie. And then the Michigan state tourism board decided to use the movie’s haunting Twee Little Recurring Theme for its TV and radio ads. So now any commercial break can be a sudden jab of emotional pain.)
Back to the Spencer Farms. Neddy’s been kicking around depressed ever since Marciuliano took over the writing and the factory collapsed and all that. She’s shaken out of that by a drop-in from Godiva Danube. She’s the movie star whose connections made the container-cargo-clothing-factory-sinkhole-collapse possible. Godiva thinks she’s about to get back into Hollywood and invites Neddy to be along as her assistant. She throws Godiva out. (Godiva leaves her purse behind, which Neddy says was on purpose so Godiva “could return for one more dramatic scene”. That isn’t paid off on-screen yet.) Still, Neddy takes the idea of moving to Los Angeles as a great one. There’s few things that cure aimless depression like moving to a new city without any prospects, connections, or particular reason to be there. Abby Spencer points this out and gets chased out of the guest house for her trouble. We’ve all been there. (Seriously people Seattle is not the cure for your broken soul and it’s too crowded already so lay off it.)
So this past week we got back to Randy Parker. Who, it turns out, has responded to this latest turn in his life by picking up Sam Driver’s crazy evidence wall and trying out paranoia himself. In fairness, he’s afraid of some ridiculously capable people who’ve promised to take his daughter. But he’s also been skipping out on, you know, work. And when you’re doing so little law work that Judge Alan Parker notices you’re not doing law work, you’ve reached galaxy-brain levels of slacking off. Could be trouble.
OK, so you know how ridiculous the last Amazing Spider-Man plot was? And then thisAmazing Spider-Man plot started out with Bruce Banner and Chuck “The Lizard” Connors and all? Well, the story got all blood-transfusiony and just so wonderfully, magnificently goofy and yes, J Jonah Jameson has come back into things. I can’t wait to tell you all about Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man next week. Heck, I might just do it Wednesday to make sure I don’t miss anything.
Last time I shared what I knew of Milford, the story was centered on Rick Soto. Rick’s a promising offensive lineman: in just one story he’s gotten an ankle injury and taken a knee to the head. Watching over this is his uncle Gary. Gary tries to argue that Rick’s repeated injuries suggest maybe he’d be better off being the superstar singer that he wants Rick to be.
Gary presses the whole “concussions are bad stuff” angle even after the strip brings in an expert to say that Rick’s fine. This exhausts Gil Thorp’s reserve of not caring to the point that he steps up and gets someone else to google Gary Soto. He gathers Rick, Gary, and Rick’s Mom together for a conference in which he reveals the shocking facts of the situation. Gary’s law license was suspended and he’s bankrupt. His only career prospect is finding talent, eg, Rick, and managing him through his friend’s talent agency. Also Thorp brings Rick’s Dad back from his construction project in Dubai. Rick’s Dad apologizes for letting Gary get in the way of watching out for his family. And berates him for all this trying to push Rick from football into music. And throws Gary out of his house. So, uh, yeah. It may take a while to get Coach Thorp riled but when you do, you’re jobless, bankrupt, and homeless at Christmas. So maybe I’m going to go do some editing around here.
And that wraps up the Rick Soto plot, with the 1st of January. With the 2nd of January Rick announces his intention to move over to the basketball plot, which is the one we’re in now. Likely we’ll see Rick some more, but in supporting roles. One thing Gil Thorp does it keep characters around for plausible high school tenures. I list the dates because it’s weirdly useful to have the starts and ends of stories logged somewhere.
This story starts with Marty Moon, local radio sports-reporter jerkface. Moon notes the number of football players on the basketball team this year, calling it a lack of depth on the basketball team. Coach Thorp gets asked if he’s going to complain about the insult to his multi-sport athletes but remembers that he really doesn’t care.
The team’s depth problems have a temporary respite anyway. Jorge Padilla and his sister Paloma are temporary students. They’re staying with a cousin after their home in Puerto Rico was smashed by the hurricane and the Republican party. Paloma is angry in the way young student activists often are. She’s not only upset by her personal loss but by the willingness of mainland residents to be fine with abandoning Puerto Rico. Jorge is just happy to be somewhere safe and warm and playing basketball.
Paloma’s the first to play, although she can’t get through the first game without fouling out. She grumbles that the referee just keeps calling on the Puerto Rican girl. Other, whiter members of the cast roll their eyes at the implausibility of that idea. As if authority figures might disproportionately identify “problematic” behavior from a person of a minority ethnicity when they’re there to spot actual violations of the objective, clear rules about unsporting behavior. Anyway.
Jorge fits in great on the team and sees them to a couple strong showings. And then Marty Moon goes and opens his mouth, which is always his problem. “That hurricane was the best thing that could have happened for the team — and for Georgie Padilla” he says on air.
A couple students from the vaguely-focused politically-active group that Paloma’s joined visit Moon. He laughs at the idea he ought to get Jorge Padilla’s name right and besides, “I’m just trying to help him seem more American”. The kids point out (a) he is American, and (b) by the way, no, having home destroyed by a hurricane is not good for him. He considers how in an excited moment he said something pretty obnoxious. So Marty tells the kids they’re big dumb dummyheads who are big and dumb.
Here, by the way, let me share one of the about four things I’ve learned in life. Nobody has ever said of someone, “She’s a great person except for how she owns up to it and backs off like right away when you call her on her bull”. If someone’s angry that you said something insensitive and a little cruel, refusing to apologize will not ever convince them that you aren’t insensitive and cruel. If you didn’t think you were being insensitive and cruel? Typically you can, with honesty, say, “I apologize for sounding like that. It’s not what I wanted to express”. Both you and they will be better off.
In fairness to Moon, he does ask Jorge if he’s got problems with how he says his name, and Jorge doesn’t. “I don’t get into that stuff,” you know, political stuff like what his name is. I can understand not getting worked up about this. The guy who runs one of the pinball leagues I’m in has some mental block that has him keep pronouncing my name “Newbus”, and I never stop finding this amusing. Any chance that I might tire of it was obliterated at the 2017 Pinburgh tournament finals, lowest division. The tournament official announced my name as “Newbus” too. I’ve lived my whole life with my last name mispronounced. Or dropped altogether as the speaker reading my name freezes up when they somehow can’t work it out. I understand you think I am joking here but no, there’s something in the pause of public speakers what I can recognize as warming up to my name. Anyway I’m delighted that my being part of a thing is enough to make ordinary routine stuff go awry.
