Myc, their daughter, is some weird organism ageing dozens of years in a day. It’s attached to Alley Oop and Ooola because they’re the lead characters. Past that we’re still learning her deal so I don’t have more to say about them.
On another note, Jack Bender, longtime artist on Alley Oop, has died, reports D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. I came in to reading Alley Oop and appreciating his work only at its tail end but did always enjoy it. The Daily Cartoonist shares more of his life’s work, including the sports comics he made his name on.
This essay should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for early January, 2023. All of my Alley Oop essays should be at this link, so if you’re reading this after about April 2023 there’s probably a more current plot recap there. Now to the past fourteen weeks of shenanigans and whatnot.
The plan seems unshakeable. Alley Oop and Ooola keep trying to go back to the day before Atoby first visites the young Wonmug, only to find he’s gone back to a day before that. It’s the logical yet funny end and points out one problem of a “Time War” story. It’s hard to see how it could ever be won. Alley Oop and Ooola ask, if Doc Wonmug’s history has been rewritten so he never got into science how does he still have a lab and all? Wonmug explains something about changes in time taking time to change the present. It doesn’t make sense but if we don’t have some buffer like this we can’t have a story, okay?
The Clawed Oracle, cat-shaped being unbound by time and space, has advice for Alley Oop and Ooola. (Doc Wonmug is getting too much into free jazz and other “silly” arts stuff, as the time changes seep into ‘now’.) That advice is: take the battle to Doc Atoby. So they venture into Universe-4, the villain world. It’s a difficult place to be. Everything kind of operates on the inverse-logic of Bizarro World so it’s confusing working out normal conversations. Like, when the person who works the Misinformation Booth offers to help, should Alley Oop clobber them or what?
Our Heroes barely start figuring out a plan when Doc Atoby captures them. His Time Heptahedron is far more powerful than their Time Cubes. he brings them seven billion years in the future, when Earth is a lifeless void, a half-billion years from being consumed by the sun. He plans to leave them there. But Ooola outwits him, and Alley Oop catches him, and they’re left with what to do with the villain. Abandoning him in the dead future Earth is so villainous he approves. Lecturing doesn’t work. What about going back into his childhood to make him less villainous? That’s only arguably murder.
So, they go to Doc Atoby’s childhood and give him a puppy, to make him less villainous, or at least a villain with a cybernetic evil dog. Hard to be sure. But when they get back to the present, Doc Atoby’s a much less evil, less ambitious mad scientist; he’s into free jazz and all that stuff. So this somehow undoes all the time-tampering done with our (Universe-2) Doc Wonmug. I assume also the other versions of Doc Wonmug since there’s a couple that are surely jokes they’ll want to come back to. And with that, the 16th of December, we come to a happy conclusion.
The 17th of December started the current story, with Alley Oop and Ooola getting back to Moo. Inside Alley Oop’s cave is a crying infant. Nobody in Moo knows who she is. Or why she’s growing so fast, going through years of (human) growth in hours. She tells Our Heroes that her name is Myc. And … she’s pretty sure she’s a fungus. Is that weird? No, of course not. They’ve lived. They know people from Mastodon who are feral dreams hoping to invade shampoo by way of Louisa May Alcott novels. Being a rapid-ageing fungus from space is mundane in all but the literal sense. But what her deal is, past that? We don’t yet know.
For example. Last Sunday Harley explained how “when Susan Smith’s actions threatened the possibility of your parents getting back together before they were married … ” he gave “a gentle push to an already guilty conscience”. We see, in the recap, Les Moore consoling Susan Smith, who’s in the hospital. The reader who doesn’t remember the mid-90s well can understand there was a suicide attempt, but not how this fit together. So.
Story from the mid-90s. Susan Smith, one of Les Moore’s students, has a crush on him somehow. And she’s mistaking routine, supportive comments from her teacher as signals that he’s interested too. This was deftly done, at the time. Like, you could see where Smith got the wrong idea, and where Moore had no reason to think he was giving her signals. And was all funny in that I’m-glad-I’m-not-in-this-imminent-disaster way.
This turned to disaster when Smith learned that Moore did not, in fact, have any interest in her. And, particularly, had a girlfriend, Lisa, who was tromping around Europe for the summer. Most particularly when Les asked Smith to mail out the audio tape he was sending Lisa, with his wedding proposal to her. She destroyed the tape, and tried to destroy herself. The thing that Smith confessed was that she had destroyed the tape and that’s why Lisa wasn’t answering the proposal.
The revelation set Les off to Europe to chase Lisa down, incidentally the first time I ragequit Funky Winkerbean. The thing he kept missing her, getting to tourist sites ever closer to when she left, down to where he was missing her by seconds and the story wasn’t over yet. Anyway, he finally caught up to her in Elea, Greece, at Zeno’s world-famous escape room (it’s a tunnel one stadia long, empty apart from a tortoise and an arrow at the midpoint). As you’d think, Summer Moore got born and all.
I don’t remember, why Les couldn’t send another tape, or a letter, or call like a normal human being might. But I do remember that “intercepted proposal” is a story Tom Batiuk would use again, in Crankshaft. There, Lillian, who I bet has a last name, revealed to her comatose sister Lucy that she was why Lucy’s Eugene stopped writing while deployed overseas. Eugene wrote a proposal letter and promised if Lucy didn’t reply he’d stop trying to communicate with her. Jealous, Lillian hid the letter, and so her sister never married. The story premise might not work for you but it seems there’s something that appeals to Batiuk in it. Also now you understand why Lillian — who’s become a little old lady writing cozy mysteries about bookstore-related murders while running a tiny used bookshop herself — draws hatred from a streak of Crankshaft readers.
Other miscellaneous stuff. There’s a reference to the post office bombing storyline, a 1996 story detailed well on Son Of Stuck Funky for people who want the details. (The story was a loose take on the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building by white supremacists.) Harley revealed it was his mental influence that got the band and the football team to donate blood. We should have seen that coming. Why would community leaders come together in a crisis like that of their own free will?
Finally Summer asks whether Harley’s ever ‘nudged’ her mind, a question that can only be believed if answered ‘yes’. Harley says ‘no’ and unloads a double- and then a triple-decker word zeppelin. Its goal: to explain how Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both happened in the present but were ten years out of synch with one another. Immediately after Lisa Moore’s death Funky Winkerbean jumped ahead ten years. This allowed Tom Batiuk to skip the sadness of Les Moore getting over Lisa’s death and jump right into the sadness of Les Moore’s inability to get over Lisa’s death. But there was no reason for Crankshaft to jump like that. So, for a long while, when Crankshaft characters appeared in Funky Winkerbean they were a decade older and vice-versa.
Not to brag, but I followed this and even why Tom Batiuk would do that. It’s a riff on DC Comics’s old Earth-1 and Earth-2 and so on worlds. Earth-1 was roughly the Silver Age superheroes, and Earth-2 their 20-year-older Golden Age forebears. Some characters, particularly Superman, appeared in both and so were older or younger when out of their home universe. But it was also confusing to anyone whose brain isn’t eaten up with this nonsense and is why I don’t brag about my brain. And so three percent of the last month of Funky Winkerbean was spent explaining why now Crankshaft won’t be out of synch with it anymore.
A problem endemic to stories about time travellers meddling with history is character autonomy. Add to that Harley’s claimed power to nudge people’s choices — including, we learn, getting Lisa to move back to Westview, and getting Crazy Harry a job with the comic book shop so he wouldn’t move out of town — and Summer has good reason to wonder about her parents. Harley owns up to changing Les and Lisa’s schedules to have the same lunch period. And to set it so nobody else would sit near them. But no, he says, Lisa chose of her own free will to go talk to the only person she could.
Comics Book Harriet, at Son Of Stuck Funky, has an outstanding deep-dive into Les and Lisa’s high school relationship, as it developed in the 1980s. It’s (of course) not this relationship of destiny, but a much more ambiguous and generally funny thing. The element I had completely forgotten is that Lisa started out as a terrible girlfriend. The comic logic is correct: you can preserve Les’s role as a loser if his girlfriend’s a terror. (It does play a bit into a misogynist idea of The Women They Be Crazy Harridans. But when you look at the full cast, with characters like Cindy Summers the Popular But Shallow Girl and Holly Budd the Hot Majorette … uh … well, sometimes you have to go with the cast types that give you scenarios.)
Anyway with that complete lack of reassurance Harley … explains how he got his name? And this was what confirmed I’d need to do another “why is everybody mad at Funky Winkerbean” essay. Because we’re told that when he arrived in Sometime In The Past Westview he needed to establish an identity. He saw a guy on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and figured, yeah that. I’m not faulting him for choosing a goofy name. He needs to blend in with a community where people have names like “Funky Winkerbean”, “Les Moore”, “Holly Budd”, “Jack Stropp”, “Bob Andray” (cute!) (strip of July 18, 1976), “Mason Jarr”, “Chester Hagglemore”, “Cliff Anger”, and so on. He doesn’t know where to find a level. (I made a version of this crack on Son of Stuck Funky and folks asked why I didn’t list “Harry L Dinkle” among the names. And I don’t know; it just doesn’t strike me as the same sort of goofy as, oh, “Rocky Rhodes” or “Ferris Wheeler” do.) My issue is: he didn’t work that out before leaving his home time? He has a time machine and he couldn’t spend an extra day thinking out his cover? The only way I can see that making sense is if Harley had to leap into the past before he was ready. Since we haven’t seen anyone trying to stop him, this implies some Quantum Leap scenario, where Harley is moving uncontrolled from event to event, forever hoping his next expository lump will be the lump drone.
Oh also, today (the 11th) we learn Summer Moore’s not-yet-written transcendentally important book will also be her only book. As if anyone could live up to that standard. Also that Harley hasn’t messed up the book by telling her this. Why? Because she somehow “figured out” all of this on her own, without sharing any of it with the reader. Good grief.
This may be hard to believe but as recently as the 21st of November, nobody was mad at Funky Winkerbean. At least nobody was mad enough at the soon-to-expire strip to click the ‘angry’ react at the bottom of Comics Kingdom’s page. That changed the 22nd, and since the 25th of November there’s been only one day that the strip got fewer than a hundred angry reactions, as of when I write this. So I want to explore that since people mad at comic strips is good for my readership.
So. The current, and it appears final, Funky Winkerbean story began the 24th of October. Summer Moore, the much-forgotten daughter of Les Moore and Dead Lisa Who Died of Death, returned from college. Her absence as a significant character for like a decade was explained as she kept changing her major. Now she’s thinking to take a gap year in her grad studies. Her goal: writing a book about Westview, the small Ohio town where Funky Winkerbean takes place. She figures to write about how the community’s changing over the last couple decades. Her plan is to use oral histories of her father, her father’s friends, and her dead mother’s diaries. Dead Lisa left a lot of diaries. And also a lot of videotapes. She recorded them after she decided it would be easier to leave a lot of video tapes with advice for her daughter rather than not die of breast cancer. (I sound snide, but what did happen was after a relapse she decided not to restart treatment.)
She started just in time! She’s barely decided to write a book when Funky Winkerbean, the character, announces he’s closing his restaurant, Montoni’s. The pizza shop was the social center of the comic strip since 1992. This event went so fast — in under a week of strips they were auctioning off the fixtures — and with so little focus that it felt like a dream sequence.
By the way if this storyline turns out to be a dream sequence, it would both make more sense and deserve even more to be punched.
So after some interviews Summer goes to the Westview High School janitor, a guy named Harley. Who turns out to be a longtime background character; ComicBookHarriet found he entered the strip no later than 1979. Summer says she kept finding a pattern, not shared with us readers, where Harley’s name popped up too much. And she read something in her mother’s diary about feeling watched. Harley curses himself for being a novice and starts to unreel the story that’s got everyone mad.
Because it turns out that Harley is not merely a janitor who’s been there since before they invented high-fiving. No. He is, in fact, a Custodian, one of a group of people from some other time, with a mission to tend “important nexus events in the timeline” so they’re not disrupted. You know, like in Voyagers!, which you remember from my childhood as somehow the only TV show even more awesomer than Battlestar Galactica. Or like the early-2000s Cartoon Network series Time Squad, which answered the question “what if Voyagers! had three main characters but they were all jerks?”
So he’s been around for forty years watching over Westview High School as a janitor. Apparently it wasn’t intended, exactly. It’s that his Time Helmet got stolen, years ago, by … Donna, who back in the 80s wore this goofy space-guy-ish helmet to play video games as “The Eliminator”. Part of modern Funky Winkerbean lore was that she had worn the helmet to disguise her identity. This way, fragile boys wouldn’t freak out at a guh-guh-guh-girl being good at video games. (Which, eh, fair enough.) (Also she got her Mom to call her ‘Donald’ to help her cover.)
