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


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

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

Rex Morgan, M.D.

18 September – 10 December 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? September – December 2017


I’m glad to offer you kind readers an update about what’s going on in The Phantom. There’s two continuities at play in the strip, both written by Tony DePaul. This is an essay about the Sundays-only continuity, drawn by Jeff Weigel. If you’re interested in the weekday strips, or if you’re reading this essay much past December 2017, please look to the essays on this page. The Weekday continuity, and any later essays I’ve written about the Sunday continuity, should be right up top there.

And I also keep reviewing comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I’m glad if you want to read that.

The Phantom (Sundays).

10 September – 3 December 2017.

My last recap of The Phantom Sunday continuity came near the end of the storyline “The Phantom Is Everywhere”. The Phantom Wiki says this was the 185th Sunday story, running the 26 weeks from the 9th of April through the 1st of October. I accept these claims. Also at some point over the storyline the Sunday artist switched from Terry Beatty to Jeff Weigel and I failed to point that out. I apologize to Beatty and Weigel.

The story was mostly wrapped up then, though. Three killers had escaped Jungle Patrol custody. The Phantom, relying on his intelligence network and drummers in the Bandar tribes, managed to capture them all the same night. Also to give them the impression he had captured them simultaneously, burnishing his reputation of being everywhere and timeless. Since my last essay the Jungle Patrol had found the three where the Ghost Who Walks left them. Guran covers up the bit early in the story where he knocks a Jungle Patrol officer unconscious, and reminds the Jungle Patrol about the yet another old jungle saying about how time is nothing to The Phantom. Hawa Aguda and Kay Molloy, women who years ago quit their humdrum jobs and joined the Jungle Patrol with the iconic declaration “I quit! We’re joining the Jungle Patrol!”, wonder if this might have something to do with the mysterious “John X” whom they suspect might be the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. (He is.)

With the 8th of October began the new story, the 186th, “The Rat Must Die”. The initial setting: Boomsby Prison, Bangalla’s spot for the most dangerous criminals. One is an as-yet-unnamed prisoner who looks like one part Daddy Warbucks, one part the closet monster from the end of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. The warden laughs at Closet Warbucks’s proposed deal of his freedom in trade for the guy who was supposed to break him out of Boomsby. It’s not clear at this point the guy’s relationship to Closet Warbucks. My thought was he was someone hired to break him out, and who either reneged on the deal or who Closet Warbucks figured to double-cross on the way to getting out. It would be a kind of stupidly overcomplicated plot, but I could rationalize the logic. He’d either break out, or get buy his freedom by spoiling a break-out attempt. And if you’re not coming up with a stupidly overcomplicated plot you’re kind of wasting your superhero’s time.

[A Bid for Freedom ... ] Closet Warbucks: 'What are you laughing at? I know every crime he's planning! I can TAKE YOU to him!' [Meeting's over.] Guard: 'Warden has work to do! Move!' Warbucks: 'Y-you're TURNING ME DOWN!?' (As they walk down the hall, janitor listening. Warbucks: 'That stupid, lousy SUIT! I'll LEAD THE TEAM to my partner's door!' Guard: 'Yeah, yeah, MOVE IT!' Warbucks: 'You don't even have to give me a GUN!" Prisoner: 'There goes a real rat.' [ Nothing said in Boomsby stays in Boomsby ... Nothing ] (as prisoners pass word around.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 22nd of October, 2017. So I’ll return to my traditional role of talking about the art in captions rather than the text proper: this is a really well-composed strip. You know what’s significant here even if you don’t read the word balloons. They’re worth reading, since they paint such a sad picture of the Rat, but

Closet Warbucks’s attempted deal is the gossip hit of the prison. Pretty soon the guy — his ex-partner-in-crime, it turns out — gets word of the deal. And the prison janitor, another criminal who’s in the last 125 of his 1200-year sentence, send a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan. He quickly gets back the Consumer Information Catalogue, Pueblo, Colorado, 81009.

The letter brings out The Phantom, impressing me with his ability to separate valuable information from the noisy, messy volume of tips rolling in. The Ghost Who Walks arrives just as the ex-partner’s hit is on. A corrupt guard delivers a knife and opens the cell doors to a guy who smirks more than the whole cast of Funky Winkerbean, if such a thing is possible. The killer sneaks into the cell, draws his knife, and gets clobbered by The Phantom, who’s taken Closet Warbucks’s place on the bunk. The corrupt guard doesn’t fare better.

(Phantom holding his mouth over Closet Warbucks's mouth, in the dark.) [ The rat fights for air! But darkness awaits him ... A corrupt guard shames the uniform for dirty money.] (Guard letting out the assassin.) 'Step back! And don't forget what I said! Make a move on me and THE RAT won't die --- YOU DIE! Make it quick!' (Pushes the assassin into Closet Warbucks's cell.) 'And leave the shiv!' (The assassin approaches the bunk, where The Phantom has taken The Rat's place.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 19th of November, 2017. And this is another well-composed strip. The art isn’t monochromatic, but it evokes the sort of intense suspense that you can get from black-and-white thrillers. And it’s easy to tug my eye away from that final panel and its promise of action.

And there’s the action as of today. I don’t suspect we’re near the end of the story, not just because the last several Sunday-continuity stories have run at least a half-year each. But I’d imagine doing something about the ex-partner-in-crime has to be high on The Phantom’s agenda. No sense getting roused all the way to Boomsby just to foil one assassination of one failed prison snitch. And indeed, The Phantom told Closet Warbucks that he was taking this partner-for-freedom deal. Also maybe we’ll find out why Closet Warbucks wasn’t interested in selling out his partner before the trail began. We’ll see.

Next Week!

If all goes to plan it’s a chance to stop in again on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. and learn all about how the Morgans are adjusting to life with — er, no, actually, it’s a surprising amount of text about comic-book art forgery and crazy exes and the physical infirmities that we all will endure if we live long enough. Join us, won’t you please?

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? September – November 2017


I know, I know, I’m the Internet’s leading resource on recapping the plots of story strips like Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Believe me, I’m doing my best to keep my modesty at an appropriate level. My professionalism compels me to warn you: this is a recap written at the end of November 2017. Stories move on, though, and if it’s much past November 2017 these stories won’t be more than deep background for you. If it’s sometime after March 2018 when you read this, then (all going well) I’ll have another, more-recent-to-you story summary available. You should be able to get it here. Thanks for looking to me for help with exactly what my subject line says.

Also, if you’re interested in my talking about mathematical comic strips, I have a review of last week’s comics from that perspective. One story strip, this time, although it’s not a syndicated newspaper-grade comic so it doesn’t get included here.

Mary Worth.

4 September – 26 November 2017.

We had a real, proper, soap-operatic situation going on last time I checked in on Mary Worth. Dawn Weston, working for the Local Medical Group, is outright smitten with Dr Ned Fletcher. Medical assistant Jared, himself a-smitten with Dawn, discovers that Dr Ned is still married. He reports this to Dawn, who doesn’t want to believe it. Also I’m not sure whether Dr Ned is open with his wife about his side thing, or whether he’s lying to her about what he’s doing those late nights at the office. I suppose he’s lying to her. The Mary Worth universe can support adultery. No way can it support poly relationships. (Plus, even if it did, Dr Ned’s a serious heel for lying to Dawn about his status.)

Dawn: 'You told me you were divorced ... and I fell for you ... believing that!' Dr Ned: 'If I told you the truth, that I'm still married ... I KNEW you wouldn't give us a chance! And as we got to KNOW each other better ... I fell deeper in love with you. I KNOW you feel the same about me, Dawn. My being married DOESN'T have to CHANGE what we have!' (As Dawn flees the restaurant.)
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of September, 2017. So not to show off the two years in middle school and two years in high school that I took French, but Google Translate points out how “L’escargot Mensonger” means “the false snail”. So points to Moy and Brigman for the small points like that. It’s a nice bit of thematic awareness.

At a L’escargot Mensonger dinner, Dawn asks and Dr Ned fesses up: he is married. He doesn’t think that has to change things, because it’s never the guy who lied about his relationship status who does. Dawn runs out on dinner and into the gardening-tool-handling hands of Mary Worth. Mary advises sticking to principles like “not dating married men”, even if it costs the job, and that a man who’s “available and doesn’t trouble her conscience” will be along. Since Dawn was only working for the summer and it’s already a September strip this is a financially viable decision to make, at least. Dawn quits, and tells Jared that he was right all along, and maybe they’ll talk or something later. Mary shows up with muffins and hugs and the confidence that comes from knowing yeah, she’s still the center of the strip.

But there’s other people in the comic. Wilbur Weston left Charterstone and threatened to leave the strip altogether some time ago. He’s got a new gig, interviewing survivors of disasters around the world about their experiences and about the sandwiches they eat now that they’re not dead. And his story returns the 2nd of October. He FaceTimes Iris, his girlfriend back home, with the news he’s staying out a while longer. He’s met someone in Bogota he’s got feelings for, and you know, it was her idea they put their relationship on pause while he globetrotted some more.

Iris is devastated and falls into a long self-inquisitive spiral about whether she could have saved their relationship. Mary Worth, writing Wilbur’s “Ask Wendy” advice column, pontificates on the idea that love is all around, no need to waste it, you might just make it after all, thank you for being a friend, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and brother Dick was lost at sea without his water wings; now he is an angel, and he tries to do amazing things. But that’s all just for the audience; there’s no hint Iris reads the column or knows this advice is out there ready to be heard.

Zak: 'When ZAKIKS exploded in the gaming world ... I created my company, the Zakiks Studio, which is doing Gangbusters!' Iris: 'A new look, a new business ... Zak, I'm impressed! I always knew you had it in you!' Zak: 'Aw, thanks. Iris, though it all ... I thought about you, and I'm glad you're proud of me!' Iris: 'I am. And so happy for you! You deserve it!' Zak: 'You deserve to be happy, too. Are you?' Iris: 'I experienced a recent breakup. 'Happy' hasn't been in my vocabulary for a while.' Zak: 'I'm going to change that.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of November, 2017. So, yes, since spring Zak has had a lot of good life dropping onto him. But what’s he doing being aware of “Gangbusters” even being a word? For crying out loud the radio show ended sixty years ago and this is a guy who didn’t recognize “Here’s looking at you, kid” as a reference to anything. Can the Soap Opera Personality Transplant Fairy instill in people an awareness of old-fashioned catchphrases and slang terms? Well, yes, that’s how the Personality Transplant Fairy works. I just think Zak would say whatever Millennials say for “going like Gangbusters”, if anyone knows what that would be. Oh, ‘Zakiks’ was the game he made, and I got the vibe it was supposed to be a computer game that took off, but the text never actually commits to that. It might be a trendy board game or something.

Anyway, while walking around in a good healing mope, she runs across Zak. You maybe remember Zak. We last saw him early in 2017, taking some classes with Iris at Local Community College. Iris liked him, what with his being attractive and having a pleasant, natural dopiness, but she decided she was waiting for Wilbur. And hey! What do you know? Zak is doing well, having made a game that got popular and buying a briefcase and a car and everything. And he’s up for coffee and dating, so, lucky them.

Meanwhile in Bogota, Wilbur’s been busy having a life, and who saw that coming? His relationship with Fabiana has gotten quite serious. Wilbur’s taking dance lessons and buying her Green Lantern rings. He’s embracing his new life, and her, with an enthusiasm previously reserved for pork roll. She’s consistently looking not quite at him. But he doesn’t notice this until one day when he arrives for salsa lessons early and finds Fabiana deep in the arms of her cousin Pedro. Wilbur begins to suspect that they aren’t even cousins, and that he’s been a fool. There’s no salsa here. There’s not even any chips. Poor guy.

Wilbur: 'Do you believe me now when I tell you I love you, my love?' When Wilbur buys Fabiana an expensive piece of jewelry. Fabiana: 'Wilbur ... I LOVE it! I LOVE it!' Wilbur: 'I like making you happy.' Fabiana: 'I'm VERY happy NOW, mi amor!' Wilbur, thinking: 'Although my BANK ACCOUNT my not like it as much ... Eh! What's money anyway? Compared to AMOR? And I have SOMETHING in the works that will make you even HAPPIER ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of November, 2017. Can’t lie: after the L’escargot mensonger bit of slyness I’m disappointed the jewelry store is just named what Google Translate tells me is “jewelry”. Also wasn’t the dubiously-sourced quote of the week something Milo Bloom told Opus one of the times the penguin tried dating? I’m pretty sure Moy and Brigman could quote Milo on that one.

And there we are. It’s easy to suppose the situation is exactly what it looks like. Fabiana hasn’t been showing having a conversation with Wilbur that wasn’t about how he could buy her things, for example. But it also seems early in Wilbur’s little story segment here. After breaking up with Iris on the second of October his story went on the backburner. The Wilbur-Fabiana thing has only had primary focus since the 13th of November. It seems like there should be time for some twists and turns yet. On the 26th as Wilbur storms out Fabiana does chase after, swearing it isn’t what it looks like and begging her love not to go; so, what the heck. I’m willing to see. Plus, you know, after the last bit of Wilber-Iris-and-Zak storytelling we got CRUISE SHIPS. I don’t know what can match them, if anything, but it’s a good omen going forward.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels.