Paloma asks Jorge why he doesn’t care whether the sports reporter gets his name right. He says he’s got other things to think about. This is another character beat. Jorge’s got a Georgian accent and Paloma a Puerto Rican one. He explained to someone that the family moved when he was a bit older than she was. But he added the thought, also she wants to sound like that.
Next men’s basketball game Marty Moon considers the people he unintentionally offended, and doubles down. They always do. He talks about “HORR-gay Pa-dee-ya from the beautiful and utterly flawless island of Puerto Rico”. Les Nessman phones in to ask, dude, what’s your problem? Well, Marty Moon’s problem is he’s Marty Moon. It’s something Marty Moon has struggled with his whole life. Also he’s Marty Moon trying to show his power over a bunch of teenagers. Also he’s trying to help the radio station land some advertising from a Mexican restaurant. This results in an overworked, weeping neuron causing Marty to say “Padilla earned his burritos with that one” after a good field goal. “That was a two-burrito shot for Padilla.” And then, “Padilla snags the rebound! He’s like a Mexican jumping bean out there!” At this point Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder leans into frame to say, “Yeah, I’m not with him.”
So. Paloma and, if I’m not misreading it, most of the women’s basketball team take up seats behind Marty’s desk next game to chant “No More Moon” over him. (Also I don’t know if this is going to pay off. But the women’s team has noticed they never get radio coverage.) Marty scolds the kids to shut up and finds that somehow doesn’t work. He then turns to Coach Gil Thorp, telling him he’s got to make them stop. Coach Thorp digs deep into his bag of not really caring and announces he doesn’t really care. And in this case, at least, I’m not sure how it would be his business. I don’t think he’s got any responsibility for the women’s teams. He certainly hasn’t got any for the students who aren’t on any team. Marty tries to start again after halftime, and can’t. So he runs off, promising that the protesters will regret this.
And that’s where we stand. I was annoyed, some might say angry, with the end of the Rick Soto story. I expect the stories in Gil Thorp to assume that organized sports are good things that people should support. All right. But look into Rick Soto’s story. The only person who expresses doubts that football is an actually safe thing to do is presented as a scheming grifter trying to lure a kid out of football in a daft scheme to wallpaper over his own repeated personal failures and who only spreading doubts to further his own agenda. The two times that Rick got injured badly enough to need medical care? Oh, that’s nothing; he can almost walk them off.
Rubin and Whigham have an indisputable vantage point here. They can decide exactly how bad Rick Soto’s injuries are, short-term and long-term. If they’ve decided those injuries aren’t anything to be particularly concerned about, then they’re right. (And they can come back around later and change their minds.) And I trust that they know the generally accepted high-school-sports understanding of what kinds of injuries are likely to result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. And how head injuries would be evaluated today. But I am at a point in life that when I read a story whose through-line is “EVERYTHING FINE HERE, DON’T WORRY”, I want to see how the work was done.
The Marty Moon story, meanwhile, is tromping through even stickier grounds. It’s presented Paloma as this outsider who’s stirring up trouble over issues that the real people don’t care about. Jorge doesn’t care if Marty Moon can say his name right. Nobody but her Disgruntled Students Group was shown objecting to that hurricane-was-good-for-Jorge comment. And it’s Paloma and her group actually protesting Marty Moon during a game.
So the story has a motif of “Everything would be swell if those interlopers would just stop telling people it isn’t”. It’s not an attitude I can get behind. I don’t think this is what Rubin and Whigham mean to express. Story comics work under some terrible constraints. Too many characters in any story, in any medium, confuse the audience. A story comic has maybe three or four panels a day to show anything. Readers can be expected to have forgotten or missed all but the major threads of a story. And Gil Thorp generally keeps stories to about three months long, in order that they better fit the sports seasons. Many of the things that would defuse the “we’d have nice things if only agitators stopped whining” theme are difficult to fit into the story at all. And, after all, Rubin and Whigham could have shown Marty Moon not being a jerk. At least insofar as Marty Moon is capable of non-jerk behavior. But he is the one who responded to a “hey, not cool” like he was Donald Duck noticing that Chip and Dale were sniffing around his hammock. It’s his choice to escalate the conflict. This is how you end up straitjacketed by your hammock, dangling from a tree over the edge of Death Ravine, while an angry bulldog the size of a Packard Super Eight bites at you edging your way back to safe ground all night long, and two chipmunks get to drink your lemonade. He could have saved so much effort if he’d just said yeah, sorry, he should’ve got Jorge’s name right in the first place.
Are you interested in the goings-on of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.? If you aren’t this essay isn’t for you. But if you’re interested and want to know what the current storyline is, this is the essay for you. Unless it’s gotten much later than early March 2018 for you. If you are reading this later than about June 2018 you’ll probably want an essay at or near the top of this page as a more recent story summary. Unless you’re looking for how things got to those later-essays’ points, I mean. I suppose you know your business.
Rex Morgan, M.D.
11 December 2017 – 4 March 2018.
My last update came fortuitously near the start of a story thread. June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Tyler had died offstage. Tyler had left her child, Johnny, with the Morgans to adopt. With the Morgans willing and able to take him in, and no known living relatives of Johnny interested, everything looked smooth. That’s where things stood the 10th of December.
June took the kids — Sophie and Michael, both of whom she gave birth to, and Johnny, on whom she’s waiting for court decrees to settle — to the mall. A couple older people watch them at the play area and nudge June for the story of the two boys. June doesn’t tell. After they leave, the strip stayed with the elder couple. So, yeah, they were Johnny’s grandparents. Not Margie Tyler’s parents; her (dead) husband’s parents, Arnold and Helen March. They were estranged from their son, and only just learned they had a grandchild. Now that they do, they petition for custody.
The Morgans take the kids to the mall again. They see the elderly couple and recognize who they are. June approaches them. She offers that if they knock it off with the stalking, she won’t bury them in Rex’s medical practice, never to be seen again. The next day, Rex Morgan is barely able to get in to not seeing patients before his lawyer calls. The Marches want to talk.
More precisely they want to grovel. They’d only just learned they had a grandchild, they drove down to town to see him, and they kind of stumbled in to being stalkery. “Our bad,” Helen calls it, in a moment sincerely endearing to me. But on to serious business. They’re dropping their petition. They’re confident the Morgans can take better care of Johnny. They’re sorry for all the trouble they caused. They ask only that they not be killed as an example to the others. Rex and June are happy to agree to this, and they all agree that the Marches should be part of Johnny’s life; an auxiliary set of grandparents.