We’ll get back to this in a second. But a lot of what has people mad about this is that the strip revisited The Eliminator’s helmet a few months ago. This in a story where Donna’s husband, Crazy Harry, found the helmet in the attic, put it on, and found himself somehow back in April of 1980. He met up with his high-school self. He told Young Lisa that Les Moore liked her in a not-at-all extremely creepy way. He almost told her to get regular mammograms. He bought a copy of Spider-Man’s debut (a comic book twenty years old at the time) at a convenience store. And lost it, for John The Comic Book Guy to find. And he blipped back to the present. Everyone agreed that was wild. It must have been a hallucination from the helmet outgassing, the way 40-year-old plastic will. Anyway after that weird yet harmless experience they throw the helmet out. But a stray cat wandered into it and blipped into hyperspace. This in just the way The Eliminator would back in the day.
Back as it were to the present. So, Harley took a job as a janitor to be where he could watch over stuff. OK. He lost his Time Helmet when the young Donna swiped the cool-looking helmet form his supply closet. He couldn’t snag it back because that would disrupt the timeline. But he could touch her mind enough to make her think she’d made it herself, like she’d always told people. And touched the mind of comic book artist Ken Kelly to make a design that Donna would use as the basis for her helmet. Because that’s easier than touching Donna’s mind to bring the helmet back. And all this mind-touching isn’t creepy or weird so you will stop thinking it is, starting now[ snaps fingers ]. Anyway he figured he could always snag the Time Helmet if he really needed it … except that then it went missing a couple months ago and he has no idea where it went. It’s that cat wearing it.
There’s the first big thing everyone’s mad about: how the heck does it make sense to leave the Time Helmet lost in someone else’s attic for 40 years? And was his mission supposed to be “hang around Westview High School for forty years in case something happens?” And if that was the plan, then what Time Admiral’s great-grandmother did he punch out as a baby to draw that assignment?
Next big thing: what big nexus is it he’s there to protect? And can we shut down everything if his mission was being sure Les Moore wrote How Dead Lisa Died In The Most Tragically Tragic Thing That Ever Happened To Anyone Ever? In a twist, considering Dead Lisa has been the center of most every Funky Winkerbean story the past fifteen years, it is not. No, the thing that needs protection is the book that Summer Moore is about to start writing.
Yes. As you might think if you watched Bill And Ted Face The Music but missed the movie’s thesis that utopia can only be created as an active collaboration of all people, Summer Moore’s going to create a utopia. Specifically, her book connecting the grand sweeps of history to Westview inspires “a science of behavioral-patterend algorithms that will one day allow us to recognize humanity as our nation!” If I have this right, Harley means she lets them invent psychohistory, like in Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novels. In The End of Eternity and Foundation’s Edge, Asimov’s capstones to exploring the implications of a mathematically predictable future history, he concluded psychohistory would be a bad thing. I have to paraphrase because I don’t have the energy to dig up either book. But viewpoint characters come to see the future psychohistory creates as “condemned to neverending stasis by calculation”. I agree we could make a much better world if we treated all people as worthy of our brotherhood. But if the powerful can choose to shape future history they will not choose one for the good of the powerless.
So that’s what else has people mad. First, the declaration that yet another character in this strip is going to become an important author. Authors already in the strip have written a blockbuster biggest-movie-of-the-year superhero franchise, a bestselling memoir that got turned into an Oscar-winning movie, and an Eisner-winning graphic novel. Second, not even an important author but someone who makes a better future. Third, an author whose work is so important it’s worth having a league of Timecops send one of their members to while away his life watching over her. But not someone good enough to do things like “not lose his Time Helmet for forty years”. Also not good enough to “maybe get a job somewhere near where Summer spends ten years in college”. Or even a job “where Summer spent anything but four years of her life”. Fourth, that it’s toying with some respectable comic book or science fiction ideas, badly. As said, it’s fiddling with what you see in the Bill and Ted movies, or with The End of Eternity, but missing their points. And, what the heck, because all this is being presented in big blocks of exposition rather than, you know, a mystery. Summer’s presented in-text as though she had cracked an elaborate mystery. But we-the-readers never saw any clues or even more than maybe two people mentioning the janitor had been here forever.
Oh also, that we’ve never seen evidence that Summer writes, or is any good at writing. Sometimes a newcomer has an amazing talent, yes. To get back to Isaac Asimov, he write “Nightfall” — acclaimed for decades as the best science fiction short story ever — when he was about twenty. It was only his seventeenth published story. Writing about the experience, Asimov noted that, had someone told him the night before he began writing, “Isaac, you are about to write the greatest science fiction short story ever”, he would never have been able to start. He’d have been destroyed by the menace of that potential. I think we don’t have enough time for a clash between forces helping and hindering Summer’s writing. I can imagine the story, though; Jack Williamson wrote something like it, in the Legion of Time. I’m told, anyway. I haven’t read it.
Anyway, everybody likes that the strip is trying to go out bonkers. But it’s fumbling the ideas, so the plot points don’t hold up to casual scrutiny. And they’re being delivered in time zeppelins of word balloons. I’ll try to post updates, when they’re deserved. But again, Son of Stuck Funky is the place to really know what’s going on here.
The current story in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop sees Doc Wonmug finding his young self living a ‘wrong’ life. It appears to be from someone meddling with his own past. But he didn’t have any hint this was going on, when he started this. He had started out with moping about his childhood.
The seed of this moping may have come from the previous story. It revealed that, to hold the devices he was solving Moo’s problem with, he went back to swipe some of his own childhood toys. Ooola observes that’s a weird choice to make. Wonmug says yeah, he had an unconventional childhood; “some guy kept stealing all my stuff!” Though it’s not explicit, we could suppose this is what got his childhood on Doc Wonmug’s mind.
The settlers are from New Cleveland, from the overpopulated world of 2155. A weird portal popped up there a couple days ago. They’re taking the chance to go somewhere there isn’t a waiting list to see the sky or get on the sidewalk. A quick trip to 2155 to see overstuffed cities in a world with 100 billion people convinces Ooola and Alley Oop there’s maybe some justice in their fleeing? It’s not like Moo doesn’t have empty space?
They take the issue to the Moovians. Moo is, unfortunately, a very new democracy, and it’s filled with people. The community meeting to discuss what to do winds around some very Springfield/Pawnee doddering. That’s when Doc Wonmug pops back in from the 21st Century, promising to fix whatever problem they’ve got now. He snags some toys of his childhood and using some Time Cube-like technology sends the settlement to the seventh-and-a-half dimension. Somewhere beyond normal perception, at least.
Wonmug then pops into the year 2155 to figure out why the world is so crazy overpopulated. Especially considering that by 2160 it’s not nearly so crowded. By the mid-22nd century humanity managed to overcome every known disease and cause of premature death, so, what could ruin that? And we see some kind of bug hop off Wonmug’s arm and into the soon-not-to-be-overpopulated world of tomorrow. So that’s a bit of a grim joke to end the story on.
With the past, at least, saved, it’s time for a new story. This one started the 5th of September. Doc Wonmug gets to moping about his childhood and decides to go to his childhood home. He ditches Alley Oop and Ooola, somewhere in his past, to find his nine-year-old self. His nine-year-old self, though, has sworn off inventing in favor of visual art. It’s not something Doc Wonmug remembers from his own past. He takes young Elbert forward seven years, to find their 16-year-old self.
This self, Burt, is a snide, sullen teenager. He’s not winning science competition; he’s reading comics. Doc Wonmug can’t figure what’s gone wrong, but Burt and Elbert offer something. Several months ago — to both of them — an old guy came, convincing them that science was a waste of time. Also paying a couple hundred dollars to convince them. But neither can offer a useful description of the guy who bribed them. So — leaving Elbert with his alternate-teen-self — Wonmug goes ahead to find his 25-year-old self.
His 25-year-old self has a lab, as he ‘should’. But it’s not a science lab. Instead, this The Lab a free jazz club. Wonmug could not be more horrified, or helpless. But Benny, sax player for The Lab, recognizes Doc Wonmug as looking familiar. He sketches the familiar-looking person, who has a weekly gig at The Lab. He looks like Doc Wonmug with ‘an evil mustache’. This might be Doc Wonmug from an evil or villain timeline; who of us could say? I imagine we’ll learn in the weeks to come.
The Ghost Who Walks now knows how his rescue of Savarna Devi will bring wrack and ruin to his family — or does he? And he marches on regardless, to save a kindred spirit from an unjust judicial murder — or does he? I’ll summarize the goings-on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) in six days — or will I? I’ll make the attempt at least, yes.
So this episode of the 1960s Password came up, and the password they were supposed to guess was “Tweet”. Well, sure, I watched that and thought, boy, if this were today you’d just give ‘Twitter’ as the prompt. And then the celebrity prompted with ‘chirp’ and the contestant guessed ‘Twitter’. So I just wanted to say to time-travellers, please, I understand the temptation but we need you to stop the collapse of the ecology and the descent of the world into fascism. Let’s make “messing with Arlene Francis’s head” like, job number six, okay?
Now in King Features’s YouTube channel we’ve entered a strange space. They’ve decided to cut opening credits, not just from the first video, but from all of them. I had to resort to the Internet Movie Database to confirm that this was a Gene Deitch cartoon, although I kinda knew already. IMDB does say the short was directed by Darko Gospodnetic, which I think is the first specific credit I have for any of the Deitch cartoons. Also, that this is a 1961-produced cartoon, which may explain one mystery. Here we Have Time, Will Travel.
And a content … advisory. I’m not sure it rises to the level of warning. In the short Popeye and Olive Oyl get caught by a tribe of … Neanderthals Or Something I Guess. It’s playing with the tropes of the “primitive cannibal(?) tribe”. It didn’t quite trip over the point of too much, for me. But you should be aware if you are more alert than I am to the racial ideas bundled into the basic idea of showing “primitive tribes”.
I like this cartoon and I can’t quite say why. Energy, I suppose. Watch it with the sound off; there is all sorts of movement, all this vitality to it. It hits a good midpoint between the wild energy of a Jack Kinney short and the strong discipline of Paramount Cartoon Studios. The premise is a great one — Popeye with dinosaurs, always a winner — carried out half-well. Somehow we get off dinosaurs and into a mean tribe like could happen, only more racist, without Popeye having to leave his era at all. And we get a lot of odd stray moments. I imagine that, as a kid, I’d accept without question Popeye ordering a time machine out of a catalogue. That it’s a tinker-toy construction? That’s weird for the sake of weird and you might need to be an adult to notice how arbitrary that is.
Also arbitrary: for some reason Olive Oyl’s house hasn’t got any heat. I’d so like to know, was this in the first draft of the story? Or was it fit in so that there’d be something to do with the Neanderthal’s spears, once those were put into the story? Or was the tribe put in because they had to give something for Olive Oyl to burn? (But then why not have Popeye and Olive Oyl escape, and them burn the time machine in frustration for putting them in a scrape?)
Popeye dubs the first dinosaur they encounter, the one they pull a thorn from the foot of, “Oscar”, saying he reminds him of a guy he knows in Brooklyn. This is an intriguing continuity moment. In the comic strip there’s a regular minor character, Oscar, there to be the dopey incompetent sidekick Popeye sometimes needs. Oscar’s barely made it to the cartoons; I think he has one or two appearances as a background character. Is that the Oscar we’re supposed to think of when we see a brontosaurus?
I want to shrug that off as a meaningless coincidence. But Popeye opens the short by saying how if Professor O G Wotasnozzle can build a time machine so can he. Wotasnozzle’s time machine was a recurring setup to put Popeye in weird situations, including facing yet another dinosaur. But this was a recurring gimmick of Jack Kinney cartoons. Gene Deitch (or someone working for him) was aware of what the other studio had done, and trusted that kids would remember that, and chose to explain why they weren’t using Wotasnozzle’s time machine. I was startled enough by the second Roger The Talking Dog cartoon recapping the first for everyone. (Though Roger postdates this cartoon.) Why did Deitch want his cartoons to connect even to other studios’ Popeye cartoons?
As I said at the top, I liked this short. The energy is a big piece. But it could also be these tossed-off hooks to other Popeye stuff. They’ve got me engaged and thinking about the short in ways a lot of these cartoons don’t.
I like the tribe folk shrugging off spinach as “dinosaur cabbage”. Fun little bit. Of course we all know spinach was only bred about two thousand years ago but we have to accept there’s worse anachronisms here. As Doc Wonmug explained when he first learned Alley Oop lived with dinosaurs, there’s stuff we haven’t heard about yet.
I’m hesitant to call it a story. But the Sunday Little Oop comics seem to have changed premise. After a couple years of Little Alley Oop being trapped in the present day, he and Penelope are back in prehistoric Moo. Penelope’s time machine got swiped by a pterodactyl, Angry Hank, and there’s no obvious way for her to get back. I’m interested how this different set of fish-out-of-water jokes will go.
So they ask a couple basic questions and Stev, leader of Eutopia, is ready to banish them to the death pit. They instead explore behind a forbidden door. They’re caught, fitted with shock collars, and impressed into the huge underclass of degraded laborers, or laborers. Their job: be at the ready to load the pneumatic tubes with corn or books or whatever the surface-worlders demand.