Auto Surgeon message sign: Knowledge Speaks But Wisdom Listens -Jimi Hendrix.
Oh yeah, so the car care place down the corner has had this as the quote for a couple months now. It’s not telling nearly as evocative a story as the usual auto-care-sign messages go, but it really feels Mary Worth-ready.
  • “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” — Elvis Presley. 3 September 2017.
  • “And if that isn’t the truth, it would be a lie.” — Colin Mochrie, 10 September 2017.
  • “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” — Victor Hugo, 17 September 2017.
  • “The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” — Hubert H Humphrey, 24 September 2017.
  • “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein, 1 October 2017.
  • “Let go. Why do you cling to pain?” — Leo Buscaglia, 8 October 2017.
  • “Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 15 October 2017.
  • “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13, 22 October 2017. OK, I’m like 60 percent confident this one is legit.
  • “Love is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.” — Nicholas Sparks, 29 October 2017.
  • “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” — George Sand, 5 November 2017.
  • “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” — Satchel Paige, 12 November 2017.
  • “Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.” — Unknown, 19 November 2017.
  • “Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.

Next week!

I return to the challenge of doing these recaps without fear or favor, despite knowing that Tony DePaul reads them, as I get to his and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. A new storyline had started shortly after my last update, so this is a much-needed refresher.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? August – November 2017


Greetings, fellow creature who fears nature. If you’re interested in the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, great! I describe it here. At least I do if it’s not too much later than mid-November 2017 for you. If you’re reading this after, like, February 2018 things have possibly moved on and this won’t help you any. If I’ve written a follow-up explanation of the stories I should have them at or near the top of this page. Please check there to see if that’s more useful. If it’s not, well, try this and we’ll see what it can do for you.

And on my other blog, there’s mathematically-themed comic strips. Please consider that too, if you’ve got the time for another blog in your life.

Mark Trail.

28 August – 19 November 2017.

Twelve weeks ago I last reviewed James Allen’s Mark Trail. I predicted then the story was near its end. I had good reason. The story had already been running since something like the 25th of February. (There were a couple weeks of apparently extraneous character setup that looks like teasing for a later story. But it could yet intervene in this story.) And the major story elements seemed to be all set out. Mark Trail, held hostage by an unnamed Rapid City, South Dakota, bank robber, had got to the point where he punches people. He’d also worked out the big plot twist. The woman held hostage with him was not just a snarky comics reviewer but also, secretly, Bank Robber’s accomplice. Trail had arranged his friend Johnny Lone Elk to fake being lost to a ravine accident, the better to come back and punch people. The FBI in cooperation with the local sheriff were closing in on the ghost town to which Trail lead Bank Robber. And severe weather was closing in, ready to fill the story’s quota of “Nature: Too Deadly For Humans” narrative. Also, there may or may not be a bear.

We’re still in this story. I’m as startled as you are. Maybe eight percent more startled. What all has Mark Trail been doing with his time? Let’s recap.

Johnny Lone Elk teamed up with the Sheriff into the bear-bearing caves that lead to the ghost town. While they do have to pass the notoriously cranky Samson, the grizzly is content to let them on their way in exchange for a couple of odd-brand candy bars. So all you people teasing me for stockpiling Zero bars and Squirrel Nut Zippers? Go get eaten by a bear. Johnny and Sheriff get to the tunnels underneath the ghost town. Sheriff fills in some backstory about why the empty town has enough tunnel space to build the Second Avenue Subway.

The spinning blades rip off a windmill. Accomplice shouts 'Look out!' The spinning blades fly toward Mark Trail. Maybe. The perspective seems weird.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of September, 2017. Of the action sequences the last couple months of Mark Trail I think the windmill collapse was the least effective. It’s cinematic, sure. But if the reader has a vague idea how big an Old West Ghost Town windmill is (like I do) then it’s really hard to judge how threatening the thing is. And in still pictures it’s hard to judge how fast it’s moving, or how futile dodging might be. I’ll accept easily that one of them falling loose and flinging at a person would be catastrophic, but it also seems unlikely. Fair enough to have bad luck throw your characters into peril, but it did mean I started out not quite believing what was going on, and then the art didn’t sell me on it.

Mark Trail leads Bank Robber and Accomplice into the ghost town, ahead of the tornado. They’re just in time for the windmill to come flying off the tower and chase them down. But Mark outwits the loose windmill vanes. The horses bolt, but Bank Robber’s able to grab the sack of money off one of them. They take shelter in the town saloon. Across the street, in the bank, Johnny Lone Elk and Sheriff emerge from their subplot, just in time for the rain to clear.

Sheriff shooting at the crooks and Mark Trail. Trail: 'You two should just give up now!' Bank Robber: 'SHUT UP, TRAIL! EVERYBODY STAY DOWN!' Accomplice: 'I'm not cut out for this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of October, 2017. You know the midlist has gotten bad when Sir Arthur C Clarke has to take up bank-robbing and hostage-taking.

Bank Robber whips out his iPhone, in what looks like an Otter protective case. Have to say, I’ve had good experiences with the Otter cases, so, good decision and all. He’s calling for his pickup. Still, Trail warns there’s no reason there can’t still be a tornado, and maybe a hurricane, and maybe a swarm of killer bees piloting tiny F-18s for good measure. Accomplice warns Trail could be right. Bank Robber’s having none of it, and forces Accomplice and Trail to the nearby abandoned airstrip. Sheriff orders them to freeze, and they do, except instead of holding still Bank Robber shoots back. Accomplice does take the chance to run out of the conflict and into Johnny Lone Elk’s custody.

Small aircraft pilot in storm clouds and rain: 'Boy, that wind is getting fierce ... I sure hope he knows what he's doing! ... Seems like we could've planned a less complicated way to pull off this job and get away with it!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of October, 2017. Really not sure how there could possibly be a simpler bank-robbery getaway plan than ‘take a hostage at the airport rental counter and have him drive to a remote town that has an abandoned airstrip where you can fly in and recover him’. I mean, what else could they do, go to some bus-and-train terminal and buy two dozen tickets to random other cities while driving out under cover of being in a 2014 Chevy Malibu too boring to even appear in security camera footage?

Bank Robber keeps Trail hostage, though, walking to the airstrip where his escape pilot — a young-looking Judge Alan Parker sporting a ponytail — ponders how surely there could have been a less complicated getaway plan. But before a vehicle can be safely used for its intended purpose, nature intervenes, and the plane is smacked down by a tornado. Trail tries to use the chaos to grab Bank Robber’s gun, but Bank Robber answers with fists. But a punching match with Mark Trail is almost dumber than force-feeding Popeye a can of spinach. So Bank Robber grabs his pistol. Sheriff throws an axe at Bank Robber, smacking him hard and breaking his hand. (By the time Sheriff could get a clear shot on Bank Robber, his rifle jammed, is why he’s diddling about with an axe.)

Mark Trail yells 'LOOK OUT!!' as he and Bank Robber are thrown forward by the exploding small-aircraft.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of November, 2017. If I were to claim that BOOOM was a short-lived early-60s Mad Magazine imitator noteworthy mostly for once featuring a script by Alan Arkin and a couple spot cartoons by Crockett Johnson of Barnaby and Harold and his Purple Crayon fame, would you believe me? I thought so.

And aircraft pilot Alan Parker? He bailed out just before the plane was destroyed by the tornado. And his parachute was working all right until the tornado turned and hit that, sending him plummeting into a barn. Parker says he’s surprisingly okay, though: “I’m lucky there was still soem hay in this old stable!” So he is. Come this Monday the tornado’s going to drop four cows and a cruise liner on him.

So. Like you see, that’s a lot of stuff happening. It seems like it’s got to be near done now. Accomplice gave herself up to the guest star. Bank Robber’s had all his guns cudgeled out of his hands. Alan Parker’s a shoe-in for a forthcoming Ripley’s Believe It Or Not panel. What really makes sense is for someone to eat pancakes and to do something about counting up the prairie dogs near Rapid City. I still haven’t forgot that was the reason Mark Trail came out here. I’m not leaving this story until I hear about the comeback the prairie dogs are making.

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Coqui Frogs of Puerto Rico, 3 September 2017. They’re invasive in Hawaii and soon California.
  • The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, 10 September 2017. Oil-eating microbes seem to be making things less awful than expected.
  • Hurricane Season, 17 September 2017. This was a couple weeks after Harvey, right after Hurricane Irma, and just as Hurricane Maria got started.
  • Nile Crocodile, 24 September 2017. They’re dying
  • Dracula Orchids, 1 October 2017. They’re terrifying.
  • Black rat snakes, 8 October 2017. They’re eight feet long and emit musk when threatened.
  • Bobbit Worms, 15 October 2017. They’re horrifying.
  • Hydnellum Peckii fungus, 22 October 2017. They’re a “ghoulish” fungus.
  • Trapdoor Spiders, 29 October 2017. Gads, yes, but we need them.
  • Mysterious cross-species altruism, 5 November 2017. It’s not just for social media anymore.
  • Quolls, 12 November 2017. They’re dying.
  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. Too soon to tell but I bet you they’re dying.

Next Week!

Is there life after cruise ships? No, not really. But Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth has been doing its best to carry on as though there were. All goes well, next week, I’ll see what dubiously-sourced quotations from famous people they have to talk about a cruise-less story. Only connect to us, won’t you?

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? August – November 2017


I got back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley a bit quicker than I figured! Last time around I predicted I’d get back to this strip in December 2017, and here it is November 2017, way ahead of that. But the point I made in the preamble there stands. This is a recap of the comic strip’s most recent developments. But if you’re reading this later than, oh, let’s say April 2018 then the strip has moved on. I’ll be out of date. And I may have some more recent-to-you post about what’s going on. You should be able to find it at or near the top of this page.

If you like comic strips that aren’t necessarily story strips you might look at my mathematics blog. There I regularly discuss the recent syndicated comics that did something mathematical. Ideally I don’t ruin the jokes.

Gasoline Alley.

21 August – 11 November 2017.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has, since the 27th of April, been running a very dangerous story. Not that the stakes in it are that high. But in that it’s a crossing of two of the strip’s styles of stories. One is the weepy melodrama. Poverty-stricken kids Emma Sue And Scruffy, and their widowed mother, The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom, moved into the abandoned mill. The kids ran across the curmudgeonly codger Elam Jackson, who softens when he meets them all. Elam Jackson starts repairing The Widow Etc’s mill. Also he begins acts of courtship with The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom.

The danger is that it’s crossed with another of the strip’s story types. This is the Joel And Rufus Story. Joel and Rufus are preposterous, silly characters. They’d make sense on Green Acres. They can have adventures easily. Attaching emotions to them, though? That’s a tall order. Still, Rufus had encountered Emma Sue and Scruffy. He and Joel played Santa for the impoverished kids, back before the August update. Rufus gave some newly weaned kittens to the kids. He’s also got romantic designs on The Widow Etc.

Rufus, to Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'I'll see yo' kids soon! Right now I'm goin' t'say bye t'yo'momma!' Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'Thanks fo' th'kitties! We love 'em, an yo' too!' Rufus at the mill: 'There's Mrs Ruffington over by th'mill wheel with m'friend Elam Jackson!' In the third panel Rufus sees The Widow Etc and Jackson kissing.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of August, 2017. The terrible moment that sends Rufus off to the circus, ultimately. Can’t fault him for being heartbroken after seeing that. But then we the reader know a bit more about what’s going on, such as — a few weeks later — the strips from the week of the 11th.
So this storyline has to balance its absurdist-clown streak with its weepy-melodrama streak. It’s tricky. Anything goes wrong and all narrative could collapse. When we left off Elam Jackson’s courting of The Widow Etc had reached the point of actually kissing, in silhouette, off where Rufus could see. Rufus immediately despairs, a state not at all natural for this goofball. He storms home, puts a note on his mailbox that “I’ve gone away! Ain’t comin’ back! Pleze hol’ my mail!” and even leaves his cats without supervision. Well, he leaves them to Joel, about the same thing.

Jackson: 'I'm sure hot and thirsty, Leela!' The Widow Etc: 'Oh Elam! I appreciate all the work you're doing on the mill! How can I ever repay you?' Jackson: 'How about a kiss?' The Widow Etc: 'How 'bout some iced tea? It'll quench your thirst and COOL you off!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of September, 2017. A fair sampling of the ways The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom politely but unmistakably turns any talk away from romance. Which, given how much she turns away kisses this time, makes one ask what the heck was going on in the previous strip? That the embrace is in silhouette allows for all kinds of mistaken-identity shenanigans. But they also require putting in some character who hasn’t been in the story so far. So, you know? The heck?
The news of Rufus’s disappearance spreads slowly. Scruffy recovers from his bike accident and with Emma Sue visit Rufus’s place to find him missing. They go back home to hear Elam Jackson talking seriously about marriage with The Widow Etc. The worldly Scruffy explains how he knew it was coming to that. But Jackson’s leading questions are left hanging in the air, the 16th of September, and we have not seen these characters since.

