What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Will I ever stop complaining about the Comics Kingdom redesign? January – April 2019


I’m glad you want to know the happenings in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday-continuity The Phantom. If you’re reading this after about July 2019, this recap may be out of date. A more up-to-date recap should be at this link, as will be recaps of the weekday continuity. Also, The PhantomWiki is a nice handy reference for stuff. And the Comics Kingdom redesign has gotten less bad but I’m still not happy, and shall explain later.

The Phantom (Sundays).

27 January – 21 April 2019.

The Phantom Sunday continuity was partway through its flashback when I last checked in. He had returned a Xanangan child to her village. She was a stowaway on a vintage B-29. The plane’s crew flew at air shows. And they flew stolen wildlife from show to show. And don’t you think Mark Trail won’t be quite cross about all this smuggling when he finds out. But The Little Detective, accidentally locked into the cargo hold, started keeping notes. She dropped postcards at airshows. She trusted someone would mail them off.

Finally someone did. It was a letter to her family, who finally had some assurance that was alive and somehow in Sweden. Her family turned the news over to the Jungle Patrol. They turned it over to the Unknown Commander, our favorite stripey-panted walker. Meanwhile she keeps notes on what the smugglers take, and where they take them.

Smuggler: 'C'mon! Which one of you pigs keeps cleaning out our grub store?' Smuggler Two: 'And to whoever took my flashlight ... oh, man, you must be *trying* toget hurt!' The Phantom, narrating: 'Our young heroine documented every move the crew made in the unlawful trade in wildlife. Philippine forest turtles. The endangered Philippine crocodile. From Australia, lace monitors and black-headed pythons. Our intrepid little detective had the goods on this gang of smugglers! It was time for her to come home.' (It's shown examples of the Little Detective looking at each animal; the final panel is the Phantom sneaking up on the B-29 at a small, sleepy nighttime airport.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 17th of February, 2019. So the Comics Kingdom web site redesign has been tinkered with. It’s no longer so sluggish or all-around annoyingly bad. But it still isn’t as good as what the site used to be. The Sunday strips, particularly, are turning into messes like this. The four-row, two-column format might not be too bad, if the comic naturally rendered at the full width of my browser, the way it did in the old design. As it is, I can zoom in on the image, and see parts of the art in good detail. But … I mean, my eyes are good, for their age, and they’re not finding this an easy read.

The Phantom catches up with the B-29. I’m not sure where. He must have figured there aren’t that many touring B-29s that have made stops in Bangalla recently. He sneaks into the cargo hold at night, catching The Little Detective by surprise. Diana points out, so, he and his wolf named Devil, in the middle of the night, snuck into the cargo hold where a lone girl has been hiding from the crew for months. He concedes he could have introduced himself less alarmingly. But there was a deadline. The plane was leaving just before dawn; this was his best chance of contacting her before a fight.

The smugglers return to the plane. The Phantom glad-handles them, praising their cleverness and what a great story they’ll have to tell in prison. One of the smugglers spoils the cheery mood by taking out a gun. The Phantom takes back the scene, though. He explains he’s just moving the action over there so nobody accidentally shoots the airplane. It’s a deft touch, showing how simple persuasion is a superpower. The smugglers hardly notice they are letting The Phantom lead them, not until he grabs their gun.