A note under the pillow interrupts Ooola’s drudgery. It’s an invitation to the Revolution. Krev, the security guard who put Oop’s shock collar on, sent it. Krev’s realized the world sucks. The strange, curious outsiders of Alley Oop and Ooola may be what’s needed to take down the dystopia. The three of them look for support from other oppressed workers. They gather a revolutionary vanguard of almost twelve people, most of whom we never see.
What can they do? Sabotage. Pneumatic tubes offer great chances for this. They start a campaign of putting the wrong stuff in tubes. Cross-connecting tubes. Reversing tubes. After a couple hours they check up stairs and, what do you know, society’s collapsed. Wen, the guide who’d explained Eutopia to Alley Oop and Ooola, is guarding his precious box of remaining corn. Stev cowers behind the remains of his throne before abdicating and running away.
Krev declares they’re starting a new world, a true utopia, a more equitable and egalitarian society. And with bold hopes for a new future, that Ooola guesses will last maybe a week, Our Heroes return home.
Oh, yeah. Remember last time I mentioned noticing the strip where Ooola sees a white rabbit running along? And I felt good that despite being a STEM idiot I can recognize allusions to some of the most foundational images of our culture? Yeah, that white rabbit never figured into the story in any way. Sorry.
With the 2nd of May, we start the new story. Dr Wonmug, Alley Oop, and Ooola are off to 1501 Italy to meet Leonardo da Vinci, little suspecting he’s one of the cast of Bill Holbrook’s comic strip Safe Havens. (Honest. Lot of backstory in that strip.) And that’s as far as we’ve gotten. We’ll pick it up in eleven weeks or so, if things go as I expect.
I don’t know. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop has embraced the idea of the multiverse and that lets them have silly variations of the core cast. I grant this has dramatic economy. This past story introduced Allen Cooper, the analogue of Alley Oop from the all-villain Universe 4. We do get a glimpse of Lula and Doc Atoby, the villain-world counterparts to Ooola and Dr Wonmug, so that’s banked for future use.
The Alley Oop we’re following is Universe-2’s character, by the way. The original newspaper character is Universe-1. He’s safely ensconced in a continuity that has none of the Lemon/Sayers run’s silliness. And this story also saw a brief visit from Ollie Arp, from the more competent (though still goofy) Universe-3.
Ted emerges and identifies Alley Oop as the saboteur. Ted is a robot Higgins created and watching the Fixer. (I get an impression of Tik-Tok of Oz looking at Ted, but that might be coincidence.) Oop’s innocent, of course. It turns out to be Allen Cooper. Cooper claims to be avenging his parents, killed when the atmosphere failed to save them, and anyway this isn’t his universe. And leaves.
Alley Oop pursues him to Universe 4 and falls into Cooper’s trap. Then punches his way back out of it, a nice reminder that he is a strong and dynamic guy. (Though the actual escape gets done off-panel for comic value.) Alley Oop figures to bring Cooper to Time Court, but doesn’t know how to do that. Fortunately Ollie Arp, their Universe-3 counterpart, pops in and is happy to bring Cooper to Time Justice.
Back in our universe Doc Wonmug and Ooola haven’t had any luck fixing the broken atmosphere fixer. So Ooola goes back to 1800 to find Janet Higgins. Higgins is a bit prickly, but content to go to the future and save the world again. She assumes she’s finally gotten the recognition deserved and Doc Wonmug nudges Alley Oop out of telling her the truth. And she is delighted to be reunited with Ted, who’s also felt every moment without her was a millennium.
Higgins fixes the thing fast. And Wonmug, considering the hard life she’s had, offers her and Ted something better. He sends them to the year 2782, when Earth finally becomes a Utopia.
The big storyline in Dick Tracy was set off by “Time Drones”. That is, the kind of hovering aerial camera/microphones used to record viral videos of drivers attempting the new traffic circle. The Time Factory blew up, though we saw many drones hovering over the ruins. And Smith asks if Tracy remembers “what my first time travel drone, the ‘mystery ship’, saw”. Tracy does, and Smith says, “I think that future is now”. Tracy’s memory is better than mine, or those of most readers. jonahhex1, a GoComics commenter, identified what all this was about. The fleet of drones was not from our, 2021’s, future. By “The Future” what was referenced was this moment from 2014, the story introducing the time travel shenanigans into our strip:
These drones, then, are not a fleet of onlookers from the future gawking at a major disaster. They’re just contemporary drones gawking at a major disaster. Diet Smith has said he doesn’t plan to build new Time Drones, and nobody’s been shown trying to change his mind.
And a last bit of self-promotion. While I’ve put my mathematics glossary project on a (brief, I hope) hiatus, I do still have what I think are quite nice discussions up there. And I’m bringing some older discussions out of the misty past, using the old-fashioned time-droning of going on at length. Thanks for considering my pop mathematics writing.
Diet Smith convalesces under the care of Daddy Warbucks, a man who knows how to not get in trouble when people around him turn up dead. (Fun fact: both Oliver Warbucks’s first and second wives died while with him at sea.) Tracy, meanwhile, pursues Briar Rose. She was the Law Enforcement Magazine reporter who’d interviewed him the previous month, and was going on to interview Diet Smith. She was a fraud, not affiliated with Law Enforcement Magazine or any other magazine. It’s a slender lead, but the only one they have.
It’s also a good one, as she is under The Apparatus’s protection, whether she likes it or not. She has some criminal “business” going on, that I can’t quite get clear. But The Apparatus is the bigger fish, so if they say she has to work from their hotel room, she has to work from their hotel room. Ace of Spades, the head of The Apparatus, decides she’s a good one to take the blame for whatever the heck happened at Smith Industries. He has her put somewhere Dick Tracy can find her after her shocking death.
Sam Catchem finds her, though, as she’s being moved in. It’s a lucky break; he happened to stop at the deli underneath the death-site apartment. He follows, catching and shooting the zentai-clad assassin holding Briar Rose. Rose is happy to flip, and I can’t blame her.
Dick Tracy moves fast, taking on the disguise of the Jack of Spades, Rose’s failed assassin. So he’s doing some actual super-detective work here. Mumbles takes him back to the Ace of Spades, who wants to know, where is Rose’s body? If Rose is dead, why was “Jack” unconscious when Mumbles recovered him? What about this makes any sense? And as it’s weeks away from my plot recap, they tear his hood off and reveal Dick Tracy. Meanwhile the cops, who’ve been listening over the two-way wrist radio, move in and grab everyone with a weird face or speech gimmick. Ace of Spades as well as Doubleup are able to escape through the plot tunnels, but otherwise it’s a pretty good catch of villains.
The next phase started the 11th of December. This with a museum exhibit on America’s Top Cop. That would be Dick Tracy, who’s been fighting The Apparatus (under various names) for 90 years now without clearing them out of the city. But then The Apparatus (under various names) has been trying for 90 years to kill Dick Tracy and that hasn’t taken. So Ace of Spades, from his new hiding place, hires Richard “Mr Bones” Bonhomme to take a shot at him. No rush, just, you know, succeed this time.
Yes, it does seem like Mr Bones stole Blackjack’s collection before being hired to kill Dick Tracy. I don’t know whether this is because Mr Bones was hired long before we first saw mention of it. He did say he suspected Dick Tracy might be the target, but I don’t know when he got the idea The Apparatus wanted him to kill someone. It’s also possible (as I write this) that Mr Bones is bluffing about the stolen collection, to manipulate Blackjack.
Also I appreciate that the in-universe Dick Tracy Collectors have a Forum. I hope this means their main social group is on a charmingly semi-maintained phpBB forum rather than being a Facebonk or Reddit or Discord something bad like that.
Meanwhile, Patty Cure, a woman who’d been letting The Apparatus use her doorstep as a package drop, turned herself in. The Apparatus came to her looking for someone with “management experience to run an escort service”. And they didn’t stop pressuring her after the big raids. Lizz Worthington goes under cover as Cure, to learn what The Apparatus does want her to do. And that’s where we stand on the brink of the future.
The current story in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy has super-inventor Diet Smith sending machines back in time. It’s presented as the continuation of something he had tried before with humans.
I don’t, and Lien didn’t, know quite when this earlier time travel experimentation was done. I assume it’s something from that period in the 60s when Chester Gould tossed all sorts of wacky sci-fi fangles into the strip. You know, the Space Coupe, the psychic Lunarians and Tracy Junior’s bride from the Moon. The nation that controls magnetism controlling the universe. All of that stuff Gould put in with the assertion it was as much hard science as anything done in a forensics lab, scoring an own goal. But I can’t find when time travel was in the strip before. It could have been one of the antics in the Dick Locher run, for example, when the stories became very weird and impressionist and hard to follow. But it’s hard to think of Locher-era characters as driven by the emotions normal people have.
Homer “Peanutbutter” Barley, a freelance cartoonist and old acquaintance of Dick Tracy, takes action. He points out to Dick Tracy that Mysta Chimera is not actually a Lunarian. She’s the brainwashed, genetically-altered daughter of the quite human crime boss Posie Ermine. Thus she is a missing attractive white woman. With this to go on, the cops swing into action. Tracy checks in with Brock Archival, the last person the missing people were known to meet.
It’s the obvious lead, but it’s a good one, since the wealthy Brock Archival has kidnapped them. He intends to keep them both on his private island, and he’s got the private island — and the ring that neutralizes Chimera’s Lunarian powers — to do it. Alldid shoves them into a secret room when Tracy knocks on the door. Mysta uses her last ounce of strength to blast a telepathic cry for help that Honeymoon Tracy (herself half-Lunarian) picks up. And she relays that to her grandfather.
You might ask: wait, Mysta’s telepathy had been starved by lack of direct sunlight. How can she now have the energy to send out a last blast? Yeah, because if there’s one thing we can’t buy in narratives, it’s the last gasp of an exhausted hero finally making the difference.
With something that kind of resembles probable cause if you squint, Tracy asks to inspect Archival’s mansion. And he consents, because how could you find people shoved into a closet? This does give us some actual super-detection. Tracy follows strange scuff marks in the carpet to find one of Alldid’s drawing pen nibs. From there he finds the secret room holding Alldid and Chimera. Archival fumes that Tracy can’t possibly prove a kidnapping charge and Chimera kicks him in the Great Hall.
So, the 20th of August, this story resolves. Alldid gets back to his studio to draw comics. Chimera gets home again. The powers-controlling ring gets handed to Diet Smith because when would he ever do something ill-advised or dangerous with super-technology?
The next and current story got seriously under way the 21st of August, although it had a teaser a few weeks earlier. This debuts Diet Smith’s newest creation, the Time Drone. It’s a drone, like you might fly over the park and record video with, except it travels through time and space too.
Smith’s got a few videos. Dick Tracy’s iconic villain Flattop. The building of the Great Pyramid of Giza. He sends one to Ford’s Theater to catch a show. Another to see Washington’s Inauguration. The “treasure pit” at Oak Island, Nova Scotia. He announces this to the public, and the Ace of Spades, new head of The Apparatus crime syndicate, sees opportunity.
We don’t know his plans. From the 9th of September we got a short diversion, Dick Tracy talking with Briar Rose of Law Enforcement Magazine. Tracy tells the story of how the murder of Tess Trueheart’s father spurred him to move from patrolman to detective. How the city attracted newer and weirder criminals. How Tracy stepped up to become the super-scientific detective of world renown. It all smacks of an anniversary celebration, and it’s curiously timed: the comic strip debuted on the 4th of October, 1931. I’m not sure why this sequence ran a few weeks early except perhaps to get us fans talking about it early?
No. Alley Oop and crew observed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin going through a mysterious door in the Sea of Tranquility. It turned out to be the bathroom. The Apollo 11 crew did not find the Moon Alien, Frodd. Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug met him later.
So this should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the start of September 2021. If any news about the strip breaks out, or if you’re reading this after about December 2021, there may be a more useful essay at this link. If there isn’t, well, we live in complicated times.
20 June – 4 September 2021.
This story almost exactly fit my publishing cycle. It started a week before my last Alley Oop update, with the gang going back to 1969 to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. They start with understandable celebrity-creeping behavior. Pretending to be NASA workers. Messing around in training facilities. Then it escalates to following Apollo 11 all the way through the landing.
So Our Heroes watch Apollo 11’s moonwalk. This in a strip that ran the 21st of July, a timing miss I’m sure keeps Lemon and Sayers from getting a decent night’s sleep. After solving the mystery of the door, Our Heroes walk over to the far side of the Moon, where it happens also to be dark. There they discover a bored-looking alien playing at a computer.
Frodd’s playing Earth as a “kind of a video game”, for a school project. Frodd starts to defend his Earth-playing skills, but has to come home for dinner, and takes Our Heroes with them. Frodd’s mother sees the humans and grounds Frodd, for “a Froddulon Millennium”, which is something like a billion earth-years.
So Our Heroes escape, Alley Oop along the way swiping some kind of necklace from somewhere. Turns out the thing makes Our Heroes invisible, which is good for getting them away from alarmed Froddians. They get to Frodd’s spacefaring bubble, which turns out to be able to get them anywhere instantly. They return to the Moon, planning to resume the Earth that Frodd left paused. Turns out Frodd’s there. He passed his school project, with a C-.