But Joel knows things are awry, and so, starting the 19th of September, begins searching in the logical place: other comic strips. Joel and Rufus are at the core of this slapsticky, absurdist, fourth-wall-breaking streak of the comic strip. Why can’t he pop over to Dick Tracy if he likes? So Joel meets up with Tracy slapsticky hillbilly character B O Plenty and then the super-scientific detective himself. Tracy has enough of this within a week and sends Joel back to his own comic strip, right where he left off.

Dick Tracy: 'Joel! What're you doing in my comic strip ? Are you lost?' Joel: 'No! Rufus is! I was lookin' for 'Mr Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons', but reckymembered WE and HE ain't on radio no mo'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of September, 2017. Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons ran on the NBC Blue Network/ABC from 1937 to 1947, and then CBS from 1947 to 1955. It’s mentioned because Jim Scancarelli is trying to get himself installed as an exhibit in the Museum of Old-Time Radio. Also, yes, Gasoline Alley was on radio several times. In 1941 (NBC, Red and then Blue) the daily serial even adapted the then-current storylines to the air. It also ran in 1948-49 in transcribed syndication. There’s some evidence that it was produced in regional radio as early as 1931, but John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio doesn’t pin down where or when. Also, Dick Tracy ran as a kids’ police serial, starting on NBC New England stations in 1934, then bouncing between CBS, Mutual, NBC, and NBC Blue/ABC through to 1948. And this doesn’t matter but there was from 1932 to 1935 a syndicated comedy-mystery serial titled Detectives Black and Blue, about a pair of shipping clerks in Duluth who try for something more.
Just in time, too, since he’d left Becky (his mule) right by a poster for the circus. And Joel knows what this means. He hasn’t become one of YouTube’s top hosts of ‘Let’s Play’ JRPG videos without learning how to recognize the plot rails. He makes his way to the circus tents to see if he can get the next plot point going. It’s hard work, including swinging hammers around, sleeping with the elephants and mules, being haunted by visions of Rufus at all the sideshow posters, and being pressed into clown duty by owner P T Beauregard’s son, a Young Ralph from Sally Forth. This sends Joel to an encounter with another of the Gasoline Alley universe’s many Frank Nelsons. Also it offers some name-drops of Emmett Kelly, Otto Griebling, and (in Joel’s confusion) Walt Kelly. And gives Scancarelli an easy extra 25 points in his bid for installation into the Museum of Old-Time Radio.

Joel, on his mule-drawn wagon, looking very small amidst close-up pictures of tiger and lion and elephant and giraffe heads, while the ringmaster continues his spiel about the circus's offering: 'Lions, tigers, an elephant or two; this isn't all --- it's our pre-view!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of October, 2017. Part of the entry of the gladiators and all that, and taken less because it’s key to the plot and more because I like the composition. There’s not enough craft in the drawing of newspaper comics and I’m glad Scancarelli resists the considerable pressures to put up simple, functional panels.
The show begins! And we get a good week or so of acts and animals and Joel cringing before some well-rendered lions and the like. And then, finally, the 27th of October we learn what’s come of Rufus. He’s the Human Cannonball, like it or not, and over Halloween he’s shot out of the cannon, through the Big Tent’s walls, and into Joel’s haystack. He explains: after seeing Elam Jackson kissing The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom he was heartbroken, ran away from home, and joined the circus. Along the way to the human cannonball job he’d been the beareded lady, the thin man, the four-legged dog, all the stuff Joel saw posters for. It’s not that complicated a story, but it had been two months since readers last saw Jackson or The Widow Etc or the kids. I don’t blame Scancarelli for giving a recap like that.

This week Rufus, deciding he’s had enough of the circus, rides with Joel back to the normal Gasoline Alley continuity. And Joel has hopeful news for Rufus. After getting the mill up and running again, The Widow Etc “done canned yo’ ex-‘fr’end, Elam!”. This is consistent with my reading of The Widow Etc’s reluctance and talking around Jackson’s questioning. It also raises some good questions. For one, how could Joel know that? Based on what we’ve seen on-camera, anyway? For another, what is the difference in pronunciation between “fr’end” and “friend”?

So that’s how the comic balanced the weepy-melodrama and the goofy-slapstick sides of things. Stepping out into another comic strip is going to work for some readers. Doing a month of circus jokes should work for others. But it forgot the weepy melodrama for several months. That’s probably as best as can be done. I’m not sure Rufus (or Joel) can sustain the pain of unrequited love. His getting shot out of a cannon fits him more easily. I’m surprised that Elam Jackson seems to be getting sent back to the primordial xylem of supporting characters from which he came. But I was also surprised to learn Rufus considered him a friend. I had supposed they were people in town who didn’t have much reason to interact.

The story reads as though it’s coming to its conclusion. This extends the strange synchronicity between story strips concluding stories around my recaps. (Of course, a story ending two or three weeks before or after my recap seems “around” my essay. With a margin like that it’s amazing a strip is ever not in synch with my recaps.)

The Sunday strips, not in continuity, have been the usual bunch of spot gags. Can’t say that any of them really stand out. And there’s no story, so, if you want to read one just go ahead and read it; you won’t be confused.

Next Week!

Prairie dogs are making a comeback. Mark Trail came to South Dakota to count these coming-back prairie dogs and blow up vehicles. And he hasn’t got near a prairie dog yet. Stop in here next week to, I hope, see bank robbers, abandoned mining towns, and vehicles exploding, all the important pieces of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Also, never ever EVER go outside. The parts of nature that aren’t trying to kill you are filled with weird life forms that can poison you or be really, really eerie. And the parts that aren’t trying to kill you and aren’t full of horrible lifeforms? The parts that are adorable little creatures like quaggas or obscure variations on hamsters or sharks that look like puppies? They’re dying. (Recommended soundtrack: Sparks, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”.)

Nah, No Wri Mo


I apologize to everyone hoping for my latest novel that I’m not going to participate in National Novel-Writing Month except to reassure friends that it’s fine they missed the 6th, the 9th, and the 14th through 29th except for that time on the 22nd that they realized that a whole page was garbage and they made negative 620 words progress and then finished the 30th at 2,055 words. But I’ve given the world plenty of evidence of what happens when I think of stories. I like to believe I stay on the “kind of charming through enthusiasm” side of things, but, who can tell from inside their own narrative? Anyway it’s all good, the triumph is in trying and if it doesn’t work this time, that doesn’t mean it can’t work.

But to also kind of support folks without doing anything may I offer my guide from a couple years ago, a novel-writing walkthrough? If not, just let it pass and it won’t hurt anyone.

And finally, allow me to point out: it’s just a set of moves. You could do the Monster Mash to any song with the right beat, not just the one you learned it on. You’re welcome.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? August – October 2017


Hello, readers of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Price Valiant. And thanks for coming here to get an idea of what the current storyline is! I’m happy to help. If it’s much later than November 2017 by the time you read this, this essay might be too out of date to help much. Any successor essays I have should be at or near the top of this link, and that might help you get caught up to whatever your present-day is.

Also, mathematics. I read comic strips for their mathematical content too, and posted a new recap of last week’s comics this morning. Give that a try, won’t you?

Prince Valiant.

6 August – 28 October 2017.

Where we’ve been. Prince Valiant and a couple of his closest player-characters have been poking around the Far East. They’ve gotten roped into the troubles of this small band of refugees, themselves victim of many raids. The brigands were doing this as a sideline to being in tyrant Azar Rasa’s army. And now that Valiant and company blew up Rasa the maraduers were in it for themselves. With the help of training sequences Valiant and crew helped the refugees fight off the maraduers. And there’ll never be any trouble for them anymore.

Valiant offers one of the captured bandits a deal. The prisoner gives enough information for Valiant and his trusted aides to raid the bandit camp. In exchange, Valiant tells the wall of angry refugees with pointy sticks to hold off a while. With this surely sound and reliable information, Valiant makes his plan. He’ll recapture refugees stolen for the slave markets. Taloon, one of the refugees, insists on going along even despite her wounded leg. She’s had a hero-crush on Valiant ever since her appearance in the 1961 story The Savage Girl.

Having ridden all through the night, Val's small force waits in position until dawn begins to tinge the Eastern sky. Taloon starts a pot of tinder to smouldering ... lights her tar-soaked arrows .. .and lets them fly to the camp of the bandits below her. Guided by her terrified captive, she is careful to avoid that ger in which the kidnapped refugees are kept. The camp is soon ablaze! Confused bandits, torn awake from drunken sleep, pour frantically from their abodes ... as Val gives the command to charge! His riders are outnumbered, but the slovenly brigands are unprepared for a fight that is brought to their house.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of September, 2017. A ‘ger’ is the Mongolian term for a portable round tent covered in skins or felt. It’s what you might have encountered as a ‘yurt’, and I didn’t know this either until the comic strip made me confront my ignorance. Also I suppose this gives us a better idea just how far Valiant and crew have wandered, if you consider ‘areas where Mongolians exist’ to narrow things down all that much. Also that I am going to be so ready for a word challenge next time I play Scrabble or Boggle.

Valiant and companions follow Taloon’s sound guidance and (checking encounter table) run into one of the bandit camp’s sentries. He never knows what kills him although “knife” is a good guess. At least that’s how it looks in the strip for the 27th of August. The next week he seems to be tied to a tree. The narration for this mentions Valiant uses a technique he “was taught by the natives of that land across the Great Western Sea”. There is a lot I don’t know about Prince Valiant so I have to ask more experienced readers. Are they saying Prince V made it to North America centuries before even the Vikings did? Because, wow, then.

Still, the sun is going to rise soon, and Taloon is ready. She’s got tar-soaked flaming arrows and is ready at dawn to shoot them into all the tents of the bandit encampment. And Valiant charges. Surprise and early morning and general drunkenness of the brigands make up for his smaller numbers. The Hessians try to reorganize near King Street (now Warren). Numair and Vanni, at Valiant’s direction, destroy the horse corral. The stampede adds a nice dose of chaos to the proceedings.

The brigands surrender, except for the chief. He tries to take a girl hostage. He doesn’t know that Karen, of Prince Valiant’s troupe, is a player-character. She beheads him as cleanly as you might imagine they do on the comics page. The freed prisoners — the ones who were refugees — are stunned by all this. The now-prisoners — the ones who were brigands — beg for mercy. They were drafted into Azar Rasa’s army, and when deserting they couldn’t get anything but raiding for the bandit chief Ghorko.

Val's dawn raid on the bandit's camp is a success. Routed by their own stampeded horses, the disheartened brigands quickly surrender. 'And who is the leader here?' asks Val. All eyes turn toward one figure ... who turns and dashes toward the kidnapped refugee girls. He is still trying to grasp just how his world has turned upside down ... but this crafty mind recognizes the strange value these warriors seem to put in the children's lives. He grabs one as a human shield: 'Let me leave, or this one will die!' The bandit chief does not seem to notice that Karen stands in the group behind him. Perhaps all females are undifferentiated commodities to him. As a result of this mistake, Karen easily and precisely removes his head from his shoulders.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 17th of September, 2017. Cut to the guy who used to draw Liberty Meadows saying, “Exciting stuff, huh kids? You never see that in Cathy!” Take that, comic strip that ended its syndication run in 2001! But trust me, that was a sick burn on that comic. But yeah, reading a lot of soap opera strips or the sorts of serial-comic strips like Funky Winkerbean doesn’t really prepare you for stuff happening like that.

Numair speaks up for the brigands, saying he was like them once himself. There’s recaptured horses, and the ten or so brigands, and the recovered prisoners. This might be enough to establish a successful village. The brigands are enthusiastic about this plan, considering how it hasn’t got any part in it where they have their heads chopped off. I like this in plans for myself too.

The refugees are skeptical. But there’s no disputing the recovery of the kidnapped women and the potential breeding stock of horses. Plus there’s the sense their story’s getting pretty close to its natural end. So they’re willing to give this a try. And the captured brigands are happy to get to work, cutting down the logs to build Valiant and company a couple rafts that might lead them to the next story.

And with the 22nd of October, they’re under way. Numair is staying with Taloon, the both of them hoping to start a new life and sort out these refugees’ problems. Murshid is also staying, pairing up with the refugee leader Khorsheed. With that done, Valiant, Bukota, Karen, and Vanni set sail down the river with the ultimate goal of getting back home.

Next Week!

Abraham Lincoln! Moon Men! Casablanca! The Carpenters! What I was honestly expecting to be the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors but was not! This bundle of subjects can only mean one thing: it’s time to check in on scientific super-detective Dick Tracy, as overseen by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis. Be there or miss a great cameo appearance by The Avenger, short-lived old-time-radio duplicate of The Shadow! Or something at least as good.

Why I Am Not A Successful Urban Fantasy Writer


So before you go ahead and take my Urban-Fantasy writing group’s side in throwing me out into the mall food court by the Chinese food stand with the unsettlingly outgoing staff let me explain my work-in-progress. The important thing is the premise. If you don’t have a premise all you have is a bunch of characters milling around. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s literary fiction. I don’t know, I can’t be bothered reading stuff.