Smuggler with gun on The Phantom: 'I'm leaving you two right here, masked man! And the wolf!' Phantom: "Devil ... stay!' Smuggler: 'I said GET THOSE HANDS UP!' Phantom: 'I'm going to turn the both of us. Turn us slowly. I'm telling you what I'm doing so you're not frightened. You're nervous, but that's not the same thing. You should be nervous. I'm turning us because nobody wants you to put a hole in the aircraft.' (They turn away from the B-29; Phantom, thinking: 'The girl's safe now.') Phantom: 'It's our flight home to Bangalla. And yours to Boomsby.' Smuggler: 'S-stop talking to me! I know what you're trying to do! Mister, I'm warning you! Don't start thinking you're faster than a bullet!' Phantom: 'Is it me against the bullet, do you think? Or me against you?' (Phantom suddenly flips around and grabs the gunman's arm; he fires, completely missing.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 31st of March, 2019. And here we go. About half of the archived strips are four-row formatted strips. But about half of them are two-row formats like this. The panels are a little bit larger, and so easier to read, but not all that much bigger. And I know there are plenty of newspaper readers who’ve been getting this format forever, but I’m used to the pacing of the strip in its three-row format. I do not like the two- or the four-row formats at all. And this thing Comics Kingdom whipped up for today, the 21st? Where it’ll show some strips as six rows of one panel each, each panel just large enough that you can make out there might be something there? That’s exquisitely bad. That’s not just blowing off the usability tests, like everybody has since 2002, that’s going out of your way to be unusable.

Having blown it, the smugglers try to appeal to The Phantom’s patriotism. At least his historical enthusiasm. How can we possibly have both vintage World War II aircraft operating and some pangolin left surviving somewhere in the wild, after all? The smuggler starts some Greatest Generation talk when The Phantom slugs him, correctly. I mean, first, War Hardware fans are the worst. Second, Bangalla was part of the British Commonwealth of Fictional Nations. They, and their Buranda and Qumran brethren, were having people killed for a year and a half before the Americans put anything on the line. Still, The Phantom’s reaction is only at the level of punching. It’s not like these are Avro Arrow fanboys.

And yeah, I talk a smug game. But I know where my standing is weak. I kinda like the various preposterous ideas to do a lunar landing with Gemini spacecraft. There is an audience to which this is a very funny thing to admit and it is not my fault that you are not in it. Anyway that’s where the action has gotten by now.

Next Week!

So how’s the plane crash going? Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. promised excitement and an emergency touchdown. In a week, barring emergencies, I’ll recap what’s happened since then.

And until then? I keep reading the comic strips for mathematical themes, and share the results on my other blog. I’d be glad if you considered that, too. This week’s mathematics comic strip essay is here.

A Partial Review of the Plants and Animals of Australia


Kangaroos. For this review I regard ‘Kangaroo’ as including all the variant models. Kangaroos, Wallabies, Potoroos, Wallaroos, Pottabies, Wottabies, Kangabies, plus any of the new 4th-generation-compatible variations to come out the last month. Doesn’t matter. They’re great all around. Fine body plan. Fur that can feel surprisingly like my sideburns when they get the most bushy and out of control. They anthropomorphize well by just adding a vest and maybe a pair of glasses. They’ve got everything under control. Rated A. The only thing keeping them from an A+ is the sloppy design job regarding the male genitalia. Granted that most mammals have design problems on this point. The only species that’s really got that handled with dignity are guinea pigs, the males of which keep their out-of-use private parts in safety deposit banks with an institution in Lima, Peru.

Small kangaroo, possibly a wallaby, staring right at my camera. From the Singapore zoo.
This kangaroo was not in Australia when I photographed him. Neither was I.

Koalas. Generally adorable, with great ears. But they have been coasting on past fame since the mid-80s. They’ve done nothing to freshen up the line to respond to the rise of fennecs for the status of “oh such adorable animals they look like plush toys only they’re alive!”. Nostalgia acts are fine but we should make way for new innovation. B.

Alpine Tasmanian button grass. Much-needed bit of flora with the sort of name we have the word “mellifluous” for. As plant life goes these are plants that live while not dead. Button grass looks like the hair of a minor Peanuts character with a name like “Leland”. Shows good imaginative use of the “long thin stuff with beady tops” motif. B+.

Platypus. You figure the platypus came about from someone hearing a jumbled description of a griffon and going wild with what they had. And that’s great. Some awesome stuff comes about from trying to follow a jumbled description. It’s how we got centaurs and Cincinnati chili and Chinese lion costumes and some other things that don’t start with ‘c’. All that’s fine and this blend has a nice self-assured weirdness to it. And then it sweats milk. That’s getting into strange-for-the-sake-of-strange territory. C+, would accept resubmission. Not of milk.