They talk Frodd out of shutting down this Earth simulation, and even snag a nice moustache toggle for Alley Oop. With a pretty successful week, then, they head home. It’s too early to say what the next story will be, although Doc Wonmug has gone back to prehistoric Moo with them.
I admit some dissatisfaction with the story. A little bit from not caring for the reality-is-a-video-game premise. It’s something a certain streak of nerd loves without learning enough philosophy to know what issues it’s not addressing. But most of us enjoy pop culture items that raise issues it doesn’t address. Besides, if it address an issue well then it stops being a pop culture thing and becomes culture. I’m also a bit dissatisfied that Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug don’t have much to do. For most of the story, they’re just present. Note how little I had to break down what Alley Oop did, versus what Oola did, versus what Wonmug did.
It’s been one week longer in arriving than usual, but I look at Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the final time. Did Spider-Man save Albuquerque from destruction at the hands of an alien war machine using nothing more than Rocket Raccoon and the secret alien war machine’s commander? The only person I knew in Albuquerque moved away years ago, so I have no way of knowing. Sorry!
The Chrabs were on an alternate Earth, Universe 881, not by their own will. They would pinch people to death as they could not bear being around arguments and had ended up in a most argumentative universe. It turns out to be Ollie Arp’s fault, for once.
The new, and just-wrapped-up, story began the 12th of April. The gang chooses to explore the mysterious Universe 881, an unexplored and locked universe. (Its password is “password123”.) It looks like an Old West themed world. Alley Oop gets some clothes by going up to some guys and demanding their clothes. They’re happy to comply.
It turns out everyone in this Old West town is happy to comply. Amicable. Someone accused of cheating a poker game denies they could ever value a game over their friendship. An actual showdown turns out to be competitive dancing. The locals don’t ever fight, over anything, because they don’t want to die. Also, on this Earth, if you fight, the Chrabs come out and pinch you to death.
There weren’t always Chrabs. One day there was a flash of light and then anyone who got a little disagreeable got pinched to death. So Alley Oop and all venture into the City of the Chrabs, using a disguise that gets them arrested immediately. They’re taken to Queen Chrab. (Her name. She’s the democratically-elected president.)
Queen Chrab reveals they’re not from this universe. They’d been minding their own business. There was this flash of light, and then they were stuck in this universe. Doc Wonmug arranges to send the Chrabs back to their home Universe 7. It’s a bigger project than they planned: there’s almost a hundred million of them.
So the Chrabs are home. Universe 881 is free of the pinching menace. Everyone can go home. It’s a brilliant success, which is when Ollie Arp, of Universe 3 appears. Ollie’s there to explain what a stupid failure that all was. He sent the Chrabs there, because the Universe 881 humans were far too violent. They were on the brink of destroying their own world. Ah, but the reign of the Chrabs must have made a lasting change in their temperament, right?
Ollie Arp figures to try and save … whoever’s survived. He sends Our Heroes home, without charges, since they were trying to do good. And once hope, Ooola ponders whether they actually are doing any good.
There’s not much self-examination, though. From the 18th of June what seems to be a new story starts, with a trip to the 60s to see the Moon Landing. They arrived in 1969 last week. Might know by September how that works out for everyone.
We’re back with Paramount Cartoon Studios today, in a 1960 cartoon. Quick Change Olie has a story by I Klein, and direction and production by Seymour Kneitel. And two special guest stars, too! Let’s watch.
We start (and end) at the Rough House Cafe, getting a view of Rough House himself. We don’t get any dialogue from him. But what could he do that would be useful? Complain about Wimpy calling his food poisonous?
They have some talk about ye olden days, with Wimpy imagining the chance to eat things like roast venison, roast boar, or roast full oxen. Wimpy’s gluttony shifting from hamburgers to “just lots of food” is a change of character although not a ridiculous one, seems to me.
A still-hungry Wimpy catches the Whiffle Bird with plans to eat her, because he did not learn from that time he got turned into a werewolf. Yes, yes, that cartoon’s from 1961 and only a fool demands continuity between Popeye cartoons anyway. Whiffle explains how rubbing her feathers grants wishes. Wimpy wishes them back in Ye Olden Days, and they’re lucky the Whiffle Bird doesn’t think this is a caveman cartoon or something. A minute and 57 seconds into the cartoon we’re finally at a castle.
A king crying woe is me, and who for a wonder is not Blozo, tells his tale. Olie the Wicked Magician kicked him out of his castle and kidnapped the princess. Popeye doesn’t need much encouragement to go saving the day. Wimpy, who got everyone into this fix, meanwhile vanishes.
Olie turns out to be Brutus, wearing robes, saying “ye” instead of “you” and sometimes affecting a generic accent. He’s a legitimate magician, though, using his powers to disappear when Popeye tries to punch him, or turn to flame when Popeye grabs him. Popeye counters with spinach magic, and a jackhammer punch that shrinks Olie to half Popeye’s size. This drives him off, because the cartoon is running out of time. Otherwise, like, this is the first thing Popeye’s done that’s at all effective against Olie. And I’d think if you can make yourself a giant at will it’s no great threat to be shrunk.
But as I said, there’s not time for more action, or something that would exhaust Olie. So the King has his castle back, and Popeye would get to marry the princess except — ho ho — she’s ugly! And fat! And has a grating voice! Not to worry; Wimpy’s reappeared in the story. While he was out, it seems, he couldn’t find anything to eat, so he grabs the Whiffle Bird who also decided to be in the story again. Wimpy figures to eat her, an unaccountable lack of insight from a normally sharp operator. Popeye knows what to do and wishes them back to Rough House’s Cafe. Or restaurant, whichever.
I feel like these descriptions get more plot-recappy the less I like what’s going on. There’s a fair enough premise here. And I liked in principle that Ye Olden Days characters weren’t King Blozo and, for the princess … well, I don’t know. Olive Oyl if you want the princess to be attractive, the Sea Hag if you don’t. But that creativity’s messed up by having Olie be Brutus in a new costume. I like Olie being actually able to do enough magic to mess with Popeye. And, yeah, once Popeye eats his spinach the villain is vanquished. This all felt too abrupt, though. An extra half-minure or so in Ye Olden Days could have done very well. Let Olie come back from being shrunk, and Popeye punch (or whatever) him out of the castle. Then I think I’d be more satisfied.
I don’t understand the cartoon title. It nags at me. I want to say it’s an old theatrical or vaudeville, term. Maybe meaning something that explains why the villain isn’t called Brutus. I can’t confirm or refute that, though.
Hasn’t been revealed yet why someone wanted to kill Lady Worthington at this dinner of inventors she’d summoned. Or why she summoned them. The obvious supposition is money, but the truth may be something sillier.
This should get you up to date on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the end of March, 2021. If you’re reading this after about June 2021, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap here. The link also will have any news about the comic strip which I notice.
3 January – 27 March 2021.
Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug had contracted a case of shrinking last we saw. This after getting zapped by shrink rays several times over. They first settled in at paramecium-sized. Then spontaneously re-shrank to bacterium-sized. Then to DNA-sized. Then into the subatomic, coming to be the size of quantum strings. Also, in the Alley Oop universe, it turns out string theory is right. Once shrunken so, though, they meet someone.
Plank seems to be a pleasant, all-knowing, mysterious entity. They’re able to show Our Heroes the wonders of alternate dimensions and the Theory of Everything and all that. And then it’s time to shrink some more. And what happens when you shrink smaller than anything can be? That’s right: you end up bigger than galaxies. Like in that ancient science fiction short story. Plank guides them to shrinking all the way back to Earth, and their proper size again. Wonmug hopes to chat physics with Plank some. Alley Oop and Ooola dash back for home.
They get home the 2nd of February and get exciting news: Garg is getting married! He doesn’t know to who. He’ll find out at the ceremony. Also everybody else is getting married too. Why is everyone marrying at the same time? The Mighty Feather, their new spiritual leader, decreed it. So that’s looking creepy and evil, however much everyone denies their evilness, in unison. Also, the Mighty Feather talks about how everyone needs to jump in the volcano tomorrow, so this needs action.
Alley Oop puts on his thinking feathers and realizes, why not pretend to be The Mighty Feather, cult leader, and guide Moo back to normal? And it turns out that’s all anybody needed. The story wraps up the 17th of February.
From the 18th the new, and current, story starts. They get an invitation to a “gathering of geniuses” at the palatial estate of Lady Worthington. The butler greets them, with a warning against “the butler did it” jokes. She’s gathered the finest minds in the world as she’s lost the key to her safe full of riches and needs help. Alley Oop finds it underneath a fake rock in the bureau, so on to a nice after-mystery dinner.
At the dinner it turns out all the guests but Ooola and Alley Oop are inventors. As Our Heroes ponder this strangeness, Lady Worthington admits she gathered everyone for a second purpose. Then the light flicks out a moment. When it comes back, Lady Worthington is dead, stabbed in the back.
It’s easy to solve a murder when you have a time machine like Doc Wonmug. The time machine won’t work. Another inventor has a post-mortem communicator. It doesn’t work. Another inventor has a reincarnator. it doesn’t work. Nor does the robo-cloner. Alley Oop’s club even acts weird. Wonmug deduces the presence of a Faraweek cage, interfering with the workings of technology.
Our Heroes explore the manor and find the Faraweek cage in the basement. Ooola snips the correct wire and all the technologies become available. The reincarnator, for example, is able to bring Lady Worthington back to life, only to die again of her stab wound. The post-mortem communicator gets Lady Worthington’s spirit demanding that nobody get her money and hangs up. The robo-duplicator produces a dead robot Lady Worthington. Finally we get to the time machine.
So, yes, the butler did it. And since they went back in time and interrupted the murder, Lady Worthington now isn’t dead and we get another bit of timeline-changing.
In the Sunday strips, there was one Little Oop comic where Penelope took herself and Alley Oop back to Moo. This teased a resolution of the scenario where Little Alley Oop’s in the present day. But it wasn’t followed up on the next week. So there’s not a real story resuming there.
The next story started the 19th of October. It starts out looking like it’s about some corporate intrigue. Potato chip magnate Leslie Stenk calls in a favor from Doc Wonmug. She needs something done about Chip Hamberden’s far more successful potato chip company. Wonmug takes the Civil-War-Enthusiast Hamberden on a time trip back to the Battle of Antietam. And leaves him there, where he seems happy, which, fair enough.
When Wonmug gets back to the present, Ava is gone. All that’s present is an Interdimensional Soul Reanimator and a set of time coordinates. It’s the lab’s location, four billion years in the past. This makes me wonder, like, location on the continental plate? Or latitude-longitude? How is the prime meridian handled over that length of time? Not important. They get some magic breathing apparatuses and pop back to the primordial soup.
Ava is there, though she’s floating in the air and shooting flame-breath at Wonmug. Also she’s calling herself Zanzarr, “master of the demonic souls of the afterlife”. Zanzarr’s plan: zap the primordial soup with demon energy to prevent life as humans know it ever existing. It’ll be nothing but demons. I don’t know how to square this with what The Clawed Oracle just said about timeline changes.
Wonmug tries appealing to Ava, who must be wrestling Zanzarr for control of her body. Ava notes how lousy her job actually is. It’s a beat about what a jerk Wonmug can be, augmented by Ooola and Alley Oop saying they forgot to invite her into their union. I know being a jerk has been a staple of comic scenes since forever, but it doesn’t need to be nasty.
So, they get the demon out. Wonmug sets it at the dinosaur-asteroid-impact-spot. I suppose that’s practical and maybe even responsible — Zanzarr was trying to destroy all life, after all — but it’s also murder. Also, he leaves ten seconds before impact. What if his time thingy had decided to reboot? Anyway, Wonmug promises to at least buy Ava a better office chair. (There’s also a casual mention that Ava dated a female demon, back in college. So the time-travelling caveman comic strip acknowledged lesbian-or-bisexual relationships before Mary Worth did.)
One more thing, though. How did Ava leave a note with the time coordinates for Wonmug to find? And … she didn’t.
From the 30th of November we moved into a new story, but one that grew out of that loose end. Who wrote the note? The author enters the 2nd of December. It was Rody, a mouse in a lab coat, speaking now to them for the Coalition of Tiny Scientists. To further their talks, Rody shrinks Wonmug, Ooola, and Alley Oop to mouse-size. And you thought I was tossing off a joke last week when I talked about Hank “Ant-Man” Pym hanging out with Doc Wonmug. I was; I forgot there was a shrinking tie-in there.
The shrink ray is incredible, but you know what would complete it? An unshrinking ray. Rody doesn’t have one. But Ant #3229BX — inventor of the shrink ray — might have an idea. Rody shrinks the bunch to ant-size to better talk with her. She isn’t interested in an unshrinking ray either. But she does have a genius aphid they should talk to, and she shrinks them to aphid scale. But they’ve had enough of this silliness. (Meanwhile Rody does make some wonderful progress on un-shrinking.)