As a reader I’m a bit torn on this. I like stories that involve people acting thoughtfully. Senior citizens concluding that, sure, they would like to adopt their grandchild but they really aren’t up for it? That’s sensible behavior. I’m glad they do that. The Morgans concluding that while their relationship with the Marches started creepy-to-bad, they’re better off taking this couple into their lives? There’s also good sense to that.
But. One of the motifs of Rex Morgan, M.D. before Terry Beatty took over writing was that people kept giving the Morgans free stuff. A massive publishing contract for young Sarah. A too-great-to-believe Victorian Mansion. That kind of thing. It’s fun to daydream about getting great good fortune dropped on you, but when the characters haven’t done anything particular? A contested adoption looked promising as a story. The Morgans could still adopt Johnny, but they’d have to do more than be someone his previous mother trusted when she was dying. And now here’s that promising conflict skipped.
It’s not that I don’t buy this ending. Nor even that I don’t like it. It seems to me the settlement that leaves everyone happy and that’s even probably best for Johnny. The problem is the choice to go for this is made by the Marches, off-screen. The viewpoint characters haven’t done anything to influence this, apart from June telling the Marches not to spy on them. (Coincidentally I watched the 1979 movie Kramer Vs Kramer this week. It too leaves me unsatisfied, by an important choice about custody of the kid being made off-screen.) I’d have liked to see more of the Marches wrestling with their decision, and maybe the Morgans working to emotionally earn Johnny better.
Still, all agree. And all agree that agreeing is swell. The week leading up to the 18th of February was about the March’s first proper play date with the Morgans. It goes swell, everybody amiable all around. The Marches bringing toys and new crayons help. Sarah, writing in her diary, remarks on how she knew “getting new grandparents would mean extra presents”. It’s the sort of innocent avarice that I remember from childhood.
The 19th of February the new story started. It’s following the Morgan’s babysitter Kelly and her genial but basically clueless boyfriend Niki. Their friend Justin chokes on a sandwich. Before anyone can remember if they know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver he vomits it up and decides he’s done with lunch. He doesn’t want to go to the nurse. Kelly also mentions to Niki that isn’t not necessary that Justin hang out with them all the time. Niki doesn’t understand because while he is genial, he is also basically clueless. At the coffee shop after school, Justin gets some pastries and seems to be choking again.
It’s too early in the story for me to make any guesses where it’s going. I mean, I would expect Justin’s strange choking to matter again, but because otherwise why should Beatty have spent screen time on it? (I wrote most of this paragraph before reading the Sunday installment, but I think it still stands, especially once I deploy the next sentence here.) Don’t know yet, for example, whether Justin is really choking or whether he’s making a joke about earlier in the day. And perhaps the story is something about the challenges of the partners in a relationship also having their own friendships. But (so far) less time was spent on that than on the sandwich. So all told there’s nothing for me to make plot guesses about. Shall try to check back when there is news to report. And I’ll try not to grumble about a soap strip having the plot advance on a Sunday forcing me into some rewrites.
Oh, wow, you do not know with what levels of confused and only partly ironic nerd rage I say this. But I have been dying to get back to Milford and Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp and yes, Marty Moon is only a part of it. Send help.
The Phantom offers to break The Rat out of prison — for the night, at least. To lead him to The Rat’s ex-partner, “a cop killer”. Afterwards he still gets returned to jail, maybe with time off his sentence. The Rat takes the deal, weak as it may be. His reasoning: well, once he’s out of the prison he can stay out. He has delusions of killing The Phantom, but you can’t blame someone new to the strip for imagining that.
The Phantom blindfolds him, and leads The Rat on a long, long walk through the prison. Up the spiral tower. Through the old execution chambers. Into the old dissection room. Through the secret cabinet behind the old surgical tools. Down the tower walls. Past the Abbé Faria’s physiology lesson with Edmond Dantès. Into the sewers, although The Phantom insists “I’m not saying we are in the sewers” as part of his headgames with The Rat. Past Jean Valjean hauling Marius Pontmercy’s body around. And then back up into the Batcave, until they find the tracks of an old mine cart.
So this has not been one of the most plot-dense sequences of The Phantom. It’s been very heavy in atmosphere, and in showing off all sorts of great shadowy corners of the Boomsby Prison. Jeff Weigel has gotten to show off his ability to compose these detailed, deep pictures with a lot of light and shadow and moody color choices, most of them in the purples.
Where we haven’t got is particularly close to The Rat’s ex-partner; heck, we’re barely out of prison. The story began the 8th of October, so it’s now reached twenty weeks. Most Phantom Sunday stories have run about 26 weeks the last several years. The last-but-one story, “The Wiseguy”, did run 41 weeks, although that story of crime syndicate scion Mickey D’Moda and the people who put up with him, just barely, had a couple major phases that kept it from seeming that long. I’m guessing that something like that will be at work this story. It would be a bit odd to spend twelve Sunday strips sneaking out of Boomsby Prison and then deal with the ex-partner in two.
Comics art forgeries! Highly adoptable orphans! Old people peeking in on you at the mall! Estranged family members! And, might Terry Beatty be setting up the craziest of all possible things, Rex Morgan, M.D. doing some medical care of some kind? Well, no, probably not that. But come around next Sunday, if all goes to plan, and we’ll see.
Do you have no idea why I should be giddy about the concepts of muffins? Yet you’re interested in what the heck the current storyline is in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? That might be because it’s not February or maybe March 2018 when you’re reading this, and the story’s moved on. If it has, please check this link. If I’ve written another essay describing the plot since this one, it should be at or near the top of that page.
My last essay on the events in Mary Worth came at an exciting moment. Wilbur Weston, travelling the world to ask survivors of disasters how they felt about not being dead, had found his girlfriend Fabiana in the arms of her “cousin”. He stormed out of the dance studio. I thought it was too early in the storyline for his relationship with her to have collapsed. She’d only been introduced a few weeks before. Right as Wilbur told his on-hiatus girlfriend Iris that he’d met someone else and it was after all Iris’s idea to go on hiatus. Not so, though. He flies back home and shows no sign of ever wishing anything to do with Fabiana ever again.
Wilbur strolls back into his home life. He calls Iris with all the confidence of a balding, sandwich-based newspaper advice columnist who wears a bathrobe made of the curved fabric of spacetime itself. And he’s shocked to learn that she’s got plans with a guy named Zak that she hooked back up with right after he dumped her. Wilbur takes this well. I mean that he spends a couple weeks crouching in bushes to figure out how much of a rebound this guy is. And just how temporarily Iris will be interested Zak. He’s a young, rich, generically attractive man who owns his own game company and a car and chin stubble that looks like it’s on purpose and not that he’s incompetent at shaving. Wilbur figures to win Iris back, and gets the first step — roses — ready to deploy when he hears Iris and Zak telling each other “love you”. And that convinces him it’s all over.