So here in this story that’s just on the edge of tomorrow and the limits of possibility, how about a story built around the new digital genie of tomorrow? And it’s a digital genie based on the Freemium model. Yeah, don’t your eyes light up at this prospect? Because you can already hear the digital genie reporting, “You can modify the results of your last wish in 23 hours 58 minutes! Or you can hurry that up by spending 10 Sigloi. Did you want to buy a small bag of Sigloi, a medium bag of Sigloi, or a large bag of Sigloi?”

And I wasn’t even done cackling at my genius when some spoilsport asked, “Sigloi? Really? You can’t just say a bag of coins like every other stupid game like this ever?” and someone else asked, “What is your problem? Are you just in this to research … freaking ancient Persian coins? Is ‘Sigloi’ even plural or is it supposed to be ‘Siglois’ and it doesn’t look any more like a real word the more we look at it”. The person who brings windmill cookies to all the meetings asked whether I see writing as anything but an excuse to do weirdly specific bits of research. “And it’s not even deep research,” she pointed out. “You just put ‘ancient Persian coin’ into Google.” I explained how I did not: I use DuckDuckGo. The conversation was not productive.

My scene speculating this would come to the genie saying, “You don’t have to buy Sigloi! You can earn them by completing a quest! Your first quest: match these advertising slogans up to the fast-food companies that use them and share the results on Facebook!” before four of the group flopped over and played dead until the bookstore sent the Children’s Books section manager around with a push broom to nudge them.

I was barely through describing the central conflict of the book. It’s one of the digital genies coming face-to-face with the partially developed open-source clone digital genie project. There’s all kinds of deep philosophical questions about identity that raises if you don’t actually think very hard about deep philosophical questions. So it’s perfect for my kind of writing! I especially liked the scene where developers complain about people reverting the open-source genie back to the first wish. They say “it screws up the machine-learning routines plus we all see what you’re trying to do there”.

This prompted a customer to quit his project of reorganizing the books in the Computers section to fit his tastes and berate my failure to have the faintest idea of how revision control works. I pointed out that I could well learn plenty about how revision control works except it’s too boring. And the head of the writing group said, “How can a person who owns multiple books about the history of containerized cargo and has opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of them call the center of your own book too boring to learn about?”. Plus the bookstore café people came over to ask what all the shouting was about.

So just before they threw me out the group organizer asked, “Do you have even the slightest idea of what Urban Fantasy is?” No, I do not. I guessed it’s, like, the protagonist is coming to terms with learning she’s part-Billiken while she teaches English as a Second Language classes to zombies in-between her relationship troubles with Bigfoot, who’s always being called off for some crisis at his tech startup company.

They picked me up to evict me more effectively.

Oh but if Bigfoot’s tech startup is involved in the digital genie project then it all counts, right? They have to let me back in now, the rules say!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? July – October 2017


Are you looking for the latest updates about the happenings of The Phantom, the weekday continuity written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Mike Manley? Then you’re in luck! If you’re reading this in late October 2017 or maybe November 2017. If it’s a lot later than that the story will have progressed some. Maybe gotten resolved entirely and gone on to something not even hinted at here. In that case, you might look at this page, which should gather any Phantom essays yet to be written. Future-to-this-writing updates should be there, although they’ll be mixed in with the separate Sunday continuity, written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Terry Beatty.

And if you just like comic strips at all, and don’t care whether there’s stories, my other blog went over the comic strips with mathematics themes today. Might give that a read.

The Phantom (Weekdays)

31 July – 21 October 2017.

Last time I checked in on the weekday continuity we were deep into The Curse Of Old Man Mozz, a story filled with portents of doom for the then-current Ghost Who Walks. Several times in past years there’ve been foreshadowings of the death of the 21st Phantom. And these foreshadowings grew more urgent when disputes between writer Tony DePaul and the syndicate led to his quitting the comic he’s written for decades. DePaul and the syndicate reconciled and he’s resumed writing. But the end of a story DePaul thought “would have been a superb sign-off to my Phantom career sure sounds like Kit Walker might have his last bad day.

The story started with Old Man Mozz having a vision of the future: The Phantom doing his work at a factory that seems to be churning out thugs at a good rate. One of them, hiding behind a waterwheel, gets the break of the century and this nobody shoots The Phantom dead. Diana Walker learns of the vision and gets the Ghost fully briefed on it. Though his friends advise laying low a couple weeks to let the problem pass, Walker insists on going through and doing something about the factory. The nobody killer finds the good hiding spot by the waterwheel and is set for Walker’s raid.

The Phantom has trouble getting his groove. He’s plagued by a sense of being watched. And thinking how he just knows this is where and when he’ll die, a sense he’s certain his ancestors had as their times came. Which, like Guinan told Riker, is a good way to get yourself killed. But he figures to go out with a bang, and a thud, and a klonk, and also setting all the bad guys’ cars on fire. In all the fire and klonking and panicky gunshots by the gang Walker feels the strange comfort of knowing he’s finally in the zone.

Phantom, prowling around the steel girders and dropping down to clobber people. Meanwhile he thinks: 'If my DEATH IS TRULY HERE, FOLLOWING close behind ... ! It had better MOVE FAST if it wants to keep up!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of August, 2017. You know, the Phantom is going to be so embarrassed if it turns out he went to the wrong factory and the one he wanted to raid was the south end of the industrial park. “Why would the Ghost Who Walks want to disrupt our manufacture of galvanized steel U bolts? What did we do?”

The guy Old Man Mozz foresaw dives for cover and waits for The Phantom to finish punching, smacking, or throwing bricks at everybody. His cover’s the waterwheel, as Mozz predicted. And The Phantom, figuring that everybody not punched hard enough has run into the forests, thinks the night over. Except Walker’s got this sense of suden doom, what with this just feeling like the prophecy of death he heard. The nobody at the waterwheel raises his gun, and gets shot and killed by an arrow.

Walker looks at the waterwheel guy, whom he walked past just like the prophecy said. And finds who fired the arrow. It’s Babudan, an archer from the Bandar tribe. He wasn’t sent by Diana exactly; she just described the problem to him and let him figure out whether to save the guy who’s been superheroing all over the place for decades now. Still, Kit Walker’s of surprisingly mixed emotions about not dying by a coward’s hand. He’d sent Kit Junior off to a remote Himalayan school so his successor wouldn’t even hear about his death when it happened. Diana’s “changed the future for all of us,” and he considers how that’s an “awesome responsibility she bears now, for all that follows”. Which, all right, is true enough but most of us carry on despite the existential haze.

Kit Walker to Diana: 'You needed someone to ... talk to?' Diana: 'Babudan's a good listener! You know that!' Kit: 'The good listener you chose just happens to be a master tracker? A warrior without equal? By the way, he's sticking to your story too.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 16th of September, 2017. I never talk enough about the art in the main essays, but let me point it out to you here. The scenes are very nicely rendered depictions of the aftermath of Walker’s exhausting night, after the moment he was expecting to die, back in the arms of his loving wife. And intercut with a scene that recaps why he did not die and how Diana arranged it.

And that brings to a close The Curse of Old Man Mozz. The story ran from the 13th of March through the 23rd of September. So that clocked in at 28 weeks, according to PhantomWiki. The next daily continuity story, The Return of the Locust, began the 25th of September and is, apparently, the 248th daily story. The name suggests a sequel. PhantomWiki notes that The Locust God was a story, the 211th daily, which ran from the 3rd of May to the 28th of August, 2004. And I don’t know anything else about it either. (Well, the story is in Comics Kingdom’s archives so I could go back and read it. Maybe I’ll write up a summary as bonus content for my Patreon subscribers.)

Normal readers don’t need that much help. The Locust walks on stage, is shot as a trespasser, and dissolves into a cloud of locusts. The Phantom explains to one of the baffled archers that he knows the deal. He met the guy in New Mexico once. The Locust has magic powers to rival Mandrake the Magician, who you might remember does exist in the same continuity as The Ghost Who Walks. So that crazypants story about the far-future Time Ladies who kidnap Mandrake to teach them how to be spanked? That’s in-universe for this storyline. The Locust knows The Phantom isn’t an immortal unkillable creature of myth. Also he’s passing himself off as the creator-god of the Navajo people’s mythology, according to The Phantom. I’m sure there’s nothing going on with that which might be uncomfortable in this comic strip about the generations of white guys who’ve tasked themselves with the saving of an African nation.

Phantom, talking to his wolf, as his plane is shot at from atop the tower. 'That's no POP GUN down there! I'd say HANG ON, Devil, if I thought you COULD!' (While rolling the plane.)
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of October, 2017. I do not envy Mike Manley’s challenge in drawing this ground-to-air combat. It’s already hard drawing combat because more panels is more time for stuff to happen, but more panels means smaller panels and so a harder time drawing anything recognizable. And it’s hard to give machines a sense that they’re straining to do things; at least people punching each other can show muscles at work. And it’s hard to give airplanes a sense of motion in a single scene too. Overall: yeah, glad I don’t have the job of drawing this script. Really would have tried to strap Devil in, though, because there’s few times that a loose wolf rolling around the airplane cockpit is a good thing.

The Phantom figures this is the Locust’s way of asking for a meeting, and the logical place is atop Walker’s Table, a remote desert butte accessible only by airplane, which The Phantom luckily has.

Not so luckily: as The Phantom flies in, an anti-aircraft gun crew starts shooting him from atop the Table. As we left the action Saturday, The Phantom was hiding from the artillery in the shadow of the butte, and working out what the heck to do next. It’s a good question for him. For me:

Next week!

I’ll make a stirring return to the days of King Arthur, and check out some people who are nowhere near camelot, as Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant handles Taloon’s hero-crush and some bands of marauders who’ve been hassling refugees.

Why I Am Not A Successful Secret-History Writer


I had gotten nearly one-third of the way through the logline for my next book before the reading group tackled me, sending the manuscript flying into the air and threatening a turnover and significant loss of yardage. But I reached up mightily and regained possession and while it didn’t help me gain the down any, I was able to eventually make my voice heard over the howls of preemptive and I think unjustified pain.

So it starts with ancient alien astronauts and see that’s about where my group started to scream. I didn’t even get to explain how I didn’t mean this in the racist way where we suppose that, like, the Egyptians of thousands of years ago couldn’t think of “pyramids” without help. I don’t see why anyone figures ancient peoples needed help thinking of the idea of “build stuff using stones”. It’s not like they had a stone shortage.

Anyway, my premise — stop tackling! — is how what if ancient astronauts did come to visit the Egyptians in the era of the great pyramid-building phase? Only the aliens don’t use their advanced technology to help the Egyptians build pyramids. Instead the Egyptians are able to use their pyramid-building skills to give the aliens much-needed guidance on how to get their advanced technology to actually work? And then came another round of tackling and a question about “the heck are you thinking” and “even if there is some non-offensive way to do this” and I know, I know. But I’m willing to do the work to treat this material responsibly. I’m like this close to looking up like what millennium was the great pyramid-building boom and getting a book about what Egypt was like as close to then as the branch library has, so you know my sociology would be not provably wrong and that demonstrates my story to be worth telling!

And I can answer questions about how the pyramid-building era of Egyptians could have stuff to tell alien astronauts about their technology. Who are we to figure that they wouldn’t have stuff to teach the other thems? I mean at a responsible, appropriate tutoring rate. I figure any species sophisticated enough to traverse the stars is too ethical to take someone’s consulting advice without fair compensation. If they don’t I don’t want them in my creative universe anyway.

So what do the aliens need help on? Oh, heck, I don’t know. It’s alien technology. It’d be futuristic even today. How am I supposed to go into details? Maybe something about sphere-packing. That’s a mathematics problem about how you can stack together balls of the same size so there’s the least possible wasted space between them. And the best way to do this turns out to imagine you’re the grocer seen in the comedy putting oranges out on a huge stack for the hero to send the villain crashing into. That is, make pyramids.

Now obviously I don’t mean to say the Ancient Egyptians had some supernatural powers of pyramid-building. I think we’ve got a decent idea of roughly how they went about pyramid-building. But imagine you’re an ancient astronaut and you’re put down somewhere with a big pile of stones and a sense that it’s important to start making pyramids. What would you start out by doing? Exactly. There’s all these little skills that you pick up by practice. You don’t just start out at the top of your thing-stacking game. You start out with what seems obvious and you share tips with outer people who want to do this stuff well, and you try some of what they do, and you get it a little wrong and maybe it works out all right. Eventually, you’re a master of the thing.

And that’s what I figure the Ancient Egyptians would be giving in this cultural exchange that I’m sure can be written up into a culturally sensitive and not at all insulting novel. I’m saying I think that issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine was premature in leaping off the shelves and slapping me senseless and into a balled-up mound of flesh over by the board games. I bet my next draft changes everything.

Is this even secret history? I don’t know what to call it. I just mean stuff we don’t realize happened because there was a lot of stuff that happened and we can’t hear about it all.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? July – October 2017


Do you need to know where we are in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop? I’m happy to do my best to catch you up on the storyline. I have my limits, though. I’m writing this in mid-October 2017. If you’re reading this much later than that, the story might have got so far advanced that this isn’t useful. In that case, try checking the top of this page. If I’ve written a further update it should be at or near the top there. Meanwhile, story. here.

If you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, you probably already saw this on my other blog, but what the heck. Never hurts to remind people that a thing exists, until they get tired of it and turn to rioting.