Wonmug thinks he knows how to reverse the shrink ray. Alley Oop’s able to follow #3229BX’s pheromone trail back to the shrink ray. But, whoops, they have an accident and get shrunk even further, to microscopic size. They’re lucky they still have the magic breathing technology from their trip to four billion years ago.
Oh, and what about the Sunday strips? In those Little Oop stories, Alley Oop’s stuck in the present, and hanging out with the kid inventor who stranded him in 2020. This was a less dire fate when the thread started. The strip is ignoring the pandemic and I don’t blame it. But there hasn’t been a story going on here. It’s strips of Little Alley Oop in school, or at the mall, or making friends or such. I suspect Lemon and Sayers have figured this is a more fun Sunday strip to write than Little Alley Oop in prequel Moo. If I’m right they’ll keep him in suburbia until they run out of jokes. I’m sorry not to have another Sunday-continuity strip to recap. Sunday-only strips are fun and also easy to recap. But they’re also hard to create and I don’t fault them not wanting that challenge.
I am once again annoyed, slightly, that there’s no production order information for these cartoons. Mostly that doesn’t matter, as there’s no important continuity. Here’s the exception. If this was not the first O G Wotasnozzle time-travel cartoon, then what’s going on? We have too long and too slow a buildup to explain it as the cartoon filling up on stock footage. There is a lot of time spent introducing Popeye to the distant past. And, in a rare touch for these Wotasnozzle time-travel cartoons, we see him come back. I imagine after two or three of these they realized it wasn’t necessary to explicitly reset the status quo.
So if the frame explains why Popeye is in some weird setting, what explains the rest of the cast being there? Right away Popeye meets Wimpy trying in his ineffective way to catch a cow, or a cowasaurus. Popeye surmises that Wimpy hasn’t changed much in 50,000 years, which is a lucky guess about how far back in time he is, and also not an answer that would satisfy me at age seven. Olive Oyl cries out for Popeye by name, but how could she know his name? Unless there is a proper caveman Popeye that happened to miss the action because present-day Popeye was on the scene.
There is not a lot to this cartoon, once it finally starts. Brutus drags Olive Oyl by the hair, like cavemen always do to cavewomen in cavecartoons. This always seemed the most inefficient way to abduct someone, to me. She cries out for Popeye to save her and there’s what sure sounds like a tape glitch over and over again. You hear it at about 8:57 in the video, and again, many times over. Wimpy crosses the line of action, following without doing much to the cowasaurus. Repeat these starting points for all the screen time you’ve got. In the last iteration the cowasaurus has Wimpy caught on the horns, a good resolution. The cowasaurus’s complete indifference to what’s happening is maybe the best laugh of the short.
It’s all a very okay cartoon, at least for the series. If you get into this kind of tone-poem cartoon where there’s no plot, just a bunch of beats that it shifts between. If you don’t like its tone-poem nature, then the cartoon’s completely lost. There’s some nice backgrounds and that’s it. Everybody but Popeye and Wotasnozzle is out of their usual clothing, so the animation is even rougher than usual. (That said Popeye and Brutus hitting each other on the head, on that stone arch bridge, sure looks like repeated animation to me. I can’t think what it’s from, though.) Most notable here is how indifferent the mouth movements are to dialogue. I don’t expect the lips to be good. But I do expect them to move just about the same time that someone’s speaking, and then stop.
Popeye running across some primitive, prehistoric spinach made me curious about spinach’s domestication. Apparently it happened about two thousand years ago, in what’s now Iran, and it spread from there east, first. It reached Western Europe in the 9th century. So, like, all the great philosophers of Ancient Greece? Not a single one of them ever had a can of spinach. Except Pythagoras, I’m sure, according to his followers. Spinach turns out to be from the same taxonomic family as beets, which makes sense, since every vegetable we eat is either a beet, a tomato, a mustard, or a potato. So that’s nice to know.
Gene Deitch gets to direct this next King Features Popeye cartoon and you know what that means: I have no information about who the story’s by. The producer’s William L Snyder, though, and the production date is 1960. And now this … is Astro-Nut.
There was something glorious in the early 60s, when all you needed to join the space program was to be a cartoon character. If Top Cat and gang could be astronaut candidates just because Officer Dibble questioned their patriotism, the doors were open to everyone. I’m sure that when I get into King Features’s other cartoons of the 60s I’ll find one where Snuffy Smith joins NASA.
For this Gene Deitch production, Popeye joins the space program to do a simulated long-duration flight. Can a person survive in a tiny capsule with no human contact for sixty days? Cartoon NASA is getting ahead of its game with this test; nobody would spend sixty full days in space until Skylab 4/3, in 1973-74. (Skylab 3/2 came in about six hours short of 60 full days.) Still, better to know sooner than later, I suppose.
Popeye seems poorly briefed for the space-related mission he’s signed up for. I know, it’s to give the audience useful exposition. But there’s room to ask whether this was the actual space program Popeye was working for. I mean, Popeye’s only human contact is supposed to be one tape of his friends’ voices, that he can listen to over and over, making use of the world’s slowest rewind feature? And they didn’t check the tape to make sure that Brutus didn’t use his time to taunt Popeye about how he was going to steal Olive Oyl away? Maybe they thought this was playful teasing? Popeye did sign up for a 60-day simulated flight, after all. What did he imagine Brutus was going to do?
We get a montage of Brutus dating Olive Oyl. Seems like they’re doing a lot, too. We see them swimming (he pushes Olive Oyl into the water). Going for a car ride (Olive Oyl has to hold the car up and run, a scene that looks like a separate car-themed cartoon broke out; watch this space). Going to the horse races (Brutus steals some money form her). Going to the amusement park (they ride an improbably steep coaster). All this in what we learn is just two days.
Popeye’s torn between his duty to stay in the capsule 60 days and his intense jealous need to punch Brutus. So there’s only one thing to do and I’m not sure just what it was. He swings his fist, anyway, and the capsule spins, and the instant spray spinach starts to spray and then the capsule launches from the ground, heading into space at the speed of light. This, of course, will cause Earth time to go backwards while the capsule progresses at sixty times normal time speed. And somewhere, the young Python Anghelo nods, understanding. All Brutus’s dates with Olive Oyl wind backwards and the capsule lands again. The generals congratulate Popeye for … having done a 60-day endurance test in an hour and Brutus and Olive Oyl are there and don’t undrestand how much time has passed. I feel this is a cartoon whose plot I probably understood when I was a kid. I’m too old to follow its logic anymore. We close out with a song, at least, “Through space in an hour / On pure spinach power / I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”. Also he sprays spinach into his mouth, so I guess his bubble helmet was open the whole time.
So, it’s weird. It’s Gene Deitch, what do you want. There’s good bits here. Popeye sees a vision of Swee’pea in his pipe smoke, for example, while hearing his voice, and that vision’s wrecked by Brutus coming in. Popeye acts reasonably crazed with jealousy as he thinks about Brutus and Olive Oyl together. The repeated rewinding of the tape to Brutus’s sneering “I’m keeping company with poor lonesome Olive” is a good tension-builder.
But the cartoon gets stuck at the dilemma Popeye outlines. He can desert his post or he can give up on Olive Oyl for at least two months. He can’t do either and still be Popeye. Rather than break Popeye, we break the universe, and do the ending of Superman I 18 years early. It’s an interesting writing lesson: it’s easier to break all narrative logic than it is to defy Popeye’s nature.
Also, sixty times an hour is two and a half days. I know, it doesn’t matter. It’s a messy way out of the problem, but there’s not a good way.
There is no good reason for me to remember any Top Cat story. I apologize for the inconvenience.
One step back into 1961, one step back into 1960. Jack Kinney is the producer again. The cartoon’s got a story by Raymond Jacobs and direction by Hugh Fraser. So here is Popeyed Columbus. Well, that’s not a premise that’s aged badly or anything.
It’s another cartoon framed by O G Wotasnozzle, the daffy inventor who moved from Sappo in to Thimble Theatre. The King Features cartoons used this frame for a bunch of stories when they wanted to justify a weird setting. It does suggeset Wotasnozzle spends a lot of time just casually messing with history every time he notices Popeye listening to his own theme on Vague Jazz TV.
For some reason most of these time-travel cartoons Popeye isn’t asked and doesn’t even know he’s time-travelling. It’s a great coincidence Popeye was watching Vague Jazz TV while muttering how he wondered “if Chris was as brave a sailor as history says”. We have to assume he means Chris Columbus. He could be wondering about any sailor named Chris.
Usually these time-travel cartoons just drop Popeye into a historical (or future) setting. Here he’s actually dropped in as Christopher Columbus, on the day the ship’s supposed to sail. We have Brutus there, Captain of the Nina and ready to mutiny, and I suppose that’s sensible enough. Also now Olive Oyl is the Queen of Spain.
For a cartoon that is about Popeye the Sailor as Christopher Columbus there’s not much sailing. It’s a long set of jokes at toasting the voyage, and the Queen, and throwing drink on Popeye. Also of people swinging their mug at the camera, which is a good bit of staging whose charms wear off after the 900th time. Well, everybody’s in non-standard clothing the animation has to save money somewhere.
Popeye gets hiccoughs that turns into a running joke. The Queen stops in with some presents and tries to stop the hiccoughs. For all the directions a Columbus cartoon made in the 60s could go this is a harmless enough one but it’s still a weird direction. Eventually Brutus gets around to his mutiny, and Popeye and Olive Oyl team up to punch all the mutineers back on the ship. This seems like a bad plan to me, but I guess Popeye’s the Admiral.
Popeye finally sails and in a bunch of short, jerky hiccoughs crashes into the New World, at a sign marked “American Indian Village”. That’s all we see, which is probably for the best. One scene later the “American Indian Village” sign is replaced with the “Junior Chamber of Commerce” and signs for the Lions, the Elks, and the Optimists Clubs. If I thought it was on purpose I’d say it was a wry joke about replacing the American civilizations.
Wotasnozzle then explains “and the hiccoughs maybe is why Columbus smashed into America instead of finding out a quick way to the West Indies”. I am sorry to report such a factual historical error on the part of this Popeye cartoon.
There were a lot of ways this cartoon could have been so bad I wouldn’t review it. The cartoon dodged all of them, but in a way by not being about Columbus at all. It’s a strange turn of events.
But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.
Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.
That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.
The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.
It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.
It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)
Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.
And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.
Since Lemon and Sayers took over, the Sunday Alley Oop strips have been a separate continuity. (Under Jack and Carole Bender they had been a recap-and-preview of a week’s worth of strips.), The Sunday strips are set when Alley Oop is a little kid. In February a story seemed to start: Penelope, a young science-type genius girl of the year 2020, popped into Little Alley Oop’s world. She brought him back to the present. Then then the time machine broke.
Penelope has not been anxious about getting her time machine fixed, although there’ve been a couple attempts at it. Instead, we’ve seen Little Oop get set up in Penelope’s family’s guest room. To start going to school. To meet some of Penelope’s friends and her brother and all that. It’s read more like we’re getting a revised setting to the Sunday strips more than anything meant to go anywhere.
So at this point I can’t give a plot recap because there isn’t really a plot. There’s just Little Oop getting into cute shenanigans in the present day. If this turns into a story I’ll add it to my regular plot recaps. But for now, it seems to be just stand-alone incidents. At least once you know what a caveboy is doing in 2020.
Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.
Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.
Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.
There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.
Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.
The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.
Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.
Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)
First, I have to amend an earlier entry. While reviewing Invisible Popeye, with a better premise than execution, I wrote “it’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do”. Perhaps they could. But I was thinking specifically of this cartoon, in which they do not. There’s no Brutus here. There’s just the disembodied voice of Jackson Beck. We do have Swee’Pea, though. And we have Suburban Boring, but in The Future. Invisible Popeye at least gets weird.
It’s another O G Wotasnozzle cartoon. And another where he uses his time machine to send Popeye to a novel setting. Eventually. This cartoon runs five minutes, 41 seconds not counting the closing credits, which King Features has chopped off here. One minute 43 seconds of that is credits and the generic footage of Wotasnozzle deciding to send Popeye somewhere in time. “What the heck,” the great inventor thinks, “he’s probably just sitting at home listening to his theme on the Dixieland station”. So that’s why Popeye’s sent to either the year 2500 or 2500 years into the future. The framing device almost explains why everybody’s in the future, and lets the cartoon be one-fifth stock footage.
Also Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are in the future too? Or Popeye hangs with their Future counterparts? Wotasnozzle says he sends Popeye somewhere by pot luck, so how are Olive Oyl and Swee’pea there? Popeye doesn’t seem thrown by the strange world of The Future. There’s a bit where water flows to the ceiling and he complains about something going wrong with the gravity. But that makes equal sense for either 20th or 25th Century Popeye to observe.