This takes us to the 1st of January. And something I could not have appreciated at the time. In the midst of cleaning up Wilbur’s emotional mess, Mary Worth points out that she’s made muffins.
I do not think I am the only reader of Mary Worth blindsided by the strip’s turn to muffins. But let me give you this to consider: the 18th of February was the 49th day of the year. Since the 1st of January, 2018, Mary’s Muffins have either been shown or been named in no less than 48 separate panels. That’s not counting panels in which the characters are talking about Mary Worth’s muffins. Or discussing the implications of the fact that these muffins exist in the Worthyverse. This is literally just the panels in which a muffin is shown or the word “muffin” appears in text. And yes, this is in no small part because Mary’s Muffins have somehow transmogrified from an alliterative phrase that sounds like it might be naughty into a plot to rival CRUISE SHIPS. But that’s also with the first several weeks being devoted to getting Wilbur to stop his nonsense about how he’s through with love. Of the 133 panels the strip presented from the new year through to Sunday, more than one in three has focused on muffins. I don’t believe that Karen Moy and June Brigman are creating drinking games for the snark community. But I can’t rule it out either.
Anyway. Plot. Wilbur declares he is through and will live the rest of his life without love. Mary points out that’s ridiculous: he may have lost Iris as a girlfriend. But he still has mayonnaise. And here’s a large pile of muffins that aren’t going to eat themselves. And he’s got a daughter he kind of waved to between coming home from Colombia and creeping on Zak and Iris. Plus, this is the Worthyverse so he will pair-bond with some appropriate heterosexual partner and they will be happy together or else. He takes a bag of muffins to his daughter Dawn. They have a heart-to-heart that’s uncomfortably close to how my every phone call with my mother goes (“How’ve you been?” “Pretty good, and you?” “Good. … Uhm … so … guess I’ll catch you next week?”). He walks through a couple sunrises and figures, hey, he’s not dead. That’s doing pretty good these days.
The 22nd of January the current wonder of a storyline gets going. It includes a panel that does not explicitly feature muffins. It does have clear muffin-related content since it’s got a bag of flower, and a bowl with more flour in it, and a stirring spoon. Jeff’s old friend Ted Miller is in town, and Mary’s happy to treat him to dinner. Ted Miller loves dinner. He loves even more the muffins that Mary serves as appetizer while the rib roast finishes. He’s a former salesman, so he knows ways of the business world, such as how to keep his face open to the exact same wide-eyed smile for days on end.
Ted’s sure that Mary Muffins could become a major success in the bread-adjacent food products line. And that could just be the start of a whole Mary Worth Food Universe of in-principle consumable matter. He plies her with the idea of fame. She’s enchanted by the idea, but in the way any of us are, not enough to do something. He tells her of how she could make a fortune. She’s got dreams of immense wealth, again as we all do, but she’s comfortable as she is. He finally deploys generically positive aphorisms like “Nothing in life is guaranteed! Does that mean we shouldn’t live it?” and “Don’t let fear stop you from doing something great!” and “Don’t be afraid of risk!”. Ted’s found her weak point. She goes to work making test muffins.
By the time that muffins became two-thirds of all the words spoken by all the characters in Mary Worth the ordinary reader had one question. I don’t know what it is. I know the question that the alert, partly-ironic reader had. That was: what’s Ted’s deal, anyway? He mentioned a couple times how Mary Worth would have to put up an investment to get Mary Muffins going. And that she’d really have to do work in making the stuff while he dealt with marketing and “details”. Could it be as simple as Ted Miller scamming a woman who could be flattered into believing the world needs to know how well she bakes?
Possibly. It seems a bit odd to have an old friend of Jeff’s turn out to be a scam artist. But the strip had Jeff back down on how well he did know Ted, saying (on the 17th of February) that he knew him “casually, a long time ago”. And also this past week we’ve had Ted declare how he and Mary Worth will be a great team, and go in for a hug that he doesn’t go out of for several days of strip action. Not until Mary warns she’s got an appointment and shoves him into the linen closet. Is it possible he’s a masher?
Could be. I admit I am not sure what Ted’s deal is. A confidence scam based on Mary Worth’s cooking abilities would be a believable development. Let’s remember that she introduced the comics snark community to salmon squares. I remember them as a plate of material the color of a Macintosh Performa 6115. She also did innovative work with shrimp scampi. The strip’s had confidence men pulling scams before, although not on Mary so far as I know. An attempt by Ted to flatter his way into a personal relationship would also fit. Jeff mentioned on the 17th that Ted was divorced. And, heck, a dozen years ago the strip even sustained a stalker plot, the famous Aldo Keldrast story. The Comics Curmudgeon made his name in the snark community covering that one. Could be a story like that coming around again. Or maybe it’ll be something more bizarre yet. I refuse to make a guess about whether Mary Muffins will turn into the next great baffling food thing or whether they’ll be forgotten as the Ted plot unfolds. Also I refuse to guess whether we’re ever given any hint what kind of product Ted ever sold. If you’d like to guess, please, leave a comment and we’ll see if we can make the text support any or all of them!
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
“Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.
“You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served” — Nina Simone, 3 December 2017.
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself” — Fyodor Dostoyevskky [sic], 10 December 2017.
“Love has reasons which reason cannot understand” — Blaise Pascal, 17 December 2017.
“No one wants advice — only corroboration.” — John Steinbeck, 24 December 2017.
“Love is the only gold.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 31 December 2017.
“Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” — Doris Day, 6 January 2018.
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn, 13 January 2018.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson, 21 January 2018.
“You begin with the possibilities of the material.” — Robert Rauschenberg, 28 January 2018.
“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” — Napoleon Hill, 4 February 2018.
“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” — Maimonides, 11 February 2018.
“Enthusiasm is everything” — Pele, 18 February 2018.
I get to practically relax and take it easy. I have three months of Sunday strip continuity to catch up on, as we’re set to revisit Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday strips. Does the Rat get out of jail? Does he get put back in jail? Is The Phantom just screwing with everybody? Come back and find out, or, actually, you could read the comic yourself at least as easily. But I’ll put it together in like a thousand words, there’s that.