Alley Oop.

24 July – 15 October 2017.

Last time you’ll recall Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop was still wrestling with a spinoff of the pantsless-alien-frog storyline. The alien plant-frog-guy had left behind a mind-control ray gun that Alley Oop smashed and tossed all the way to the rival kingdom of Lem. There, King Tunk patched the thing together and figured to zap his way into, at last, the conquest of Moo. His attempt backfired, and shooting the thing left himself zapped and in King Guz’s power.

Alley Oop: 'You know when Tunk snaps outta this brain fog, he's gonna take Lem and his crown back, don't you?' Guz: 'HE GAVE IT TO ME! YOU'RE MY WITNESS!' Oop: 'Yeah, but it was a game, Guz! I don't think decisions like that count when a person's in a fog like that!' Guz: 'THAT'S WHAT YOU THINK! I ... ' A woozy Tunk: 'Oooohhhhh! Where am I?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of July, 2017. If you’re wondering how Alley Oop resists the urge to clobber everybody in Moo and Lem on the head and just take over for himself, I don’t know. I guess he’s tried a couple times in the past and it’s just too much work keeping everybody from doing something dopey, so it’s easier to hang back in a position where you can snark on everybody.

Guz orders Tunk to turn over his lands, his power, and his crown, and Tunk can’t refuse. Oop, fed up with this disrespect for consent, smashes the ray gun to pieces. Tunk comes to his senses, calls “no way” on his cession. He chases Guz, and the last pieces of the pantsless mind-controlling alien-frog storyline, out of the comic.

The new, and current, story started the 1st of August. “Meanwhile” in the 21st century (it’s their convention, run with it or read some other comic strip), Doctor Wonmug faces civilization’s greatest current menace. Rich white guy idiot M T Mentis III is interested in the time laboratory. His objectives are unclear at first. But the Time Lab could always use some more money. How could you make a profit with just the ability to traverse space and time to an exact spot at any exact second? So after a tour of the slick modern computerized time machine Mentis says what he’s up to.

Wonmug: 'I'm flattered at your interest in the time lab, but it's not for sale.' Mentis: 'Everything is for sale, as long as the right price is offered! Imagine pairing your time machine with my skills! I could visit key events in history to give just the right tweak to keep positive progress on track!' Wonmug: 'WHAT?! M.T., the one rigid rule of time travel is that it is for observation only and that NOTHING can be changed! Any change, no matter how well intentioned, would cause a ripple effect that could threaten our very existence! Mr Mentis, you have wasted your time here! The time lab is NOT for sale at any price to anyone --- especially not to YOU!' Mentis: 'I'm sorry to hear you say that! Take care of him, Gunther!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 20th of August, 2017. Gunther’s doing pretty well as a bodyguard for the world’s richest idiot, which shows you how much people can flourish once they get deported from Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann. I jest, of course, since that’s clearly their Mister Grey.

He’s bored of his career of fixing up struggling companies. He wants to do something with meaning, by which he means buying the Time Lab and using the machinery to fix history. Wonmug is aghast at the idea of deliberately altering history. Even trying could force the comic strip to face potentially premise-wrecking consequences. You prove everything is strictly ordained somehow. Or you make the time travellers complicit in all the atrocities of human history. Or you make the time travellers responsible for destroying every living thing in the present timeline. Any of that’s heavy stuff for a comic strip that does better with, like, Alley Oop punching dopes. Yes, I am aware none of those verb tenses withstands any thought but I’m not getting paid enough to give them proper thought.

Since Mentis isn’t getting this, Wonmug sends himself, Mentis, and Mentis’s bodyguard to Moo and says, “see what you can do with this”. What he does is get chased by dinosaurs until he runs into Alley Oop and falls over, knocked out. When he recovers what he uses as his senses Mentis, shaking the idea that this is a movie set or something, works out a plan: he needs to kill the dinosaurs. After all, humans and dinosaurs shouldn’t coexist and they’re drawn kind of off-model and colored all weird. Alley Oop isn’t having any of it.

Mentis: 'THIS IS ABSURD! YOU CAN'T EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE THIS PLACE IS FOR REAL! YOU MUST HAVE BROUGHT US TO A MOVIE SET!' Alley Oop: 'What do you mean? Of course it's real!' Mentis: 'Why, look around you! See all those dinosaurs?' Oop: 'Of course I do! I'm not blind! They're everywhere!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2017. Tag yourself: which one of these dinosaurs is you when you realize you’re caught in a meeting where you don’t know what’s going on and if you don’t find a way out you’re going to be expected to give an opinion about the next quarter’s projections. For me, it’s the brontosaurs-y guy with a grimace and his teeth exposed.

Oop does admit that King Tunk of Lem is a problem, what with his invading now and then and being kind of a jerk the rest of the time. Mentis proposes a wall, and Oop rolls his eyes so far back into his head they threaten to come around the other side. Mentis figures, well, how about better defenses than Oop’s ax and his fists? Mentis’s bodyguard Gunther epically failed trying out Oop in hand-to-hand combat. But how about if Mentis shows off his superior strategy? Mentis shows off his plan. It’s “holding enough spears and axes and swords and knives at once that Oop barely has to stop laughing long enough to kick him unconscious”. I’m not saying I’d be much better at uplifting the poor noble cavemen if I figured that was my business. I’m not sure what I’d introduce them to, exactly. Soap, I guess. Clean water. A Lockean concept of the social contract. Potatoes. The categorical imperative. I know I wouldn’t try showing off that I could hold too many weapons at once to be able to hold without the whole pile falling and stabbing my foot.

Mentis: 'The key to defense is that you need more weapons than your enemy has! It's such a simple concept! As experienced as you are in hand-to-hand combat, I'm surprised you haven't figured it out before now! I'd show you if I could borrow some weapons!' Alley Oop: 'YOU'RE gonna fight ME?!' Mentis: 'Oh, there will e no need for a fight! You'll see! I could never compete with your muscle, but with weapons, I can show you the superiority of a well-armed fighting force!' Oop: 'Okay, whatever you say! Take your pick!' [ Mentis takes *everything* from the armory, at once. ] Mentis: 'If an enemy came at you armed like this, when all you had was that ax, I'm sure you'd agree you'd be inclined to retreat!' Oop laughs deeply, and kicks Mentis unconscious and ties him up. A recovering Mentis asks: 'What th' ... ?' Oop: 'You needed a free hand!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of October, 2017. So Mentis has made his fortune buying out distressed companies and straightening out their messes. Which implies that there are a lot of companies so incompetently managed that the guy who figured he had achieved Caveman Invulnerability in the first panel of the bottom row there was a major improvement. Based on every corporate history I’ve ever read, this is likely.

Here Oop asks a good question: the heck is Mentis’s deal, anyway? Before the rich idiot can mansplain why he figures he can patch up history despite his manifest incompetence some actual plot intrudes. It’s raiders from Farzoon, seeking slaves for some massive project. Mentis wonders if it might be Stonehenge or the Great Wall because I’m going ahead and assuming he thought Chariots of the Gods was nonfiction. Oop and Mentis hide, but the Farzoonian raiders have their scent.

And that’s got us caught up.

So, still not answered: what is Mentis’s deal, anyway? It’s hard to square someone being bright enough to save struggling companies repeatedly with not being able to see any problems whatsoever in meddling with history. So what’s h out for? I guess it would be admirable if he did just want to fix the messy, terrible sides of history. And that would show up Wonmug and Oop for laughing at him. But if he is then he’s done a pretty poor job thinking through what that implies which, yeah, isn’t impossible. Especially given the casual, light tone of the Alley Oop world.

But it’s also baffling story for the Benders to write. As far as I know Alley Oop has avoided setting out the rules about whether, and how, history can be changed in its time-travel view. The storyline seems to threaten to commit them to something. Dr Wonmug says that history can change and time-travellers have to take care not to screw things up. But I don’t know what his evidence for that is. They seem to have a pretty casual attitude about time-travelling if they are afraid of messing up stuff. Alley Oop can activate the time machine to destinations of his choosing. Alley Oop’s an upstanding person, and he gets up to speed in situations quickly. But would you want to count on a caveman dropped into (say) the Battle of Manzikert to not do something off-script?

I suppose it’ll be avoided, or at least left ambiguous. I’m also curious how Wonmug figures that getting his hat stomped by dinosaurs will help Mentis learn about the interconnectedness of events or whatever his vague lesson is. You’d think just “what if you set it so your parents never met?” would get the point across. I suppose a reasonable person might learn from being shoved headfirst into Moo just how complicated and messy and big the world is and so how implausible it is to “fix” the timeline. But I’m not sure a reasonable person would have done more than have fantasies about history-fixing either.

So, I’m curious whether we’ll learn Mentis has some ulterior motive, or whether he simply believes he’s worked out the killer app for time travel.

Next Week!

We pop back in on the Bandar tribe and learn whether Tony DepPaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom Weekdays continuity has seen the Ghost Who Walks try out dying.

Why I Am Not A Successful Fiction Writer


So we begin with the Ken Russell’s 1975 documentary Tommy about the pinball cult growing out of Roger Daltrey mostly not looking directly at stuff. The cult was going great with people showing up at pinball holiday camps right up to the point they were expected to play pinball. I agree some of those old electromechanical games were brutal, but the mass riots were overreacting. Not really sure what they were expecting. They were expecting free love, by which “they” I mean “guys” and by which “free love” I mean “women don’t get to say no”.

Thing is, it was a worldwide utopian cult. The movie only shows one getting rioted into oblivion. But they showed the giant world map with light bulbs for all the camps all over the place. That sort of stuff doesn’t die easily. Not if you’ve reached the point you have a giant world map with light bulbs. When you’ve got past where you can do a poster from Staples with push-pins you’ve got too much momentum for one day to bring you down. There’s going to be true believers who aren’t going to be shaken off. They’re going to gather somewhere. So it’ll be in some place just rural enough that they can afford the property taxes, but just urban enough that people who want to join the utopian cult can rest assured if the free love doesn’t work out they can still find a department store.

So we follow one in I’m going to go ahead and say west Michigan. A bunch of dreamers who figured they were gonna take it, and go on having pinball contests for tourists who wonder why it doesn’t look like it did in the movie. “We’re fundraising to build a garish arena,” the guides would say. “We’ve almost got enough to build a shoe.” The tourists look on, wondering why the competition still doesn’t look quite like the movie. “Have you had anything at our snack bar?” the guide tries to direct people. “It’s quite good.” It isn’t, but it’s cheap and what, you’re going to schlep all the way to Ludington for lunch?

Anyway, they would offer “silverball” hoagies. They’re meatballs tinted silver. Well, they’re vegetarian meatballs, made of cracked wheat or something late-70s like that. They do something to so it seems exactly like meat when the right person makes it, and just an exotic substance someone can put in their mouth if they choose to, whenever anyone else makes it. Comes with cheese and, if you also buy a roll of color film, a 15-cent discount. Also, yes, baked beans, but you mark yourself as a total doof if you ask for them.

The color comes from a shocking amount of colloidal silver dosed into the “meat” balls, and eventually results in an investigation by the state into just what they’re doing buying that many boxes of dragees and grinding them up. “We don’t eat them regularly, we just feed them to strangers!” is the embarrassing quote that makes every statewide TV station during the 1985 trial for whatever the heck they were up to. The cult gets vindicated when the jury establishes that no, nobody takes the dragees off a cookie or cake before eating it, why would you do that? But it’s a blow to the cult’s attempts to get out of the “free love” image. Figures.

And there’s schisms, of course, because there always are. Electromechanical versus solid-state, obviously, because the early solid state games are totally different from electromechanical pinball machines in ways that are obvious to someone who’s not a pinball aficionado, what with the solid state games having electronic buzzing noises instead of bells. And then I bet when they got into modern games, with dot-matrix displays and complicated rule sets. Let me explain that to people who aren’t pinball fanatics: these are pinball terms. They mean things.

So I figure this gets to the present day, when the unleashing of the new Star Wars game — a game of such unbridled complexity that the only response to it is to sit down and weep some — the camp decides, yes, they’ve done all they can do. It’s time to close up. The last days of the last utopian pinball cult present scenes of such John McPhee-esque piquancy that they’re not even remotely pleasant to read.

My beta readers described it as “I guess what we were getting in for when we let you know we picked up that Murakami book we never did read” and “shocklingly involved arguments about whether it’s ethical to tilt your own ball away as seen from the perspectives of different decades so I guess that’s a thing?”, so hey, I’m in a good place now!

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? July – October 2017


Do you like superhero stories that have a good bit of that Silver Age flair? I mean the melodrama, the plots that get a little goofy but are basically delightful, the stories that touch on serious subjects but avoid being dire or grim, and the resolutions that turn on some crazy fairy-tale logic. So I am, indeed, a fan of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man comic strips. If you’re reading this, I trust you like this sort of thing too, or at least you find it interesting. Also that you want to know what the current storyline is. If you’re reading this around mid-October 2017 you’re in luck: this essay should be on point. If it’s much later than that, the story might have moved on. If I have a more recent update it should be at or near the top of this page. Thank you.