This is a standard circa-1960s view of The Future. Flying cars. Flying lounge chairs. Tourist space rockets to the Moon. Skyscrapers built into helter-skelter slides. Swee’Pea is splitting atoms and getting neutrons all over the rug. The ambiguously defined family of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat roast beef pills and soup-and-salad-crystals and all. It seems like they have to eat a lot of pills. Maybe they’re eating their trail mix?
And, yeah, you don’t watch cartoons like this for The Future. You watch them for The Present, spoofed by its placement in future trappings. And obviously a cartoon that has four minutes for all its business can’t compare to The Jetsons, still in the future when this was made. So we can look at what parts of The Present of 1960 the cartoon thought worth spoofing?
Well, the home. I read the place as suburban, but just because it seems boring. I guess it’s meant to be the City of Tomorrow. And then the road trip. Particularly the trip done by either bus or train. (I guess a five-minute rest stop is more a bus than a train thing, especially by 1960. I know train stops at eateries used to be a thing. I’ve been in the room while parts of The Harvey Girls were on TV.) It’s a fair premise, but there’s nothing done with it. Swee’Pea gathers asteroids. Why not go to a roadside attraction? You have a perfectly good chance to show, I don’t know, the largest robot cog this side of the asteroid belt and don’t use it?
Then we get the Moon as a quaint, rustic tourist destination. The Upper Peninsula to Earth’s Michigan. There’s a similar notion in Futurama, where the Moon is part backwater, part tacky tourist trap. Arthur C Clarke’s novel Rendezvous with Rama has a line about how in the politics of the solar system, the Moon was a suburb of Earth and always would be. (I don’t remember it being clear what that meant exactly.) I am sure neither is responding to this cartoon. The idea is too sparsely entered.
We get a joke about the rustic moon offering old-fashioned stuff like the cars, gas stations, and airplanes of 1960. “Our present is, to the future, the past” isn’t a deep observation, but it is the sort of observation a kid in the target audience would appreciate.
So as seems to happen a lot, I like the characters, and I like the premise. I just don’t like that nothing happens, and that the premise isn’t used well. If I could wish any Popeye-related product into existence, though, a Popeye Of The Future comic might be it.
O G Wotasnozzle, inventor, was created by Elzie Segar to give us a reason to read his other comic strip, Sappo. He migrated to Popeye, bringing the strip the occasional wacky invention. In the King Features cartoons he showed up a fair bit, usually with the time machine that Olive Oyl dusts at the start. The cartoon does nothing to explain what this is or why it would do anything, but you know? When you’re seven years old? Somehow you never need anything explained. Each year I regret I can no longer follow the plot of Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. To a kid, it makes intuitive sense. Of course Olive Oyl should accidentally activate the time machine and get sent off to … somewhere.
Olive Oyl gets a cute line about how “scientists don’t seem to mind a little dust as long as it’s cosmic”. That is such a 1960 line. It’s not that space scientists have lost an interest in cosmic dust, but when do you ever hear about it anymore? Also Olive Oyl looks back over her shoulder at the camera. For this era of cartoon, it’s a subtle movement. This is also about where everything falls apart.
Wotasnozzle comes in and, using stock footage, discovers his time machine tampered with. And in other stock footage realizes that “they’ve” got Olive Oyl. Also that “they” are an entity that exists. Who are “they” and what do they want with Olive Oyl? … Great questions.
Wotasnozzle phones Popeye, who’s in what looks like stock footage of sleeping. His half of the call has something to do with something being “decontaminated”. And what was contaminated? Great question. Popeye rushes over to Wotasnozzle’s lab and eats his spinach right away. It’s the sensible thing to do, but raises the question why he doesn’t start every cartoon with the spinach power-up. Other than for fear of making the cartoons too short. Then we see the time machine as its stock footage normally works. Thus the gloved mechanical hand sliding Popeye through the air while Wotasnozzle runs merrily around the machine. Given all the work Wotasnozzle has to do to make this run it’s surprising Olive Oyl could get sent anywhere without help.
The time machine sends Popeye to my heart’s deepest desire, a great domed city. Apparently it’s in space for how Popeye flies around it. But he can’t break through, so Wotasnozzle hurries him back for more preparation. The tool that will make all the difference: invisibility pills. He swallows them in a cross-section animation. I recognize it from early-60s parodies of some indigestion-relief pill. I don’t know which. All I know is the parodies.
Does the invisibility work? Sure does, illustrated by using stock footage of Popeye doing the sailor’s hornpipe but leaving out parts of the animation cells. You have to animate invisibility somehow, and Fraser goes for having Popeye just not be seen. When we the audience have to know where he is, it’s footprints. It’s a workable answer. It doesn’t explain how Wotasnozzle can follow along on his viewscope, but there is a lot about Wotasnozzle’s lab that isn’t explained. Anyway this has all been a bunch of plot. Now it’s time for the cartoon to really sit on our heads and make us beg for mercy. There’s three minutes, 15 seconds left.
Back in the future(?), Popeye figures he can now sneak past the guards. What guards? Where did they come from? Wasn’t the problem an impenetrable dome? … Great questions.
He strides past a robot(?) guard to the civic center. He pushes through a crowd made up of the robot(?) helmets, without bodies, because to walk around he’d have to take two steps to the right. He reads that Olive Oyl’s on exhibit. Off to the monorail for a ride to the Palace Circle. This is important because it sets up a monorail chase that won’t make sense later.
He arrives at a giant robot statue holding an enormous dome. It looks like the cover that snooty waiters use to bring food to the Marx Brothers. And then we jump to the completely wrong background. We’re supposed to see Popeye trying to figure how to get over a moat to the Olive Oyl exhibit. But since what we see is a giant interior of a monorail car. So good luck figuring out why Popeye can’t walk across what looks like as open a plaza as anything on the Brutalist college campuses I attended. Also how do we know this is Palace Circle? How do we know Olive Oyl is here? Where do those two guards blip to when they disappear? … Great questions.
Popeye frees Olive Oyl from her captivity, a chair that doesn’t have armrests. Also a ball and chain. He tears off the ball and chain, throwing it at the guards to get them fighting. His invisibility starts to wear off, giving him the chance to use the sailor’s hornpipe stock footage again, this time with bullets shot at him. Then he swallows the other invisibility pills Wotasnozzle gave him for just this sort of emergency. There’s a curious glow around where Popeye’s chest should be here. It’s a neat effect, suggesting maybe that he’s supposed to become visible again. But there’s so little of this cartoon that seems like it was animated on purpose. I can’t rule out that it’s a long-lived compression artifact in the YouTube file. The glow starts about 20:46, though, which probably means it’s just some weird effect.
Popeye ties the guards’ antennas together, which starts them electrocuting each other, which seems like a design flaw. Olive Oyl warns they’re calling out the guards and what do you know, but the giant robot statue in the Palace Circle orders the guards called out. Also the statue is itself a robot, I guess. It could be the robot king. Who knows?
They make a getaway in the monorail, which is brilliant except for being stupid. It turns out that cars behind and ahead of them converge on Popeye’s car. Popeye declares that he’ll “bam-bobble them with me invisible muscles”. By this he means he’ll have his car go on the underside of the monorail, which is a thing that monorail cars can do. The pursuing cars collide. Also Popeye’s car crashes into the robot statue back at the Palace Circle, which is an occurrence that makes sense. Popeye and Olive Oyl climb out from right where they started and Wotasnozzle remembers he can just bring them back now.
Popeye’s got one of the robot(?) helmets stuck on his head. Still, he knows they’re home safe and sound. While sneezing, Olive Oyl inhales two invisibility tablets right off the counter, which is a thing that happens, and she blips out of the cartoon. Well, she kisses Popeye some. The Sailor Man declares, embarrassed, “this invisibility has ruined my visibility”. The declaration seems like it meant something to somebody at some point.
This cartoon invites us to ask many questions, but most of them are versions of “the heck am I watching?”. It’s not that this has to be an incoherent story. The premise is good, and up to Popeye’s return to the future it’s presented well. But then we’re hit with what seem like missing scenes, such as establishing that there’s a guard for Popeye to get past. Or that the giant robot statue is not just decoration but can bark out orders. Or that the robots even speak: they’re mute for so long that it’s weird when the robot starts to speak. Add in the animation glitches and what should be a straightforward cartoon loses coherence.
It’s also a disappointing vision of the future. It’s basically a domed city, a monorail, and the light bridge. These are good props but there’s not much done with them. And the background error makes the introduction of the light bridge seem pointless. Certainly having Olive Oyl get lost, and Popeye get sent after her, demands a good chunk of the five-minute run time. But why not have Popeye interact with a local instead of push his way past a crowd they don’t want to really draw? Popeye having a false start and having to return to Wotasnozzle is a nice bit of business, but would the cartoon have been better if we met the Future Robot(?) King instead?
But if they didn’t have some good jokes about of future-life to, it’s better not to force it. I’m content with a weird cartoon where everything falls just short of being motivated. It’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do.
The team has a mission: get some tea from the Boston Tea Party. The billionaire Drew Copious wants some. All right. They zap back to Boston and have some trouble hooking up with the tea party. Falling afoul of Loyalists, not being able to find the right wharf, that sort of thing. But they find the spot, and join in tossing tea overboard, except for one crate that Alley Oop swapped out ahead of time. With success and tea in hand, they head back to the present.
Copious offers another mission. And promises wealth beyond their reasonable dreams if they finish his tests. The first: he wants proof that aliens built the pyramids. Ooola finds something fishy about all this, but Wonmug points out: money! You don’t get billions of dollars without falling for loads of racist pseudoscientific codswallop. So they’re off to Ancient Egypt.
They get to a pyramid construction site. Oop falls in with the brick-movers. Wonmug passes himself off as an architectural inspector, and while snooping around finds an alien! Sellomina is a creature from the planet Nu-Dell, and is … just … nothing. Kind of a clod. They’re only, maybe, six or eight weeks more advanced than humans. And that only in some areas. They bought a Marinarian spaceship to get here. And can’t even get the eight-track to work. (Explanation for younger readers: the eight-track was a thing that cars had in the seventies. It didn’t work.)
Ooola, meanwhile, gets mistaken for the Princess Lula, and is whisked away to the royal apartments. Where the real Princess Lula also is. They’re somehow identical. Lula is not upset. She sees this as a great chance to set up a Parent Trap situation. Not the movie, which she doesn’t know about. No, she wants to put her parents in a trap, so she can get away and marry Pardel, an alien she loves. Ooola is up for this.
So things work out for the player-characters. Ooola helps Lula trap her parents. Alley Oop finishes building a pyramid himself. Wonmug is convinced that the aliens were just in the way of building the pyramids. Sellomina gives Wonmug the highest piece of Nu-Del technology: a pencil. Used for cleaning gunk out of ears. Pretty sure the Nu-Del aliens don’t have ears.
A pencil isn’t much of an alien artifact, but it’s what they have. They return to the present and give Copious the news. He’s not disappointed to learn that aliens are dumb. He declares if there were intelligent life in the universe, it would have visited him. So, yeah, can’t fault the characterization here. He’s got more missions, and gives them the run of his mansion for a couple days off.
And, in private, does a thingy with the pencil. The image of an alien he calls Farfell appears. Farfell acknowledges Copious acquiring the device and asks if he’s ready to commence their plan. So that’s something.
I feel the last couple months have been strong ones for the weekday continuity. There’s been a solid enough story. While there have been side bits of nonsense, they’ve been kept short. Princess Lula talking about the Parent Trap, which seems like a reality-breaking joke, subverts that expectation. Having aliens be in Ancient Egypt, but just killing time there, is a fair enough joke. Having Copious and Farfell up to something makes the joke also a useful story element. I’d say this is reflected in how I see fewer complaints about what’s happened to Alley Oop. But I suspect the bigger factor is people wanting to know what’s wrong with Mark Trail suddenly. And after that it’ll be [spinning the wheel] what the heck happened to Gil Thorp.
Something I didn’t expect happened the 9th of February, 2020, which you may remember was three million years ago. This was a Sunday strip, when Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing panels about Little Oop, Alley Oop as a kid. They started a story.
Yes, I agree it’s a weird coincidence that this Sunday story started so close to the last time I did a plot recap. Back in February, I was more distracted that the weekday strips were starting a new story at the same time.
3 February – 25 April 2020.
The story started with a girl popping in from nowhere, wondering why it wasn’t 1999, seeing Little Oop’s pet dinosaur Max and fleeing. She’s Penelope. She’s invented a time machine. And she’s freaked out by the dinosaurs and volcanoes and ice ages and all that. When a mammoth charges at them she hits the thingy on her thingy, and zaps herself and Little Oop to the present. Bit of a mistake. The mammoth was just eager to share cookies.
Her time machine contracts plot issues. Little Oop’s stuck in the present for a while. He’s got to hide. Penelope figures it’s better if she keeps him close by. So she smuggles him in to school. Still dressed as a caveman, but, trying to put him in regular clothes didn’t really work. Little Oop meets Penelope’s friend Julius. He’s described as a mathlete, and he resembles Little Oop’s friend Garg.