Greetings, nature fans. I thank you for coming here in search of a quick explanation of the current plot in James Allen’s Mark Trail. If it’s later than about April 2018 when you read this, the essay might be hopelessly out of date. But if all goes well I’ll have a follow-up essay, maybe several. You should be able to find them at or near the top of this page. And if you’re interested just in what was going on in Mark Trail in the winter of 2017-18, please read on.
Also I apologize for the short notice, but I only discovered it myself earlier today. TCM, United States feed, is showing Skippy, the 1931 movie about Percy Crosby’s classic and influential comic strip, at 2:30 am Sunday night/Monday morning (Eastern Time) the 11th/12th. I’d mentioned this last time they ran it, early last year. But I haven’t seen the movie yet as our TV died shortly after recording and we had to get a new DVR and, look, somehow it got all complicated, okay? They’re also showing Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle on Tuesday the 13th, at 10 pm Eastern Time. Jacques Tati films will not be to everyone’s taste. But if you can sit and watch it, without distraction, you may just discover one of the most wonderful things the 20th century has to offer.
21 November 2017 – 10 February 2018
The Bank Robber was disarmed. His Accomplice surrendered to Johnny Lone Elk. Light-aircraft pilot Alan Parker was in custody. Things were looking good for Mark Trail last time we checked in. They had one problem left. It’s side effects of that time Mark Trail declared at the top of Mount Olympus how he was so much more awesome than the whole Greek pantheon.
The Sheriff advises getting into the bank. It’s only technically speaking on fire. But it’s also got tunnels that he and Johnny Lone Elk had used to get back into the plot. Everyone has to get in, not quite far enough to encounter Samson the grizzly bear. Zeus curses his lack of foresight. He’s still feuding with Hades and can’t get to them from underground, and asking Artemis to send out the bears is right out this year. With the Sheriff mentioning he’s out of the candy bars that pacify Samson the Grizzly the story ends. I call it for the 28th of November, pretty near ten months after the story began (about the 24th of February).
With the 29th, more or less, starts the new story. There’s an epilogue on the Bank Robber story two weeks later. It establishes that Mark wants to go home and not count the prairie dogs of Rapid City, South Dakota. Indeed, he never even sees a prairie dog, a pity because I hear prairie dogs are making a comeback. The Bank Robber and his Accomplice never get named that I saw.
The new story starts by following Chris “Dirty” Dyer. He was shown coming back from Africa early in 2017, immediately before the Bank Robber story started. (He’d been part of at least one story before, in 2014. If there’s a Mark Trail wikia with full summaries of earlier stories and character histories and such I don’t know it. But the Comics Curmudgeon reports on this are likely good enough.) Dirty reads about the circus closing on his way to a meeting with Batman ’66 villain King Tut. Dirty’s figuring to fence some African diamonds. King Tut will only offer five thousand and a recommendation to go on vacation. He takes the advice, and his Crocodile Dundee knife, and the chance to stab (off-panel) King Tut. Chris Dirty then passes out of our storyline, apart from some talk about how he’s got to get in shape to take on Mark Trail.
Mark and Cherry also don’t believe in the giraffe, and bring up that time Rusty daydreamed about dinosaurs. Still, strange things are happening. Doc, sitting on the porch, sees a monkey dressed for organ-grinding duty and riding an ostrich. Nearby, Shannon and Kathy, who as far as I know are original bit players to this story, are camping. At least until a rhinoceros rampages at them, grabs their tent, and runs into the lake. ([Edited to add because I didn’t notice this in today’s strip at first] The Sunday panel for the 11th of February, about sea turtles, sends “special thanks to Shannon and Kathy Davidson” for unspecified services. Going to go out on a limb here and suppose that part of the thanking is having them get chased down by a rhino. I had the plot summary written up before that strip was published.) There the rhino terrifies a guy out fishing until he decides that actually some days fishing are not better than all days working. (And I’m sorry to murder the joke this way. It’s done over the course of three days and pretty funny done so.) And that’s the current action.
This also highlights how James Allen has gotten the storytelling in the strip to be more sophisticated. And without shifting its tone much. We, the readers, understand what’s going on well ahead of Mark Trail. And it’s not because Mark’s shown to be dense. He lacks information that he couldn’t be expected to have: Artemis has forgiven Zeus just enough that they can launch the Revenge of Nature plot. By this time next month maybe Doc will have been eaten by rampaging quolls. Let’s watch!
Sunday Animals Watch!
Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:
The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. They’re probably dying.
Pigs! 26 November 2017. There’s some in the Bahamas that have learned to swim out to tourists.
Sperm whales, 3 December 2017. They nap in collective groups that don’t look at all like the creepy moment right before a Revenge of Nature movie gets to the good stuff.
Vangunu Island vikas, 10 December 2017. White folk finally noticed them and they’re probably all but dead now.
Worms, 17 December 2017. We’d be dead without them and there’s this invasive one that’s got a powerful neurotoxin so good luck.
Mistletoe, 24 December 2017. It’s in good shape, but is a parasite to trees and shrubs so enjoy?
Penguins, 31 December 2017. Adelie penguins are in trouble thanks to global warming so, great.
Moths, 7 January 2018. This crazypants Australian one went viral, apparently (I missed it) just on the strength of looking like a crazypants Australian moth.
Tapanuli Orangutans, 14 January 2018. We just found them and they’re incredibly endangered.
Mosquitoes, 21 January 2018. Not endangered but we’re figuring to try releasing some bacterium-infected males in an attempt to create a new Revenge of Nature movie.
Cryptobranchus Alleganiensis, 28 January 2018. Might get named the Official State Amphibian of Pennsylvania!
Virginia Opossums, 4 February 2018. Not endangered.
Sea turtles, 11 February 2018. Crazy endangered.
I had expectations about where Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth was going, last time I checked in on them. How close were my expectations to reality? You should find out next week when it’s the chance for a certain food-making advice-giver to be recapped here. And I don’t want to get your hopes up too high. But if there’s one word that’s been on every Mary-watcher’s lips the past week it has been: muffins.
So I say this for people in my future who’re looking for information about Gasoline Alley, the venerable, long-running serial-comic strip. If I learn more about what’s going on in it than I do now, the first weekend of February in 2018, I’ll post it here. Somewhere above this article on the page should be some more current idea of what’s going on.
Independently of that, I try to track mathematically-themed comic strips. I discuss them on my other blog, the mathematically-themed one. You can tell it’s different because it uses a serifed typeface for article headlines. The most recent of the comic strip posts is right here. I try to have at least one a week. The past few weeks Comic Strip Master Command has been sending me lots of stuff to write about, although it’s mostly “a student misinterprets a story problem”. But you never know when the teacher in your life is going to need something fresh taped to the door. So give that a try, please.