And if you just like comic strip talk in general, my other blog has some mathematics-themed strips to talk about. Nothing deep this time.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

17 July – 8 October 2017.

I didn’t guess last time I reviewed the Amazing Spider-Man what the next recap would include. If I had, I would have included “the end of the current story”. That story saw Peter and Mary Jane Parker in Los Angeles on one of those comic-strip weeklong getaways that runs twelve months of reader time. They discovered Melvin, the Mole-Man Ruler of the Underworld wants to marry Aunt May. He’s free to do that now that he’s been overthrown by Tyrannus, the immortal Augustulus, last ruler of the Roman Empire of the West. And Aunt May’s partial to it too. And, yeah, the comic strip is its own separate continuity from everything else Marvel-branded. Still, I knew Melvin and Aunt May would have something keep them from getting married. Tyrannus leading an army of subterranean monsters to destroy Los Angeles seemed like a good enough excuse.

Thing is, that was back in the middle of July. I thought there were a couple weeks’ worth of Tyrannus invading. People around Spider-Man foiling the invasion while he’s tied up or maybe unconscious. Melvin accepting his responsibility to the Mole People Or Whoever Lives Down There that he has to go rule them. Aunt May not being able to join because she’s allergic to the Mole Kingdom. (I’m not being snarky there. It’s what kept them apart before.) They haven’t got quite there yet. But it does look like it’s going to wrap up soon? Maybe in a couple weeks? I think?

Well, here’s what happened. Peter Parker told Aunt May and Melvin that yeah, actually, they should get married if they want to. They set a date of “pretty soon, considering we’ve both died of old age as many as fourteen times dating back to the era of King Aethelred the Ill-Advised already”. And they both like James Dean. So they figure to marry at Griffith Observatory, taking the Observatory officials entirely by surprise. Mary Jane’s not able to participate in the plot, as a heavy storm trapped her in a side thread about her publicity tour.

Giant octopus-like tentacles grabbing Spider-Man and the Mole Man. As the tentacled beast descends deep into the earth ... Melvin: 'You can't help ME! Go help PETER PARKER - he must be clinging to a LEDGE up above!' Spider-Man: 'I already took care of HIM, Moley. Now it's YOU I've got to --- oh NO you [the monster] don't! No nigh-brainless brute sneaks up on your friendly neighborhood SPIDER-MAN!' As Spidey wrestles with the tentacles. Melvin: 'I should TELL you --- that's a DECTOPUS. It has TEN enormous tentacles!' And the thing slams Spidey. WHILE LEAGUES BELOW: Tyrannus watches this on TV. 'It's like having a FRONT ROW SEAT --- at the greatest GLADIATOR contest of all time!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 27th of August, 2017. I’m so delighted by Melvin the Mole Man correcting Spider-Man’s misapprehension about the number of giant tentacles attacking him that I won’t even point out Spider-Man didn’t call the creature an octopus or anything that would suggest he was only worried about eight tentacles. It also reminds me of an episode of the Disney Hercules series that they made for some reason, where one of a Chauncey-and-Edgar pair says how they’re being attacked by some giant octopuses. “You mean octopodes,” says the other. “What difference does that make?” “I like to be precise.”

Also taking Griffith Observatory by surprise: Tyrannus, who breaks the promise he made to Kala, his wife, that he’d leave Melvin alone. Kala’s content with having conquered the whole of Subterranea and doesn’t see any reason to bother the Mole Man as long as he’s staying on the surface. Well, not taking them completely by surprise. Peter Parker had spotted one of Tyrannus’s drones sneaking around the night before so he expected some kind of attack. But he figured going ahead with the wedding was the best way to get to the next big scene, and what do you know. A bunch of tentacled monsters grab Melvin, and Spider-Man follows close behind. Aunt May and the minister are left at the Observatory.

Melvin’s points out what an unnecessary jerk Tyrannus is being about all this. And Kala quickly joins Team Melvin, which serves as a reminder of how making false promises to your loved ones will come back to you. She gets the chance because Tyrannus is catching a bit of Old Age. He needs to recharge from the Fountain of Youth. This it turns out is a river underneath Los Angeles. Well, it wasn’t always, but with Tyrannus’s recent conquest of Mole Man’s territories he had the river diverted to Los Angeles.

The captive Spidey and Mole Man are witnesses to a subterranean DOMESTIC SPAT ... Kala: 'You LIED to me, Tyrannus! You swore you wouldn't try to SLAY the Mole Man since he'd abdicated and fled to the surface!' Tyrannus: 'Surely you didn't truly BELIEVE that little white lie, wife! I --- WE --- can never sit safely on our thrones while HE lives!' Kala: 'I already ruled my OWN underground realm --- and I SHARED it with you!' Tyrannus: 'Don't you see? I wanted a kingdom I had CONQUERED! Now, I HAVE one, and I'll make it MINE forever, by EXECUTING the Mole Man and his bewebbed protector!' Spider-Man: 'Y'know, it might almost be WORTH dying just to get away from your CORNBALL MONOLOGUES!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 3rd of September, 2017. I didn’t have a good chance in the main essay to mention but, yeah, Tyrannus’s power base was Kala’s lands that he married into. So once again, all the trouble is being caused by a white guy all cranky that he wouldn’t have succeeded without other people giving him help. We’re never going to have a minute’s peace before we stop letting us white guys have positions of authority, you know.

Tyrannus runs off for the sacred chalice with the line drawn on it so he knows how much youth to imbibe. (It’s always a sacred chalice, isn’t it? They never just need a Wawa coffee mug.) Kala pops out the key to Spidey and Melvin’s handcuffs. She expositions about how he needs a drink or he’ll turn 1500 all at once. And she works out how to extort Tyrannus into giving up his conquest plans. Spidey, glad not to have to come up with a plan, goes for it. Spider-Man dams up the River of Youth before Tyrannus can get his drink. Kala tells the ancient Roman Emperor that if he does invade the surface world he’ll be a murderer. He’d have killed the man she fell in love with.

Again, this is what I like in superhero adventures. I don’t think I would have been happier here if Brainiac-5 put in a sudden cross-company appearance.

Tyrannus sends a flock of subterranean monsters after Kala, Spidey, and Melvin. Unless that should be a “herd” of subterranean monsters. (To be precise.) But his monsters can’t match Melvin’s knowledge of the tunnels. And he’s in a bad way, anyway. Without access to the River of Youth water he’s showing his 1500 years and might even get to be older than Aunt May. Kala gets him to make an Imperial Oath to never attack the surface world again, in exchange for Spidey un-blocking the River of Youth. And this one will count. Merlin the Magician made fidelity to Imperial Oaths a condition of the last Western Roman Emperor’s access to eternal youth. Spider-Man takes a moment to reflect on how this is kind of a weird scene. Tyrannus and Melvin shrug and point out, hey, you’re Spider-Man.

Tyrannus: 'You three - have WON! I vow to never ATTACK you again! As my Queen knows, I cannot break an imperial OATH! Such is the bargain I made 15 centuries ago with MERLIN THE MAGICIAN - in exchange for the secret of ETERNAL YOUTH!' Spider-Man: 'I can't believe I'm HEARING this! You're not only the LAST ROMAN EMPEROR, from 476 AD - with his own PRIVATE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH - but you got it from MERLIN? You mean, like - KING ARTHUR'S Merlin?' Mole Man: 'Surely you can accept such FAR-FETCHED tales. After all, didn't I hear that YOU got your powers from the bite of a RADIOACTIVE SPIDER? Now THAT'S something I find difficult to believe!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 8th of October, 2017. Careful there, Melvin. Pick too hard at the plausibility of any of the world and the whole superhero universe is liable to cave in. Also, since I didn’t get to mention this above: ‘bewebbed’? I guess it parses, but should it? Are we all okay with this?

And that’s where we are as of today. Also, so now you see why I figure we’ve got to be near the end of this story. They just have to figure out reasons for Melvin to stay underground and Aunt May not to marry him. Then Peter Parker can head off to the next casually insulting scene.

Maybe you notice. I’ve been enjoying this. I guess there’s high stakes here, what with the threatened conquest of the surface world and all by an immortal Ancient Roman. But in truth it’s an endearing small story about people with goofy costumes and funny names messing up each others’ marriages. And Spider-Man even gets to do some stuff, although at the direction of much better-informed people. Which I like too. Newspaper Spider-Man has a passivity problem. But people with a lick of common sense should shut up and listen to the folks who are experts in their field of expertise. And yeah the story has covered really very few points considering it’s been a quarter of a year. But it’s had a good bit of action and humor and very little spider-moping.

Next Week!

We journey back to the land of Moo and peek in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. There was still more mind-control ray gun story to deal with. After that, Alley Oop faces the biggest problem of 21st century humanity: an idiot white guy with money. See you then, in the past.

Why I Am Not A Successful Alternate-History Writer


So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.

My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”

In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.

My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.

Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.

I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!

Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.

PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? July – September 2017


Are you interested in the current storyline in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker? Are you reading this in or near early October 2017? Because if your answer to both is ‘yes’ then great, glad to have you here. If your answer to the first is ‘yes’ and the second ‘no’, the comic strip might have gotten on to some completely different storyline. So this essay might be true enough but not helpful. If I’ve written a successor it should be at or near the top of this page. If your answer to the first question is ‘no’ I’ll try to be interesting anyway but I admit I feel a little hurt you’d be so blunt.

My last update on Judge Parker storylines came suspiciously close to a change in the plots. This keeps happening with my What’s Going On In updates, by the way. I’m definitely not arranging stuff with Comic Strip Master Command to make these recaps come within a week or so of one story yielding to the next. It’s still weird.

Also, if you like comic strips that talk about mathematics, and all of which ran on the same day last week, you might be interested in my mathematics blog. I get to thinking very hard about something a squirrel said to Broom Hilda, but it’s not all that high-level a discussion.

Judge Parker.

3 July – 30 September 2017

I had said last update that it looked like the one major storyline dormant since Marciuliano took over writing the strip — the whereabouts and activity of April Parker, Super-Secret Spy Person — seemed to be heating up. Current Judge Randy Parker was falling apart with his wife and by-now-born child missing somewhere in one of those foreign countries where the CIA is always sending Super-Secret Spy Persons. Retired Judge Alan Parker was visiting, trying to help him through this. And he brought a guest.

It was April Parker, along with a picture she said was their daughter Charlotte. Who’s somewhere “safe” and “in the country” that she gives Randy. She gives Alan an audio cassette. And then gives herself to the CIA-types who appear at the door, as foretold in the Thursday strip the week before. The CIA types let Alan and Randy keep their tape and the picture, which seems criminally negligent of them, so it’s plausible.

There’s an SD card taped to the back of Randy’s picture. Randy pops over to Sam Driver’s farm and plays April’s tale of entrapment and betrayal. April’s supervisors had been testing her on make-work assignments, and now she’s invited to join a secret sub-unit of the CIA, “patriots who just go that extra step”, the sort of thing that never goes wrong, ever, except for every time, ever. She’s revolted by the rogue agency, even before hearing about the “profit-sharing” potential, and horrified that by going on enough of what she now knows were nonsense assignments she’s been coopted into their group.

A year ago, in a Vienna hotel, April learns she is a rogue agent. (She's choking rogue agent Lakemoor.) 'Just who is this 'agency within the agency' working with, Lakemoor?' Lakemoor: 'Groups that further American interest without having to deal with CIA oversight. Choking's making it hard to talk.' April: 'And I'm so sure these 'groups' do this out of the goodness of their own hearts.' Lakemoor: 'Oh, you know how people are. Everyone has their own interests. We need something from them, and they need something from us, which we provide. That's where the aforementioned profits come in, by the way.' April: 'So I was a courier for state secrets. You made me just as dirty as the rest of you so I couldn't reveal anything without admitting treason. YOU TRAPPED ME!' And she slugs him.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of August, 2017. You might say that Lakemoor’s proposal is ridiculously vague and that his talk of profits from illicit activity implausibly stupid for a person trying to recruit someone into his corrupt ring. If you have missed the entire administration of the Future Disgraced Former President, anyway. Against the backdrop of 2017, Lakemoor comes out looking about four steps more organized and on top of things than David Xanatos ever did.

Norton, her father, pops in. He’s a faintly Dr Strangelove-esque figure with segmented cigar and the ability to kill any number of off-panel henchmen, so he’s well-suited to gun down the agent trying to recruit April. He promises that he can get April to safety, shelter her child when it’s born, and get word back to Randy Parker by way of his contacts.

So that’s what led to the situation as unfurled: April was in hiding long enough to give birth, and prepare her recordings and messages and all that and to wait for the collapsed-clothing-factory and the kidnapped-Sophie stories to reach a quiet patch. And he brings the infant Charlotte Parker to Alan, who’ll have to keep the child in secret until the heat’s off.