Does that resemblance signify anything? Maybe. It did strike me that as part of the Time Jail storyline we met Dr Piedra, Dr Wonmug’s Universe-3 equivalent. She’s a time-travelling scientist and wears a purple … uh … hair thingy. Penelope’s hair is noticeably purple. But if we’re supposed to link them, well, Penelope wears glasses and Dr Piedra doesn’t. There are plenty of explanations for this in real people. But comic strip convention relies on characters keeping some key accessories. (And, yes, their head shapes are different, but to my eye about the same way grown-up Alley Oop and kid Little Oop’s shapes are different.)
Anyway I guess we’ll see in the Sundays whether there are any stories to find in a scientist’s time machine stranding a caveman in the present day.
Next question: How does Little Oop having time-travel adventures in the year 2020 fit with the continuity of Alley Oop? All I can say is to offer the closing lines of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme: “it’s just a show, I should really just relax”. If you want it rationalized, treat this as an Alternate Universe Alley Oop. Alternate, maybe, even to the Universe-2 adventures that we’ve been reading since Lemon and Sayers took over the strip.
If you must fit this together? Well, some good news. Alley Oop, when he was first brought into the then-present of 1939, handled his experiences pretty well. He was in the present for only a few hours before … well …
So, if you want to head-canon that Alley Oop had some useful childhood experiences that prepared him for adventures with Doc Wonmug and all? You have some room for that. But you do have to work out how it is that Ooola, who was also brought to 1939 Long Island and has not been brought to 2020, handled things better. (Of course, Little Ooola might come to 2020 yet.) Also, you have to rationalize Alley Oop’s problem understanding mirrors.
I do not know how GoComics decided which Alley Oop stories to add to its Deep Archive. There’s even one from January 1939, before the strip included time travel. But the important one started the 7th of April, 1939, when Doc Wonmug got his movie camera back from the past. If you somehow have a bit of spare time, you might want to read the story. It’s always good to see the work that made something famous. And it’s enlightening to see how the strip has always been willing to go for the dumb joke. Also, that Doc Wonmug has a real problem with being a jerk. Also, turns out, a daughter. Huh.
I’ll recap the plot in the weekday-continuity Alley Oop. Unless something goes wrong.
It’s a world of enormous crystals continuously playing the Piña Colada Song. Of DMV lines that wrap around the globe twice. And time criminals. Ollie Arp is the prosecutor, holding this Alley Oop for all the comic strip’s nonsense since Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers took over. Their defense: Petey, a cloud of gas from Universe 248. Their judge: Bushney, a tough, old-fashioned computer judge. It looks like an Atari 2600, so, do you get the nerd joke there? (Atari was founded by Nolan K Bushnell.) The jury is volunteers from the multiverse. It includes at least one Cutie-pie, and one of the Time Raccoons that Dr Wonmug created.
Ollie Arp calls witnesses. Mostly from universes made worse by the side effects of Our Heroes’s nonsense. And then, the 12th of December, he calls Alley Oop of Universe-1. That is, the original Alley Oop, the one from the newspapers. The one V T Hamlin created and the continuity we were following through to the end of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s run. The trial itself is almost an apologia to old fans angry with Sayers and Lemon’s strip. This brief appearance makes it even more explicit. The original Alley Oop wasn’t eliminated by their new run and this Universe-2 stuff. It’s still there, ready to enjoy. Someone else could even pick it up later, unharmed, and do new stuff in it. Anyway, Petey the Gas Cloud Lawyer is excited to meet Newspaper Alley Oop.
Sensing disaster, Alley Oop, Oona, and Dr Wonmug flee the trial. And go looking for help. The helper: Dr Wonmug of Universe-68. Albart Wonmug, son of that universe’s Elbert. Albart Wonmug seems to have nothing but plasma balls. It’s a cover. When Albart learns the gang is fleeing their Time Crime trial he reveals The Wonmug Elite Club.
He sets up Universe-2 Wonmug with a Universe Transit Device. It’ll get his party to and from other universes. And can lock that universe so nobody else can go in or out of it for a year. Some of the universes are obviously dangerous: Universe-44 invented cold sores “and the rest of us still haven’t forgiven them”. Some are wackily dangerous: Universe-129 is nothing but puppies and it’s too adorable to leave of your own free will. Alley Oop grabs the Universe Transport Device and whisks them off to Universe-27.
Universe-27 is a nice enough place. Idyllic. Utopian even, if you’re one of the gigantic slug monsters eating the terrorized human population. Our Heroes get some distance and flee that universe. It’s a moment I disliked. I grant there’s not much three people with the contents of their pockets could do about a nightmare world of giant human-eating slug monsters. But they ought to feel some urge to try. It’s one thing to be foolish and cowardly heroes. It’s another thing to be foolish and cowardly without the heroism. Belatedly, Alley Oop thinks he could have made friends with one of the giant murder slugs, which is something.
They land in Universe-900. There’s dinosaurs, even though Wonmug says “we didn’t travel through time”. Also as if you could make “the present” in two universes a coherent thought. Well, Alley Oop thinks it’s the handsome universe: everyone in it looks like him. Hundreds of Alley Oops gather silently around. It’s suspicious.
They flee. Back in Universe-900, the Oops regret everyone waiting for someone else to say something first. Too bad; apparently the Alley Oop Universe had a couple things sorted out. Our Heroes, anyway, end up back in Universe-2. Ooona uses the device, locking the rest of the multiverse out of Universe-2 for a year. Again, as if that concept makes sense, especially when the others in the multiverse are time travellers. Anyway, this is all a lead-up to their new mission … which we’ll see over the coming months. It’s another suspiciously well-timed break point for these recaps. I don’t know.
Hi, person wanting to complain about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This is a good place to talk about the strip, as I have a plot recap bringing people up to date for about early November 2019. If you’re reading this after about February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thank you for disliking the comic strip, but I trust, liking me.
(This is my inference. I don’t read the strips ahead of the day of publication. I am given to understand that other comic strip bloggers have the Secret Knowledge of ways to get future strips. It requires something more sophisticated than hacking a strip URL to a future date, so, I’m not going to bother.)
And they left Alley Oop and Ooola with their previous mission. This was bringing Plato back to the present day. Genevieve Collingsworth, (fictional) Pulitzer-prize winning writer, hoped to interview him. The disappointment: Alley Oop and Ooola had gotten Plato from a time before he was doing philosophy. It’s from the era when Plato was doing puppetry. Collingsworth makes a Pulitzer-winning book out of it anyway.
With the 6th of September, the new and current storyline starts. It’s to the Galapagos Islands of about two million years ago. Dr Charles Losthouse thinks there was then an advanced tortoise species that used a sharp stick as tools. What’s needed is evidence.
The first two turtles Alley Oop and Ooola meet, two million years ago, push them into the sea. Dolphins pick them up and carry them to another island, one with a stone statue of a tortoise. They find a tortoise playing a flute. The tortoise, Sharp, brings them back to the local city. It’s a futuristic megalopolis.
They explain to Uldo and Sharp that they’re from the future. Uldo, a scientist, understands. Tortoise society has discovered time travel but never been so reckless as to use it. They don’t dare change the timeline. But then why would future primates not know tortoise scientists? … And Ooola drops the news that in their time, tortoises aren’t, you know, smart. It’s humans who are the scientists. Uldo declares they have to change the timeline immediately.
Alley Oop starts feeling it’d be wrong to let the intelligent tortoises die out. President Shellington can’t believe the news. But she laughs at Alley Oop’s offer of help, and claim that they’re “from the future and kind of smart”. Alley Oop and Ooola go home.
Meanwhile back in the present, Dr Wonmug is annoyed they haven’t brought back the Galapagos Apparatus, needed to prevent the end of the world. Yes, this is the first we’ve heard about the end of the world. Ooola tries to explain what they saw. Dr Wonmug calls in his colleague, Dr Silverstein, a tortoise scientist. In the changed timeline there’s both humans and tortoises. Ooola and Dr Silverstein were good friends. Alley Oop used to date a tortoise. This is bad.
I’m surprised that when this dropped, mid-October, I didn’t see a flurry of people angry at Alley Oop. So far as I am aware the comic strip hasn’t had a malleable timeline. But I am only dimly aware. I’ve read a little bit of V T Hamlin’s original strips, and a couple years of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender era. That’s it. All sorts of shenanigans might have happened and I wouldn’t know, any more than I’d know what happened in the original-run Doctor Who. Which also mostly didn’t have a malleable timeline.
Alley Oop has his doubts about making the giant tortoises not exist. Ooola points out there’s saving the rest of the earth that’s worthwhile. Which, all right, but this is why it’s bad to stare into the ethics of changing history. Anyway, Alley Oop’s first plan to save the timeline is to go back to Moo and stop himself from being born. That way, he can’t go back to the Galapagos Islands of two million years ago. In a serious story this could have a nice moral balance, atoning for destroying so many people by also destroying oneself. In this story, he completely fails to talk his parents out of having children. Which is at least a fun ironic conclusion.
Ooola has the more sensible plan of just interfering with their own Galapagos Island mission. They go back to about five minutes before their original arrival. The new plan: keep the tortoises they first met from knocking them onto the dolphins. The easiest way to do this is grab the tortoises and hide them. The now alternate-past Alley Oop and Ooola don’t find anything and, presumably, go back to the present. Where, uh, Dr Wonmug has vanished. Ooola disappears in the next panel, and Ava and finally Alley Oop. So I guess the comic strip has ended and nobody will be angry about it anymore? That’s good, right?
Dinny the Dinosaur prods Oop into action. The action is rescuing a baby stegosaurus from a cliff face. Alley Oop adopts the abandoned(?) Meggs. It’s cute and parallels a thread in the Sunday Little Oop continuity where young Alley Oop gets a pet dinosaur. Little Oop hasn’t had enough storyline to need recaps here but I’m not ignoring it.
Meanwhile in the present were a couple of jokes between Doc Wonmug and reliable assistant Ava. Most of these are about Wonmug being a clueless insensitive jerk. Not my favorite kind of joke. It’s a valid characterization, yes. I just find that sort of laugh-from-casual-meanness to be 90s web-comic-y. Which you could say about the current writing: often the punch lines are light dadaism with pop culture references. Anyway, this Ava-and-Wonmug interlude was are tossing spot jokes around. There’s one strip where Ava’s shown swapping objects with other universes. This reads as setup for something particular. It might be just playing with the fourth wall.
But the something particular: that storyline began the 17th of June. “In Another Universe” Ollie Arp and Eeena notice strange things outside their high-rise apartment. The Statue of Liberty not dancing. Their books being rearranged. The food printer gone missing with a microwave in its place. Dr Piedra identifies the problem: Universe 2’s Doctor Wonmug is screwing up the timeline. And it’s not only messing up his universe. It’s screwing up other universes too.
So this is a heck of a bundle of things to put on the reader. One of them seems like an olive branch to readers who Do Not Like The New Alley Oop One Bit, Thank You. The strip reiterates that the stuff we’ve been seeing since Lemon and Sayers started is a separate continuity from the original. If you preferred the old, don’t worry. It’s not getting broken. It’s sitting there, idle, ready for a future project. If you liked the old Alley Oop continuity with more realistic stories of student-repaired Saturn V rockets and warp drive sending Alley Oop to the Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun, that’s still there. This reminds me of the 2009 Star Trek movie emphasized that the Original Timeline is still there and still counts so please Trek fans don’t hate us just because we made a movie where everybody isn’t tired.
So this move to make peace with readers of course got me riled up. I’ve grown to dislike stories with malleable timelines. It’s more that a setting with a changeable timeline puts on its characters ethical duties that I’m not sure any story can address. Not without being a career’s worth of inquiry. Alley Oop has used time travel as a way to get to interesting settings, and what they do is how history was “supposed” to turn out. Changing that model is a choice, and Lemon and Sayers have the right to make that. But I don’t know that the change was made thoughtfully.
They get the tip to look for Plato, of course, in the cave at the edge of town. They find him as this old guy playing with puppets. So even if you love the new Alley Oop you can see Dr Piedra’s point about interdimensional buffoonery. Plato agrees to go to the 21st century and talk with the historian, but there’s an emergency call from Ava. Wonmug rushes back to the present, while Oop and Ooola go with Plato back to his home in the over cave.
The crisis: something’s jamming the flow of time particles. Soon Wonmug’s time machine will stop working, among other things leaving Oop and Ooola in Ancient Greece. And things are happening fast: already the Time Phones aren’t working, leaving Wonmug out of touch with Ooola and Oop.
Ollie Arp and Eeena, yes, created the jam. They’ve shut off Universe 2 from time particles. And venture to Universe 2 to give Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola a talking-to. They convince Our Heroes of who they are and where they come from. And the two super-genius time travellers from the responsible universe issue Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola a citation. “Please be so kind as to refrain from time-travel for the next 14 days as punishment for your infraction”.
And that’s where the story has landed. If this is the end of the Universe 3 storyline then it’s a good-size shaggy dog of a story. But it’s a great setup. Super-science alternate-universe Alley Oop and Ooola meddling with Our Heroes? And (I trust) unaware that Ava’s developed the ability to move things between universes herself? That’s some great story dynamics ready to explore. Please visit again in three months when we’ll see whether they get explored right away.