Nothing had been announced about planned reruns. It’s not unprecedented for a cartoonist to put the strip into reruns a while. They deserve holidays as much as normal people do. Or they have personal crises — a health scare, a house fire, a family emergency — and only a capitalist would complain about their taking time to deal with that. It’s a bit unusual for there to be no news about it, though. This stuff might not draw the front page of the Newark Star-Ledger. But to hear that a cartoonist has had a medical crisis and had to take a few unexpected weeks off is why comics sites have blogs. Also, Lincoln Pierce, of Big Nate, is “attending to family matters” and that’s why that comic strip went into reruns for a month. There’s not any word about when he’ll be back. It does happen, though. Darby Conley, of Get Fuzzy, stopped drawing new dailies altogether without notice over a decade ago. In the middle of a story, too, although it was a boring story he’d done many times before. No explanation, and he’d keep drawing new Sunday strips, although those have tapered off too. Why? No one who knows, says. Jeff Keane’s The Family Circus has been nothing but reruns from the 70s, sometimes touched up with modernized captions. We’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice. Dan Piraro and Wayno will redraw some vintage Bizarro, usually remaking a weekday strip as a Sunday. But that’s a complete redraw. And Bob Weber Jr and Sr’s Slylock Fox reuses puzzles. Sometimes, like, the Comics Curmudgeon remarks on both printings of a strip.
So what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I don’t know. I haven’t found anyone who does know and says. It’s an unsettling silence. It’s easy to imagine things that might leave Scancarelli unable to write or draw the strip. Few of them are happy thoughts. Gasoline Alley is — or at least had been — the oldest (American) syndicated newspaper comic not in eternal reruns. It’s terrible to think that the worst might happen and Jim Scancarelli might not be drawing the comic strip when it turns 100 years old this coming November 24.
(If my research doesn’t fail me, the next-oldest is John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, if that counts as a comic strip; it began the 19th of December, 1918. Then there’s John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, begun the 17th of June, 1919.)
I’m sorry to have so little to definitely say. If I get news, or even any good rumors, that aren’t made under a pledge of confidentiality, I’ll share. In my entire life I have exactly once ever gotten a tip about comic strip news, and that was in confidence. So I couldn’t even go into Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and make an accurate “prediction” about what would happen and then be all smug when it came true. In fact, I predicted the opposite of what would happen, because that reflected what I would have thought if I didn’t have inside information.
Still, perhaps somehow you weren’t reading Gasoline Alley with care in 2013 or didn’t remember the story. So what did happen? Rufus sings awful. Choir director Holly Luyah and Pastor Present work out that there is one note Rufus can sing, and hold him in reserve for exactly that note. He signs that note with enough power to break a stained-glass window. Rufus and Joel replace the broken piece with part of a beer sign, and then scrub the letters, and all the color, off the window.
29th of November: the next rerun story begins, with Slim Skinner working as a Santa Claus for the Bleck’s Department Store. That’s a plot which ran November and December of 2008. Slim’s not all that enthusiastic about the Santa Claus job, but it gives him the chance for a bunch of jokes about awful kids. Then he gets a sweet bug-eyed girl who wants something nice for her Mommy, since Daddy was killed in Iraq. The weepy melodrama sort of story that the comic does. This was also when I realized something was awry in the dailies. Playing Santa Claus for a grief-stricken impoverished family was where the Rufus and The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother started their storyline.
Slim figures to forego his own family’s Christmas and instead use the money to give the poor kid’s family a proper full holiday. With a fully-decorated tree and bunches of presents he breaks into the kid’s house. Before he can enter, he’s arrested by the Gasoline Alley police, which is about average for a Slim Skinner plot. The people whose house he mistakenly broke into don’t prosecute, and the police donate something to the poor girl and her mother. The girl’s name was finally given as “Mary”, because of course it would be. Close out with some talk about Slim’s resolutions for the New Year and that’s that.
With the 2nd of January the next (and current) story began its rerun. It first ran in January of 2007. It’s got Skeezix hanging out at Corky’s Diner. After a couple gags about about the food story interrupts in the form of Senator Wilmer Bobble visiting. He reminds Corky of the part he played in getting his Uncle Pert to sell Corky the diner back in 1950 (“I’ll talk with you, Corky, but not if Wilmer is in the deal!”). And they think back to the buying and early days of the restaurant that for all I know are faithful reconstructions of how the storyline back then went. And Bobble explains that now that his uncle Pert has died, and deeded the land to him, he’s evicting Corky’s Diner. He notes that “nothing lasts forever”, which is a pretty good line for a longrunning syndicated newspaper comic strip. He’s hoping to build a ten-story parking garage. The bulldozers will be here in two weeks.
And that’s the rerun story where it stands, as of the 3rd of February. (If they keep rerunning the story without interruption, the story will be here about seven more weeks. Spoiler: it doesn’t end unhappily for the core cast.)
The Sunday strips have been the usual spot gags, not part of any particular story continuity. Sunday strips have a longer lead time than weekday strips do. So it’s likely that the most recently published Scancarelli comic was one of the recent Sundays. I don’t know which. Commenters on rec.arts.comics.strips (particularly D D Degg) and on the GoComics.com pages have identified most of the rerun dates. This strip from the 17th of December was a rerun from 2007, as the phone suggests. The last new strip might be that of the 10th of December, 2017. Can’t say for sure.
(Late-breaking addition, punishing me for getting this all written up like 30 hours before deadline: I can’t find where the strip for today, the 4th of February, 2018, ran before. The lettering, to me, makes me think the strip is another from around late 2007 or early 2008. But I can’t find the original if it is out there. Maybe we worried for nothing? Or Scancarelli had a couple strips almost done and was now able to do the Sundays at least? Even if he isn’t able to get the dailies done?)
I promise. If I get news, and can share it, I will.
Has Nature killed you, or anyone you know? Has it dropped parachuters onto any bank robbers? Have you ever counted the prairie dogs outside Rapid City, South Dakota? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “the heck are you even talking about?” please join me as I check back in on James Allen’s Mark Trail. Be warned: it does involve geographically implausible appearances of giraffes. Also be warned: it appears to build a story around things mentioned during but not directly related to a previous story. Also it’s been years since we saw a giant squirrel discussing the smuggling poachers. Just saying.