Alan and Norton meet in Cavelton. Alan: 'Really, Norton? You had us meet in the factory that collapsed into the sinkhole last year?' Norton: 'Well, this place seemed like a good spot.' Alan: 'You could have just had April hand me a scrap of paper saying to come here. You didn't have to give cryptic clues on some cassette.' Norton: 'You seem tense, friend.' Alan: 'You had me illegally declare you dead. You made me hide the fact my own son's wife was already back in the country until you and she were ready. So yes, I'm not exactly looking forward to what you'll 'kindly ask me' to do next.' Norton: 'It's just one moer thing, Alan ... I want you to meet our granddaughter, Charlotte.' And she's brought in.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of August, 2017. Well, I think I know why Norton had everyone meet in the collapsed factory. It nudges the reader to remembering the factory collapse and the reporter who was on the scene for it last year. This prepares for her reappearance in the strip and her role in turning the scandal what would bury April in prison forever into a big public affair. So, yes, Norton’s motivations might be weird, but Marciuliano’s are good.

Over to Toni Bowen, the reporter who was on the scene when the deranged clothing factory storyline imploded. She’s not had much success since the factory collapse and the kidnapping of Sophie Spencer; her boss points out that the embezzling-stalker truck driver story went nowhere, which is unduly harsh on Marciuliano. It was a weird complicated side thread, but I liked that everyone in a soap opera universe is going through some crazypants events. Anyway, April’s sent her all the news about the rogue CIA agents, which shows that the Parker-Spencer-Davis clan does indeed forgive and bestow blessings even on those who’ve antagonized them, sometimes. Alan Parker, figuring the heat’s off somehow, brings Charlotte to Randy.

So. Three-month jump ahead in time. April Parker’s in jail, promising that between her testimony and her planned excellent behavior she’ll be released in under three years. Randy and Charlotte are as happy as could be. Alan’s wife, Katherine, is still furious enough about all this secret agent nonsense that she’s taken the flash forward as chance to leave, possibly from the strip altogether.

Alan and Katherine Parker fight. 'Katherine, let me explain.' 'Oh, NOW you want to explain?' 'I didn't want to get you involved.' Katherine: 'Involved in what? The fate of my family? The fact that my own granddaughter had to be smuggled in courtesy of a deranged arms dealer?! The fact you were working with him the whole time?!' 'I --- ' 'Enough about what you think, Alan! Let me tell you what I THINK ... I'm your wife. I'm your partner! And when it comes to our family I should know everything. But you kept me in the dark, not just to 'protect' me but to make sure I didn't get angry at you!' 'But I can --- ' 'It's too late, Alan. Go do something else in secret. I have to check on Charlotte.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 10th of September, 2017. Now, to give you the scale of the sort of amusingly dull upbringing I had, the most recent fight I overheard my parents having was over whether, after giving birth to me quite a few years ago, my mother sent my father out of the hospital to get her a hamburger from McDonald’s or from Gino’s Hamburgers on Albany Street. They’ve never been involved in international espionage … that they’ve told me about … although my father did make multiple trips to Poland in the early 80s. Just observing.

And that’s three months mostly spent explaining what April was up to. The story was mostly about characters learning what was, to them, in the past. But it’s not like the strips being flashbacks mean we weren’t watching tense stuff happen. Also we got some idea of who the mysterious figure sending Alan Parker cassette tapes with needlessly cryptic instructions was. (This might have been established before, but I don’t remember it.) And, after a bit over a year of this, I believe Marciuliano has finally taken all the plot threads left over from Woody Wilson’s writing tenure and done something with them. Mostly that’s been tamping them down to involve less unceasing praise of the Parker-Spencer-Davis clan. That’s involved a lot of blowing up the status quo, including another set of people being gunned down. There’s plenty of room to develop the stories from here. Most of the directions involve a lot of things families can quite correctly argue about. Should be quite some potential there.

Next Week!

You know what’s a comic strip that seems very close to wrapping up its current storyline? Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Please join us in Spider-Man’s natural habitat, the cavernous tunnels underneath Los Angeles, where a Roman Emperor with his own Fountain of Youth hopes to launch the conquest of the surface world and also break up Aunt May’s romance with Melvin the Mole Man. I realize I sound like I’m joking about what a Silver Age comic book would do, but no, this is what’s happening.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? July – September 2017


Last week I was all set to talk Gil Thorp when I realized it was Rex Morgan, M.D.‘s turn. I won’t make that mistake again! … But I’m writing this in late September, 2017. If it’s much later than September 2017 for you, the stories might have moved on. At or near the top of this link should be my most recent talk about the high school sports comic strip of high school sports comic strips. I hope something here is what you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in other comics, my mathematics blog discusses some from the past week. I don’t think I explain any of the jokes, but I do talk about what the jokes make me think about. Might like it.

Gil Thorp.

10 July – 23 September 2017

I last discussed Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp near the end of a storyline. Spunky young reporter Dafne had discovered the Milford Mudlarks’ new pitching star was kicked out of private school for hitting his girlfriend. The secrecy that protects young, athletically skilled students makes it hard to be sure exactly what did happen. Dafne, shoving a friend into a door so hard he gets a black eye, comes to learn that sometimes battery just happens and it isn’t an open-and-shut case. She confesses her prior narrow-mindedness to the newspaper editor and is welcomed back onto the staff for a happy ending.

The 17th of July saw the start of a new storyline, one that took nearly two months to unfold. It features Heather Burns, a student who’s likely to be a great trainer or coach someday, and Jaquan Case, an alumni of Gil Thorp here for his tenth-anniversary storyline. I should say, I was not reading Gil Thorp with enough attention ten years ago to say whether Case really was a basketball star in the strip back then. It would make sense if he were. The comic has a surprisingly strong continuity. Stars of one storyline often appear as supporting players in a later one, and even make cameos after that. So I will accept Case as someone who was probably part of the basketball stories in the mid-2000s.

Heather Burns: 'We'll be out here [at the training field] most days.' Trey Davis: 'Us, too. But do me a favor ... keep it on the down-low. We should check in with Coach Thorp, though.' Jaquan Case: 'Absolutely. When I was fighting to be a normal student ... ' Davis: 'Or as normal as the next superstar could be.' Case: 'He was a big help.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 25th of July, 2017. I didn’t do athletics in high school, so I don’t know whether it’s authentic that stars of a decade past get to just come in and train when they feel like even before talking to the coach. I was for a while on the Physics Team, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean I can just pop in to the science classrooms and do that thing where you sit on a barstool chair while turning a spinning bicycle tire around.

And then, mm. Well. There’s events. I just never got into the story. Case and his friend Trey Davis, another ex-comic-strip-character now working as a private coach, hang around the kids playing coach some. And Case is working through some stuff. He’s doing fine in the NBA, but he’s feeling like he lost something when he quit football sophomore year of college. Case wants to move back into football. A couple sessions with True Standish, a more current Gil Thorp quarterback, suggests that yeah, if he really worked at it, Case could be a plausible football player.

So, with this, Coach Thorp makes his excuses to be somewhere not involving athletes having personal problems. Heather Burns steps up, figuring out during a series of workout sessions that Case’s real problem is he doesn’t feel people’s expectations of him in basketball are in line with his idea of himself. So she does some digging and works out that Case could definitely get his Master’s degree in US History, a thing he would totally want. Maybe even go on to a PhD. He even gets ideas of maybe becoming a professor, which shows that even professional athletes in the major leagues who could plausibly switch to another major league have comically unrealistic career dreams. And Case shows his gratitude by hooking Burns up with someone at Iowa who might be able to get her a coaching gig.

Gil Thorp: 'I'm due at Milford CC. Can you give him a lift?' Burns: 'Sure. Jaquan, mind doing some running first?' Jaquan Case: 'Might as well, since my trainer bolted. Say, you're Switzerland in all this --- am I crazy to consider the NFL?' Burns: 'Sure. But that doesn't make it a BAD thing.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of August, 2017. I know that highlighting this comic out of a month’s worth of storyline will make it look like Coach Thorp had almost nothing to do with the characters doing things and making decisions, and when he was roped into the story got out as fast and with as little responsibility as possible.

And that, the 9th of September, closes out a storyline that really looks like it was something happening. But reading it daily, ugh. It just felt like people standing near sports equipment talking about how they might do a different sport instead. And it seemed to go nowhere. Every day I looked at the strip and all I saw was eight months of wandering through Featureless Manhattan in the final year of Apartment 3-G. I think the core trouble might be the premise. 30-year-old professional athlete who feels adrift going back to the High School Coach Who Made All The Difference for advice? Plausible. Getting life advice from the 17-year-old teenage girl with a talent for coaching who knows that she’ll never get a real job at it? Less so.

Gil Thorp: 'Everybody sign up for baseline testing?' Assistant coach guy: 'Yup. By the first game, we'll have basic info on every kid. Measuring brain function with tests ... do you believe in it?' Thorp: 'I believe in anything that might keep these kids healthy --- and keep their parents from worrying.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2017. I’m sorry, I don’t know who the assistant-y coach-y guy is, but I do like that the second panel is something like one-fifth of all album covers from 1978 through 1985.

OK. So. The 11th saw the new storyline start. It features Rick Soto, who yields to his Uncle Gary’s pressure to play at the Elks Club Talent Show. There, apparently, his version of “Mack the Knife” steals the show. If I haven’t missed anything they haven’t said what instrument Rick plays, but that’s all right. He’s also a left tackle, which gives the Gil Thorp comic strip jurisdiction over his life story. Also, Coach Thorp is for the first time testing his players for brain function. This seems to set up a storyline about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is certainly the sort of thing this comic strip should talk about. (I do wonder, too, if the current moral imperative to Take A Knee won’t disrupt whatever Rubin and Whigham have planned.) But two weeks in there’s no guessing where any of that might go. I just include this so I have the first paragraph written of my next Gil Thorp plot summary written.

Next Week!

International espionage, secret government jink-enhighening, and a reporter’s last-ditch effort to save her career as we go back to Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Unanswerable: will we have any judge-work going on?

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


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

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

Rex Morgan, M.D.

26 June – 17 September 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


Thank you, reader, for being interested in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. This essay is about the Sundays-only continuity, which runs independently of DePaul and Mike Manley’s Monday-to-Saturday Phantom storylines. I have updates on those as well. The weekday story recaps, as well as any Sunday story recaps that have been posted since the mid-September 2017 writing of this essay, should be at this link. Good luck finding what you were looking for.

And if you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematical themes, please consider my mathematics blog, which reviewed some of them earlier today. And should review some on Tuesday, too.

The Phantom.

14 May – 9 September 2017.

The current storyline — The Phantom is Everywhere — began with the Jungle Patrol jailing some of the terrorist Chatu’s followers. The Phantom’s private little army was celebrating the three arrests when I last reviewed the Sunday Phantom continuity. The killers broke out of jail, though, killing several on their way. This quite riles up the Jungle Patrol, to the point they might have done something irresponsible for a self-selected private army acting outside the control of any governing body.

But they come to their senses, checking in with the Unknown Commander, so far as they know. Luckily it’s is The Phantom they check with. The Phantom’s plan regarding the fugitive terrorist supporters: find them. For this, he doesn’t rely on the Jungle Patrol but rather the many associates of the Bandar Tribe. The Phantom, Babudan, and Guran take their drummers and their expertise to hunt each of the three killers.

Killers on the run. Trail starts here. Jungle Patrol officer on the phone: 'Oh, nothing much, securing a crime scene. So, how have you been? ... Really? And then what did you say?' Guran taps her shoulder. 'Officer?' And blows some sleeping powder into the officer's face. Person on the phone: 'Hello? Did I lose you?' The Phantom and his partners look over the tracks. The Phantom thinks: 'When these killers split up, Devil can't do all the tracking we need. Enter Babudan! Master Trail Finder!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 18th of June, 2017. I’m glad to have a Master Trail Finder on the job, since when this is wrapped up they can pop over to North Dakota and not just arrest the bank robber but also help Mark finally do that prairie dog census.

The drummers are an important part of the plan. Their drumming serves to instill in each of the killers the sense that The Ghost Who Walks might be nearby. At any moment he might appear and punch them out. And then what do you know, but he appears and punches them out. That’s probably fairly good psychology, although as storytelling it got confusing. For a couple weeks there it seemed like The Phantom was sneaking up on the same guy, by a campfire, and decking him, week after week. That they were different people didn’t quite stand out at weekly intervals.

It also suggests that the splitting-up of the three killers wasn’t all that useful a plan. They might, theoretically, have ganged up on The Phantom had they stuck together. But they probably also guessed they’d be separated more than about fifteen minutes before The Phantom got the drop on them. I gather they’re supposed to be pretty well-separated. But the three were found in the same night, and The Phantom was able to drop in and clobber each before sunrise.

So, The Phantom was able to deliver the killers into Jungle Patrol custody by morning. Presumably this will satisfy the desire for vengeance that threatened Jungle Patrol’s operating morale. And serve the cause of justice by putting the accused in the hands of a privately-raised police force whose funding and lines of authority are not at all clear to me. Probably nothing to worry about there.