Alley Oop and Ooola were in the 1980s, searching for Dr Wonmug’s mixtape. It was stolen. The ransom note demanded three items for ransom. They’d gotten the first, a President Reagan jellybean. Now they were in San Francisco for the second: the master disks for shareware game Caves of Zfgrhkxp. They’re off to the home of 1986-shareware-video-game-famous programmer Steve Hobbes.
Before I go farther, a question for you. Do you find this gather-the-zany-tokens plot pointless? Are you annoyed by whimsical names like Caves of Zfgrhkxp and Steve Hobbes? Then probably the Jonathan Lemon/Joey Alison Sayers era of Alley Oop isn’t for you. It’s still a serial-adventure comic about a time-travelling caveman. But the story has been much more goofy, with a punch line in every strip. That has a good, respectable heritage in the comics. But it’s different from the way Alley Oop was. If you liked the old way and can’t get into the new, hey, you’re right. I’m sorry this isn’t working for you. Maybe Lemon and Sayers will evolve into a creative team you like better. Maybe they’ll only work the strip for a short while. Maybe you’ll come to like the different style, as a different take on a really good premise.
But for those who do like this, or are willing to see where it leads, here’s the story. Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug enter the ominous headquarters of Hobbesware Inc. The door locks behind them. The are no exits visible. On the table are: rope, box, envelope. Wonmug recognizes the genre of puzzle he’s in. He chooses to pick up envelope, getting ready to open envelope and examine contents for a puzzle lasting about six hours. I’m glad he’s having fun. Me, I could never get out of the first room of any of these text-adventure puzzles.
They try to prove they’re from the future, like, by dancing the macarena. I have not checked that this is when I got a flurry of comments from people who hate the new Alley Oop, but I get it if they did. Wonmug makes a more convincing case that they’re from the future by showing off his phone. Ooola’s worried this might screw up the timeline, if timelines are a thing that can be screwed up by Alley Oop time-travel rules. Wonmug’s confident. He left the phone locked, for one, and besides the older Hobbes invents some important smartphone and … uh … Wonmug concludes this must have been inevitable, because “time is a trick science”. Ooola thinks Hobbes has unlocked the phone and that maybe the timeline is changing?
That peril, like most, is played for a joke. One of the first gags of the new continuity was that this was an alternate dimension, just like the original except that tacos are never invented. Showing Hobbes the smartphone of his future design makes some kitchen staff hypothesize about inventing a taco. Anyway, Hobbes gives them the disk and they’re off to the third piece of mixtape ransom.
They don’t know what to get. The ransom note just says “Gator Gertie’s Miasmic Swamp”. It’s in Florida. Oop and Ooola don’t want to deal with that nonsense, and point out how this entire project seems like a colossal waste of time. Wonmug bribes them with a roller coaster ride. And, y’know, as a roller coaster fan I have to say: in 1986? There were like three roller coasters in Florida back then. The place is lousy with amusement parks now, but if Sayers and Lemon aren’t thinking of visiting the now-defunct Circus World park then they Didn’t Do The Research. Sorry to be all snide about this.
They find Gator Gertie’s. Gertie’s a pleasant, weird-in-that-roadside-attraction-way kind of person. She rents alligators and bakes treats. She can’t think what someone might send them there for. Oh, she has a secret human/alligator dinosaur lab. She doesn’t have a geneticist, but she has taught some gators to wear pants. Oh, and she has this haunted gator-tooth scone, baked ten years ago and containing an alligator tooth and a malevolent spirit. She’s happy to give it over since it’s only caused her trouble and made pants disappear. I’m sorry that Gertie was in such a rush to get out of this storyline; I liked her attitude. And who doesn’t love a daft roadside attraction? Maybe she’ll pop back around.
They get back to Wonmug’s 80s apartment and wait for instructions. Not long. Someone behind the door orders them to give the items over. Oop looks inside. It’s raccoons. They’re wearing lab coats. One has eyeglasses on. They’re building something.
Yeah, so it turns out Dr Wonmug did some experiments where he created superintelligent raccoons to do chores. And their intelligence went beyond what he anticipated. Now they’re building their own time machine. The floppy disk has code that solves some of the equations of time-travel. The haunted scone opens a dimensional portal. The jellybean satisfies Gunther’s sweet tooth. And with these final components their time machine is complete and … they’re off! To where? And when?
No idea. The story seems to end on that beat, with the Time Raccoons leaving. Wonmug drops off Ooola and Oop back in prehistoric Moo, and home. They putter around a bit and it all looks like the start of a new story. There hasn’t been talk about the Time Raccoons. It seems like rather a cliffhanger. I don’t know if Alley Oop has done that before, though. It didn’t happen when Jack Bender and Carole Bender, the prior creative team, were working the last couple of years.
Is leaving something like the Time Raccoons unresolved new? I talk a confident game. But the truth is I am not well-versed in Alley Oop lore. I’ve been reading the daily strip for a couple of years now. I’ve read a couple collections with storylines from V T Hamlin’s day, and enjoyed them. Still, I don’t know whether the Alley Oop universe has ever had a party with a time machine independent of Dr Wonmug’s before. This can be narratively perilous, especially if you’ve bought the idea of a changeable history. There have been stories with rival time-travellers to Dr Wonmug before (one story had a character kidnapped to another era, for example), and the comic strip stayed intact.
Will the Time Raccoons come back? Certainly if I were writing the strip. (I’d thought there was a good chance they’d show up in Moo by the end of this past week.) Rivals are good ways to generate stories. It’s obviously good to have parties who can drop in and add chaos to storylines. Uplifted animals with only casual interest in the plans of humans only heighten the fun. But I’m in no privileged position here. I’m just reading comics and talking about what I see. Indeed, my other blog gets into mathematically-themed comic strips, as here. If I encounter any news about Alley Oop, I’ll pass it on here.
I need a low-key, low-effort week so I’m hoping next on the roster is something easy to recap. Maybe one of the Sunday-only strips. The Sunday Alley Oop comics, the Little Oop adventures, have all been spot jokes. There hasn’t been an ongoing story. There’ve been some things mentioned in the Sunday strips that went on to mention in the weekdays. Like Alley Oop joining the Dino Guides, a Scouts-type group, used after that mention. So the Sunday strips aren’t part of the continuity, but they haven’t needed recapping. So let me just check what’s next on the schedule.
I know everyone’s interested to see Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s take on Alley Oop. It’s not coming until January. Here I’m recapping the last couple months of Jack Bender and Carol Bender-produced reruns. I figure, at least for now, to keep Alley Oop in the regular story strip rotation. So my first recap of the New Era should come around early March 2019. And it should be at this link. If there’s news updates warranting more articles, they’ll be there too.
Dr Wonmug has a job! A client is paying him to gather samples in 1816 Switzerland. I honestly didn’t know the Doc took jobs like that. The client’s never named, but that doesn’t seem to be a plot element. It’s just an excuse for why he has to “hurry” to travel in time. Anyway, Doc pops in to Ancient Moo, interrupting Alley Oop’s and Ooola’s picnic. And annoying Ooola, who teases that “maybe I’ll have a little adventure of my own”. This hasn’t paid off yet and I haven’t checked whether it ever does.
Oop thinks this “scientific research” is a new game, but what the heck. He’s up for it. 1816 is a good year for for science research; you might faintly remember it as “the year without a summer”. After the explosion of Mount Tambora the previous year the northern hemisphere suffered widespread cold, leading to food shortages and even more poverty. And a pretty boring summer retreat at the Villa Diodati, in Cologny, Switzerland. There Mary Shelley is fed up with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron going on about electricity to each other. She decides to take her chances walking outside in the cold rain. Oh, should say, nobody’s last name gets mentioned. This is probably to set up the punch line ending. It’s a good punch line for someone who doesn’t know about how Frankenstein was originally written.
Mary sees a flash atop a mountain. It’s the arrival of Doc Wonmug and an underdressed Alley Oop. She’s wondering how they survived what she took to be lightning. Also wondering what’s with this gigantic, incredibly muscular figure surrounded by glowing light. Alley Oop and Doc Wonmug realize they’re being followed. But they figure they can evade this past-dweller long enough. They’re hilariously wrong. But they just need a soil sample, a plant sample, and some insect. It’s an oddly plausible enough scientific mission. I can already imagine the science team very cross that there wasn’t enough soil and they didn’t provide enough photographs to understand the context of the plant sample. Mary Shelley watches them digging up soil and wonders if they’re burying something. Or digging something up.
Wonmug explains about the harshness of the year. Oop asks, reasonably, whether they’re doing something to help the starving population of the world. Wonmug says they can’t. I don’t know whether Alley Oop has an unchangeable past built into it or not. If Wonmug and company are wise they’ve never tested it. But I know barely a tiny bit of the strip’s long history and what stories they might have explored.
Plants and insects are harder to find. They spot a small scraggly plant growing on the edge of a cliff. Oop’s able to climb cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain. While he does, Wonmug sets up a little science kit to measure the atmosphere. And Mary Shelley watches all this strangeness. She gasps as Oop slips (but does not fall). Wonmug follows her, using his iPod’s flashlight feature to spot her in the gloom. She’s afraid of him, for reasons Wonmug can’t understand. As a scientist Dr Wonmug hasn’t got the common sense that God gave scraggly plants growing on the edge of a cliff in the Year Without A Summer.
You know what else climbs cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain? Mountain goats. An ibex watches Oop grabbing at the plant that’s maybe the only food around, and takes action. Oop’s able to grab onto one leaf, at least, before he’s knocked down the hillside. He takes a nasty fall, landing right outside the cave where Wonmug is trying to figure out why Mary Shelley looks somehow familiar.
Wonmug can’t feel a pulse. Shelley fears he’s dead, but still wants to take him to a doctor. I guess this is on the grounds that 19th century medicine couldn’t make the situation worse. Me, in the 21st century, is pretty sure they could. But her naming Dr Polidori gives Wonmug the clue to who she is, and the punch line that this Mary Shelley. Anyway, Wonmug’s got a portable defibrillator. He warns about the dangers of the electricity, gives Oop a couple good shocks. He brings this gigantic, impossibly strong human to life. He, grunting, confused, and disoriented, lunges toward the woman he had seen following them. She flees. So you see the joke here. I think the joke’s better when you consider that Alley Oop’s a fundamentally kind, good person being shunned for looking like a monster. Shelley flees back to the villa, where she learns the men around her are going to hold a writing competition.
Oop asks why they don’t check that she’s okay. Wonmug promises that he knows she’s just fine, which seems like he’s pretty confident they can’t accidentally alter history here. Anyway, Oop has the leaf in his hand yet, so that’s the plant sample. And a butterfly’s landed on his head, a good insect sample and a time-travel joke nicely underplayed. They return to the present.
And Wonmug explains stuff for Oop and anyone who didn’t know the story already. He presents a copy of Frankenstein and suggests, hey, where did she get that idea, after all? And this feeds to a couple strips just laying out the story of how Shelley had a vision of the story. Hm. Oop figures he’d like to read this, sure. Wonmug also offers that they could watch the movie. I’d also like to speak up for the Mister Magoo adaptation. This seems to end the story with a month left to go before the reruns end. But just this weekend we got Wonmug refusing to let Oop go back home again. He was “actually dead” for a couple minutes, after all. He needs some time of observation. And that’s where the story stands.
I’m mostly content with the storyline. The particular time-travel venture makes good sense. That it can intersect with a real historical figure at a real historically important moment is a bonus. But I personally dislike “here’s where a writer got their crazy idea from”. Writers get their ideas by thinking about things that give them ideas. Those ideas are fed from sources, yes, including writers’ experiences. But they’re created by the writers working. To show the “real events that inspired the writer” replaces that hard work with stenography. (Which is, yes, another kind of hard work, but hard in a different way.)
This motif is at least as old as Flash Of Two Worlds, the comic book where the 1960s Silver Age Flash met the 1940s Golden Age counterpart. Silver Flash had read Golden Flash comics when he was a kid. He speculated that the writer of those Golden Age comics was somehow cosmically attuned to Golden Age Flash’s world and could transcribe that. But there, Flash Of Two Worlds was written by Gardiner Fox, who wrote (most of) the Golden Age Flash comic books. He could be having a joke on himself.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender and John Wooley don’t quite do the writer-as-transcriber idea, at least. As presented in this story, Mary Shelley sees a story about electricity bringing a hulking brute to life. Fine; allow the premise that she took this inspiration from something she witnessed. She’s still presented as turning that one great idea into a novel, with so much happening that she doesn’t witness here. So that tempers my complaint.
I haven’t gone back to check the storyline’s original run in 2013. I want to be as surprised as you are and also am lazy. I’m supposing that Wonmug’s assertion that Oop needs observation will give us a couple weeks of puttering around in the present. And that should lead up to the 7th of January, 2019, when Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over.