Wombats. Are real things? Huh. I thought they were made up so cartoons could do stories about Australian wildlife without getting into hassles from the real species over inaccurate depictions. You know, the way they make a movie about “Charles Foster Kane” instead of William Randolph Hearst, or a political TV show will do a story about going to war with a fake country, or people will vacation in “Florida”. OK, if they’re real then. C, get your brand identity under control. Next.

'Resembling something from a monster movie, Clathrus archeri has been mysteriously emerging in yards and shocking homeowners across America' and it GETS WORSE FROM THERE. And it's Australia's doing.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of March, 2016, doing us the public service of reminding us to never have anything to do with nature, ever, under any circumstances.

Octopus Stinkhorn. I just learned about this on Sunday thanks to Mark Trail and WHAT THE HECK, Australia. WHAT THE FLIPPING HECK? You know when we other continents talk about the problem of Australian species THIS is the sort of thing we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about spiders that have enough toxin in each of their fourteen venom sacs to knock unconscious 6.25 billion people and every raccoon in North America. We’re talking about snakes that spontaneously detonate with the force of a malfunctioning Saturn V rocket smashing into a xylophone Daffy Duck rigged with dynamite to make getting rid of Bugs Bunny “look like an accident”. And now we’re talking about octopus-tentacled corpse-smelling alien-egg fungus. REALLY? What is even WRONG with you? I mean, you give us a tree kangaroo, a kangaroo that literally lives in trees, and you follow that up with this? Stop, go back, redo this entire disaster from the start, and by redo I mean “never do anything even remotely inspired by anyone who has thought this a possible idea again”. This doesn’t even get a grade because we need to invent whole new letters to deal with how flipping WRONG EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS. I mean, just, I mean. The flipping heck? I mean. Just. UGH.

Microbats. Microbats! Australia’s got lots of microbat species and they’re exactly what you think, bats that are small. Everything great about bats only little. This could get us back on Australia’s side. Even the name of the grouping is so adorable we don’t worry about whether they’re flying into the nostrils of everyone in Canberra. Microbats! B+ and not just because we’re getting them right after alien egg octopus corpse fungus. Seriously, Australia.

Marsupial tigers. OK, so, they’re kind of dog-shaped, and they have kangaroo heads. They have pouches, males and females. They’ve got tiger stripes down their back and tail. Oh yeah, and they’ve been extinct since Joseph Lyons was the prime minister. Great job piddling away an easy win, Australia. Check the backs of your closet and anywhere else they might be hiding and you can re-submit for an A-. I just … honestly.

Raccoon lounging in a tree, in the Singapore Zoo, and looking like she's got the world pretty much figured out.
Included for contrast: a non-Australian animal which was not in Australia when I photographed her.

Editorial note. While reviewing Wikipedia’s entry on the flora of Australia I encountered this sentence. “The dominant Acacia species varies with the location, and may include lancewood, bendee, mulga, gidgee and brigalow.” The page is clearly still subject to rampant vandalism. Fix and re-submit.

What’s Happening In Town


Now and then I read the actual local newspaper listings of upcoming events, usually a couple days after the weekly paper’s come out so that I can see what I might have wanted to go to if it hadn’t already happened. One that really appeared was a nature lecture: “Learn about mosquitoes.” And that was the entire description of the event.

I don’t envy the people organizing this. Selling mosquito knowledge is going to be an uphill struggle because once you get past advanced swatting techniques folks don’t want to hear it. Yes, yes, fascinating evolutionary heritage key part web of life blah blah, swat. But to have only three words to convince people to come? Maybe they’d be better off pitching it as a chance to learn about some more popular animal and then reveal it’s actually mosquitoes to a surprise audience. “Puppies kiss you” would probably get a better if swiftly angered and turning-to-biteyness turnout.