'Phantom moves faster than lightning' --- Old Jungle Saying. Phantom, beating up one of the killers: 'HOW MANY EARS have you filled with THE PYTHON's hateful words?' Killer: 'My COMRADES, Phantom! Find them!! Take them! I beg you!' Phantom: 'I AM taking them. I'm taking you ALL ... at this very moment in time. NONE OF YOU are safe tonight!' Killer, drawing his gun in what he thinks is secrecy: 'I --- I follow YOU now, Phantom! I RENOUNCE the PYTHON! I --- ' And the Phantom slugs him.
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 6th of August, 2017. So I suppose the intent was to give the killers a story that would let them think that maybe somehow all three of them were caught at the same time by The Phantom, and so enhance his prestige as a supernatural entity. Fine enough, although having The Phantom actually there means he does have to be in three possibly distant parts of the jungle nearly simultaneously, and that none of the three have to have checked their phones or watches to see about what time it is, so they could tell the timeline wasn’t actually that close. Also, yeah, I missed the guy in the penultimate panel drawing his gun the first time through, and thought he was just taking that craven turn to the bigger-scarier-boss-guy, which The Phantom would reject on principle. I’m a very word-balloon-oriented reader, I admit.

There’s not been a formal wrap-up panel. But this week’s installation feels like the resolution. I can see, especially reading the whole sequence in short order to summarize the plot, how it works. Still, my impression as the story progressed especially in July and August was that of not being sure I hadn’t seen The Phantom sneak up on and punch this guy last week? Or was that the previous guy? Or was it just a lot of punching? Read all together, the story flows more obviously, although that also points out how linear the narrative was. The Sunday continuity does have a disadvantage, though. It’s much harder to fit a story in to about six panels of space per week; compare how more complex the weekday storyline has been over roughly the same couple months. I am interested in seeing how the Jungle Patrol, riled by the killers escaping prison, reacts to their recapture not involving a single member of the Patrol besides the Unknown Commander. That ought to involve some weird political dynamics.

I hope to be able to share that in the next essay describing what’s going on in The Phantom, in probably something like three months.

Next Week!

It’s time to return to one of the inspirations for these What’s Going On In essays, as I try to explain Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D..

From The August 2017 Scraps File


More text that I couldn’t do anything with. If you can, congratulations!

Another problem is my speaking voice I sound like I’m being sarcastic. It’s an endemic problem with my family. Something in our upbringing caused us to transmute all our deepest Jersey vowels and verbal tics into, instead, conveying an eye-roll with the way we say words like “Hello” and “which”. I don’t think it was just my siblings and I trying to preemptively put one another down. We love each other, so far as we tell each other. But I can’t even say, “I spilled some tea and wanted to wipe it up” without sounding like I’m the one being hostile. I didn’t spill the tea on purpose. Anyway, a heavy dose of sarcasm is fine for some conversations, but not if you’re trying to make a real argument that, like, William Shatner showed a deft touch in some of the scenes he directed in Star Trek V: The One William Shatner Directed. See? You already think that’s me being sarcastic. — Cut from last week’s discussion about my lack of podcasting because it’s one of those paragraphs I thought up while in bed and figured oh, I’m definitely putting that in when I get up in the morning, and it was two days after I posted it.

ham sanitizer — Look, sometimes when you want to write a high-volume humor thingy you just go into these free-association free-form things and jot down whatever comes to mind and then you look at it afterwards and have to shrug because it doesn’t always pan out.

“The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic.” — Yes, that old Wikipedia statement once again, because I just can not make myself believe there’s nothing in there. But August was another month where whatever is there didn’t turn up for me. Maybe September.

hand satirizer — Again from the free-association free-form thingy and the thing to remember is that just because an idea pops into your head doesn’t mean you owe it the slightest gratitude for doing so. If it’s a good idea it’ll do some heavy lifting on its own and show why it’s a good idea and you don’t have to try building up every pair of words until it’s something.

Oh, yeah, I know how these things come about. You’re minding your own business and then you see this bolt of light and stop the car to examine. It’s this desperate, crashed alien who rallies himself from death long enough to transfer onto you a weird tattoo that tingles with a body-encompassing energy. The alien turns out to be this mutant human who half a millennium ago was a minor Dutch nobleman before being struck by a comet that granted him astounding superpowers he struggled to keep secret in his new not-quite-immortal life. Then you go on to discover that your own son, born with the powers of your now mutating body, will travel back in time hundreds of years to create a comet bearing the superpower tattoo, that proceeds to hit his own later self, given amnesia and planted in the Netherlands to be hit by the energy-bringing comet that sets this whole time loop into motion. I must know like twenty guys that’s happened to. — Cut because the person who was talking about this said no, he thought the character just inherited magical abilities from his father, and I pointed out that technically speaking that’s true in my scenario too, and the person shook his head sadly and walked away. This led us into a good argument about whether this would have been creating a paradox, or resolving a paradox, or avoiding a paradox altogether, and long story short we’re not speaking anymore and that person is justified.

yam sani– — No. Just, you know? No.

If you or someone you love is able to make use of these scraps please submit a comment care of the Bishopric of Utrecht, 1024 – 1528. Please be advised that responses might be delayed, as, according to a quick skim of Wikipedia’s articles abou the history of the Netherlands, it seems like there was a lot of investituring and annulling was going on back then and that probably has everyone quite distracted.

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


Have you been wondering what the current storyline is in James Allen’s Mark Trail? You’re not alone. The past several months have been this story about Mark Trail and a bank robber and a much-delayed census of prairie dogs in North Dakota. It’s possible that this story, which was going on in August of 2017, has ended by the time you read this. I admit, right now, it’s hard to imagine that. But if “prairie dog bank robber rental car” seem like words completely irrelevant to what you’re reading in the comic strip, maybe this essay is just out of date. At or near the top of this page should be my most recent Mark Trail update essay. I hope that helps you out.

If you’re interested in other comic strips, my other blog reviews the comics that touched on mathematical topics. You might find that interesting. I don’t see why you wouldn’t. You know that thing where you write out a long number, grouped in bunches of three? Like, 10,000,000 instead of, say, 10,00,00,00 or 1000,0000? You know how long people have been doing that? I tell you over there.

Mark Trail.

11 June – 26 August 2017.

It’s been eleven weeks since I last reviewed the action in Mark Trail. Back then I thought we might be drawing near the end of a story that began in mid-March, about Mark Trail held hostage by a bank robber instead of doing a prairie dog census. I misjudged the story length. But now I really, truly, think we’re coming near the end of the story. We’re at the point that every James Allen Mark Trail reaches: the point where Nature tries to kill everybody. The story had promised “bad weather” last time around, but now we’ve got it.

Where we had been: Mark Trail, trying to rent a car in Rapid City, South Dakota, is approached by an armed gunman with a hostage. He’s robbed a bank and wants Trail to drive him to safety. Trail superficially complies but somehow alerts the car rental agency that he’s in distress. Trail drives the bank robber and hostage to the cabin of Johnny Lone Elk, where Trail picks up his friend and they all shift to horseback. Lone Elk knows something’s wrong and he and Trail talk trick riding, while Lone Elk’s wife suspects something’s up.

Trail and Lone Elk tell the Bank Robber (still unnamed, by the way) and Hostage that there’s a major storm coming. The least incredibly unsafe course is to go down the Vulture Creek ridge. The Bank Robber and Hostage go along with this plan, but they’re not near the ghost town they hope to reach before the rain gets heavy. Lightning explodes a tree next to Lone Elk, and his horse panics, leaping over the edge of the ravine.

Meanwhile — just a second here. I do mean “meanwhile”. Something James Allen’s brought to Mark Trail has been a relenting of the stories’ linearity. We can get information on separate threads. It’s not as unsettling as Allen’s choice to have Mark Trail sometimes think a thing instead of saying it aloud at the top of his lungs with random words emphasized. But it’s still a surprise for the long-time reader. That’s just the world we live in anymore.

FBI Agent John Paul: 'Mrs Trail, you seem remarkably calm for someone whose husband has been kidnapped by bank robber!' Cherry Trail: 'Agent JP, have you ever met my husband?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of June, 2017. “The only thing I would worry about is if my husband were kidnapped by bank robbers while being out in a major storm out in the open, trying to get to a ghost town occupied by a provoked grizzly bear! But what are the odds of that?”

Meanwhile, FBI Agent John Paul is on the case, because of the bank robbery. The car rental agent recognized Mark Trail and figured something weird was going on, I think because Trail rented a minivan and not a giant squirrel. He asks Cherry Trail about who Mark Trail expected to meet and where they were. And then why Mark Trail skipped out on his own reservation, instead using one for “Lesley Joyce” at “WaterWorld”. Cherry Trail finds this hilarious, but can explain: Mark surely figured this would be a way to alert people without raising Bank Robber’s suspicions. John Paul is surprised by Cherry Trail’s calm, but she points out she’s been in this strip since like the 40s. Mark’s been through way more serious hostage situations than this.

Lesley Joyce enters the narrative to explain while showing off every pose from How To Draw Realistic Fashion Design Figures ever. Trail and Lone Elk had been hired by Joyce and WaterWorld Theme Park to film a walrus giving birth. The walrus got loose, but Trail and Lone Elk found her. They loaded her into Joyce’s new Escalade, and on the drive back the walrus gave birth to twins. The car technically survived. So if you remember being confused when Cadillac kept running those “pregnant walrus” ads for the Escalade, now you know why they were doing it. And this all ties in to the current story because the car rental contract Trail had with WaterWorld from back then was somehow still open, and he could use that to get Joyce’s attention at least?

Lesley Joyce: 'Thanks to Mark Trail, the pregnant walrus proceeded to deliver twin baby walruses all over the back of my brand-new vehicle!' The strip includes an image of the scene, with the car shattered by its interior walrus.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of July, 2017. Words cannot express just how many different poses and how many facial expressions Lesley Joyce took on during this anecdote, which ran in the daily strips from the 29th of June through the 15th of July. The anecdote was all Lesley Joyce striking a pose and FBI Agent John Paul saying this is hilarious, please go on. It almost read like that Futurama episode mocking silent movies. If you find someone who can use this as the storyboard for a live-action scene that reads naturally, hire them: they can film anything.

I admit this all seems like a lot of story time spent on a tiny point. It isn’t as if the FBI wasn’t looking for the Bank Robber or as they didn’t find the Mark Trail connection on their own. But it’s realistic that Mark Trail couldn’t know that, and would send out whatever distress signals he could. And that car rental counters don’t offer a lot of chances.

The FBI works out something about the bank robbery security footage and the car rental counter footage. The female hostage in the second is one of the Bank Robber’s accomplices in the first. Remember what I said about James Allen making the Mark Trail stories less relentlessly linear? The twist took me by surprise, yes. On rereading the story, I have to grant: Bank Robber and Hostage/Accomplice’s interactions make much more sense now. It wasn’t planted by anything overt; it was just interactions.

FBI Agent John Paul(?): 'The woman who helped rob the bank and the female hostage in the airport video ... they are one and the same!' Other FBI Agent: 'WHAT!?' FBI Agent: 'Yep! - She's a willing accomplice ... and she's armed!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of July, 2017. Agent John Paul delivers what is a real, legitimate plot twist in this storyline. Also, I don’t know the name of the guy in the second panel so I don’t know whether to call him Agent George Ringo or Agent Benedict Francis. But I’m going to be ripping that off for Telegram stickers.

The FBI follows Trail’s … trail, into the storm, and they borrow horses from the local town sheriff to get to the ghost town. The storm’s getting worse, with tornadoes in the area.

Meanwhile, Johnny Lone Elk turns out not to have died by falling down the ravine. The plan was to go down a not-as-steep-as-it-looks part of the ravine to fake his death. Then Lone Elk would get help while Mark Trail manages a distraction, by which we mean, while Mark Trail punches somebody.

Mark Trail, punching Bank Robber: 'I have had ENOUGH of you I'm DONE with your attitude!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 9th of August, 2017. Yeah, so me acting like that is why I’m not allowed at my local Congressman’s town hall meetings anymore, but I feel that history and the Free American provisional government will forgive me.

Besides punching the Bank Robber, Trail reveals he saw through the Hostage/Accomplice long ago. Trail explains he knows terror-stricken people when he sees them and she wasn’t it. … Which, is fair enough. But as fun as punching and yelling at people is, the storm’s getting worse and they need to get to the ghost town.

Lone Elk finds the sheriff, and they agree to head over to the caves where a big old grizzly bear named Samson lives. They figure this is the best way to get to the ghost town through the rain and maybe get the Bank Robber eaten by a bear. And that’s where the story stands right now. We’ll see how that all turns out, and see whether we do eventually find out how many prairie dogs live near Rapid City, South Dakota.

Sunday Animals Watch.

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

  • Tornadoes, 11 June 2017
  • Bees and Wasps, 18 June 2017
  • Giant African Snails, 25 June 2017
  • Egyptian Fruit Bats, 2 July 2017 (we understand their arguments! Weird, huh?)
  • Komodo dragons, 9 July 2017
  • Hoopoe (birds), 16 July 2017
  • Pygmy Dormouse, 23 July 2017
  • Slipper Lobsters, 30 July 2017
  • Roseate Spoonbills, 6 August 2017
  • Cook Pines, 13 August 2017 (wait, they grow at an angle proportionate to the latitude? The heck?)
  • Bay Cats, 20 August 2017
  • Whales as ecological influencers, 27 August 2017

Next Week!

I don’t want everyone out there quivering too hard with anticipation, because it doesn’t have as many cruise ships! as it could have. But still: Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth is back!