It’s been only a few short months since I last checked in on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and yet plenty of stuff has happened. I’m glad to try catching you up on that. More stuff might have happened by the time you read this. If it’s late January or early February 2018 for you, this is probably enough to catch you up. If it’s a lot later than that, maybe the story’s developed far past that. If I’ve written a later summary I shall try to have it at or near the top of this link. Also I mentioned this on my other blog, but GoComics.com broke something so that My Comics Page won’t load, and broke their “Contact Us” page so it won’t submit error reports. I’ve got workarounds, but I’m not happy with them.
Also, on my mathematics blog, I review comics with mathematical themes. My latest report on those should be at or near the top of this link. Thanks for checking that out, if you do.
5 November 2017 – 27 January 2018.
Last time you’ll recall, Dick Tracy and team were closing in on audio-recording forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate. The pair were hiding out in the Lyric (movie) Theater, Sprocket on a date with novelist and Les Moore’s less-punchworthy twin Adam Austin, Silver in the Phantoms Of Theaters room. Silver watches his sister have a date so serious she even wears sandals for it. So he gives her half their take and alibis her. He goes to jail. She goes to California with Adam Austin, who I’m assuming is writing the novelization for the Starbuck Jones sequel. Silver Nitrate and his boss/jailbreaker Public Domain go to jail and that ends that story reasonably logically.
And then, the 18th of November, came an odd interlude before the next story: a “Minit Mystery”. It was one of those adorable puzzle mysteries, you know, figuring out who killed the guy based on whether an umbrella is damp or figuring which jacket is underneath another on the coat-stand. It’s a week illustrated by Charles Ettinger, and it’s introduced as the start of a new series. There was just the one mystery presented this time around. Perhaps they’re waiting for the current storyline to resolve, or reach a logical pause, before showing the next. I’m not sure this is any more logically rigorous than an Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, but it’s a fun pastime. The story started the 19th of November and ran each day through to the 26th, when the solution was revealed.
Back to plotting, the 27th of November. Mister Bribery reappears, along with his niece Ugly Crystal and hired gun Sawtooth. Bribery’s hired Sawtooth to execute Dick Tracy. Tracy’s team has infiltrated Bribery’s organization, though, as their bodyguard, with Lee Ebony pretending to be “T-Bolt”. Bribery orders Sawtooth to carry out the execution plan, even though it’s not compatible with putting the shrunken head of Dick Tracy into a jar on his shelf. Okay then.
One of the dangling side plots comes back to the fore. The fellow you get by fusing Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop finds crime boss Posie Ermine. Ermine’s been disheartened since his daughter was abducted, surgically altered to be Mysta the new Moon Maid, and somehow brainwashed into a whole new identity who wants nothing to do with her biological father. Buster Oop has personal reasons for this. He’s the Governor of the Moon, and father of the original Moon Maid. (The original Moon Maid was killed in the 70s, when most of the really loopy science fiction stuff was written out of the strip, although her daughter — Honey Moon Tracy, Dick’s granddaughter — is still around and a critical character these days.)
Got all these relations? Because that just catches things up to early December 2017 and from there everything gets explosive.
Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal … Bribery, I guess is her last name? … meet cute-ish at the mall’s CD store. They get along surprisingly well, what with both having superpowers and Ugly Crystal envying Honey Moon’s antennas. I understand. I imprinted early on Uncle Martin’s extendable antennas from My Favorite Martian. And I’m not an ugly person.
Mister Bribery, out for a jog, shoves another jogger into the path of a minibus. It’s a startling moment. It establishes Mister Bribery’s villainy and menace in a way that his hiring someone to murder Dick Tracy hadn’t, somehow. I suppose it’s because you expect the villain to try killing the scientific superdetective. It’s normal and routine and built into the worldview and the name of the comic strip that the plan won’t work. But he can kill — or try to kill, as the victim survives with “minor injuries” — some nobody. And that it’s utterly unmotivated makes Mister Bribery’s danger more real. The murderous impulse doesn’t do Mister Bribery any good, either, as the city looks for whoever’s in the blurry video footage of the crime.
Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal meet up again, under Lee Ebony’s supervision. Honey Moon gets a bit of brain freeze from the Moon Governor’s transmissions. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine have been searching for Honey Moon. Meanwhile Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence assistant/digitally-uploaded former henchman Matty Squared has detected the Moon Governor’s Space Coupe. Mister Bribery orders Sawtooth to kidnap Honey Moon. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine close in on Smith Industries, there to find Mysta the (second) Moon Maid. Yes, I’m getting tired just writing all this.
OK. There’s a shootout. Ermine’s killed. Sawtooth grabs the Moon Governor and Mysta and takes them to Mister Bribery. Mister Bribery wants the Moon Governor’s help getting to the Lunarian valley settlement, there to mine lunar gold and whatnot. The Moon Governor tries to squash these plans. He drops the bad news that there’s no oxygen left in the Moon Valley colony. (This we the readers have known since in 2012, in one of the last uses of Diet Smith’s Moon Coupe. And that also shows how long this team is willing to let a mystery simmer.) Also, it’s dumb to go to the Moon to mine gold. These days the fashion is to go to the Moon to mine Helium-3, which is even dumber. Plus there’s the whole Rocket Hat problem. He tells Mister Bribery to move on, “as we did”.
Mister Bribery takes this with all the calm and grace of Donald Duck finding Chip and Dale back on his folding lawn chair. Meanwhile henchman Glitch spots Lee Ebony talking on her official police-grade wrist wizard, astoundingly sloppy undercover work. It’s okay, though, since Glitch has figured out this is the big meltdown and he’s just telling people to run while they can. Ebony arrests Ugly Crystal (I’m not sure for what, but I suppose that can be sorted out). Sam Catchem says they’ve got the rest of Mister Bribery’s gang. And Tracy is going in after Mister Bribery himself, who’s got the Moon Governor and Second Moon maid with him.
And that’s where we stand. It’s a lot of stuff happening, and with (so far as I noticed) no weird cameos or digressions, after the Minit Mystery interlude. I’ve only noticed one odd, unresolved mention of a thing either: on the 4th of December mentioning how Diet Smith’s “time machine was a bust”. I didn’t know there was ever a time machine in Dick Tracy, but I’m also not surprised, given how crazy Chester Gould went in the 60s.
Jim Scancarelli has been out of action since the last time I recapped the plot in Gasoline Alley! Why? Where? What’s happening? Will the story of Rufus’s courting of The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom ever resolve? I don’t know. But I’ll do my best to share what I know, or can find out. And to recap nearly three months’ worth of reruns next week, somewhere on this link. Here’s hoping there’s good news ahead.
I thank all you kind readers interested in what’s happening in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. This is my recap for mid-to-late January 2018. If it’s gotten far past that, this essay might not help you very much. But! If it’s past about April 2018, I should have other essays getting closer to your present. If I have done that, they should be at or near the top of this link. Good luck.
When I last checked in on Prince Valiant things had reached a happy conclusion. Valiant had helped a refugee village smash a band of marauders. The marauders who weren’t so much into the marauding thing were settling down to join the villagers. And he was leaving behind some of the supporting cast where they were sure they’d be happy. With that, they were to sail down the river, hoping ultimately to get home.
They raft along the Yinchu. This river’s now known as the Syr Darya, one of the rivers in Kazhakstan that leads to the Aral Sea, which was a vast body of water that existed in Prince Valiant’s time. Along the way the party runs into (checks encounter table) a nasty swarm of insects. They escape the insects, but not before Valiant’s stung or bitten or otherwise harassed by one enough to fail his constitution check. He falls into a delirious sleep, and that night, pursuing the vision of his mother, he falls into the river.
Valiant hacks his way through taunting visions of the witch-prophet Horrit and stumbles into a village. Jahan, the ruler, hooks him up with some salix tree extract, which naturally works great. Jahan explains their deal. His people are healers. They keep their neutrality in the wars between the Persian and Turkic people around them, ministering to both sides. And he’s atoning for a time when he kind of accidentally got the village cursed by not treating an ill stranger. (Jahan wasn’t sure if healing the stranger might alienate either of the warring sides around him.) Now, though, with “a good man — a man with an important destiny” treated despite being a stranger, he’d balanced the wrong.
Valiant’s companions find him. He’s sprawled out in the ruins of some ancient village, one massacred a long while ago. But then … how did Valiant find salix tree bark to chew on and to save his life? And with this (I found) charming bit of light Twilight Zone/folklore play Prince Valiant can get back to pondering the nature of reality and all that. For a couple days, anyway, while Karen and Vanni talk about healing herbs and chatter a bit with the local ravens. There’s a joke that the raven is passing word of their safe travels back home, but it turns out that is exactly what it’s doing.
Something I didn’t pay attention to while it was happening, possibly because the one was taking place weekdays and the other Sundays: both the current weekday Phantom continuity and Prince Valiant include major, confusing, delusional dream-encounters for their strips’ titular characters. It also features what’s surely just a coincidence of words: Jahan speaks of Prince Valiant as “a man with an important destiny”; Savior Z speaks of The Phantom as “an important man of your kind”. All coincidence, surely. But I’m tickled to notice this.
So how did that bunco squad raid on the movie theater turn out? Is the strange Moon Governor Or Something closing in on Dick Tracy’s granddaughter from his abandoned farm base? How is Mister Bribery’s plan to bring someone from outside the strip in to murder Dick Tracy turning out? Did the strip acknowledge Gasoline Alley sending Joel over to visit? If all goes well, next week, I’ll read three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and let you know what the heck’s going on.
Are you hoping to get up to date on The Phantom‘s 248th weekday-continuity story, The Return of the Locust? Then you’re in luck, if you want to know how the story stands as of mid-January 2018. If you’re looking for later parts of the story, possibly including its conclusion, you’ll need a later essay. If I’ve written one about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s comic strip, it should be at or near the top of this page. It has to share that page with the Sunday Phantom continuity, a separate story being revealed to us in parallel. But it’s there. This is about the strips running Monday-to-Saturday.
If you’re interested more in comic strips that are about mathematical topics, and the mathematics those imply, please consider my other blog. I try to round up the past week’s comics and explore the ones that give me something good to talk about.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
23 October 2017 – 13 January 2018.
The Ghost Who Walks had been encouraged to take up flying last time. He got a curious summons from The Locust, a Mandrake-class magician working out of the American Southwest. The Phantom flies his private plane to Walker’s Table, a remote and impossibly inaccessible pillar of rock somewhere in New Mexico that’s been in the Phantom’s family since the father of the first Phantom explored the desert in 1499. And it turns out there’s anti-aircraft gunners on the Table.
So he withdraws, and checks in with the local diner to ask what the heck’s going on. He talks with the guy who runs the diner. He’s called the General and speaks the way characters with backstory do, although I don’t know what it is. The Phantom Wiki doesn’t have anything logged about it either. May just be written like he’s an old hat. Anyway, the General explains how there’s squatters on top of the Table. They hook up with the helicopter pilot who’s been delivering supplies to people he just trusted were supposed to live atop a massive cylinder of rock.
The Phantom arranges for the helicopter pilot to fly him, at night, to somewhere out of gunnery range above the Table. And to drop him, in one of those cool wing-suits used by those people who talk with Conan O’Brien about how they jump off of skyscrapers. With this he’s able to land on the Table without drawing attention until he’s ready to shout at or punch people.
On the ground he finds Spock’s half-brother Sybok, sporting a long green coat and talking about this proves everything he ever said. He’s got a bunch of followers, a bunch of mostly young, racially mixed young adults living in tents. They call Sybok the “Savior Z” and cling to his every word, such as “Stop him!” and “He’s getting away!” and “Don’t let him throw all our guns off the edge of the cliff!” and “don’t let him bludgeon us with that meteorite!”
After shoving the cult’s artillery over the edge and bluffing Savior Z into giving up his pistol, the Phantom asks what the heck their whole deal is. Savior Z tells his followers that this is exactly the way he foresaw all this playing out, and his followers are fools to question him. His followers look around and shrug and agree, this is definitely all in Savior Z’s vision and they’re not fools to question this. Savior Z has some story about an amassing alien invasion fleet gathered behind the far side of the Moon, and insists The Phantom is the vanguard of the invasion.
Well. The disarmed Savior Z explains they can’t just leave because the elevator’s unsafe. He shows the skeptical Phantom what the problem is: it’s the concussion grenade he booby-trapped the elevator with. The unconscious Phantom dreams he’s visiting his son, off at his Tibetan finishing school. Although his dream starts to fall apart when he realizes it doesn’t make sense, a phenomenon that sometimes happens to dreaming people. (My love has this happen all the time and I’m always amazed by it.)
Some of Savior Z’s followers are a bit put off to learn the elevator was booby-trapped. But some of the others figure out why this isn’t a creepy, manipulative, controlling thing for their cult leader to do: he was protecting him from their own weakness. Lest his cult figure out they don’t even need him to dominate their thoughts anymore, Savior Z tells them that their doubts are exactly part of his plan, and for their part in fulfilling his vision they should enjoy this punch. Also, they should roll The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.