What’s Going On In Mary Worth? And What Are We Going To Do With All These Muffins? November 2017 – February 2018

Do you have no idea why I should be giddy about the concepts of muffins? Yet you’re interested in what the heck the current storyline is in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? That might be because it’s not February or maybe March 2018 when you’re reading this, and the story’s moved on. If it has, please check this link. If I’ve written another essay describing the plot since this one, it should be at or near the top of that page.

Also, I review comic strips for their mathematical contest. That’s over on my other blog, and if you’d like to hear about story problems as deconstructed by Flo and Friends please give that a try. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up Flo and Friends as a comic strip title.

Mary Worth.

27 November 2017 – 18 February 2018.

My last essay on the events in Mary Worth came at an exciting moment. Wilbur Weston, travelling the world to ask survivors of disasters how they felt about not being dead, had found his girlfriend Fabiana in the arms of her “cousin”. He stormed out of the dance studio. I thought it was too early in the storyline for his relationship with her to have collapsed. She’d only been introduced a few weeks before. Right as Wilbur told his on-hiatus girlfriend Iris that he’d met someone else and it was after all Iris’s idea to go on hiatus. Not so, though. He flies back home and shows no sign of ever wishing anything to do with Fabiana ever again.

Wilbur, thinking: 'I broke up with Iris ... but these things are fluid. We can make up. And it'll be like it never happend!' (He calls her.) Iris: 'Hello?' Wilbur: 'Iris, it's Wilbur. You must be surprised to hear from me, but I'm back in Santa Royale! And I have so much to tell you!' Iris: 'Um ... ' Wilbur: 'No, don't say anything! Save it for tonight. I want to take you to dinner! We can catch up and I can explain ... ' Iris: 'Wilbur, I can't! I have other plans ... and his name is Zak!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of December, 2017. Have to say Wilbur is more energetic and outgoing after spending a year on the road than I am after spending a weekend at Holiday World amusement park. But he’s the one raking in those big newspaper-advice-columnist and feature-report paychecks.

Wilbur strolls back into his home life. He calls Iris with all the confidence of a balding, sandwich-based newspaper advice columnist who wears a bathrobe made of the curved fabric of spacetime itself. And he’s shocked to learn that she’s got plans with a guy named Zak that she hooked back up with right after he dumped her. Wilbur takes this well. I mean that he spends a couple weeks crouching in bushes to figure out how much of a rebound this guy is. And just how temporarily Iris will be interested Zak. He’s a young, rich, generically attractive man who owns his own game company and a car and chin stubble that looks like it’s on purpose and not that he’s incompetent at shaving. Wilbur figures to win Iris back, and gets the first step — roses — ready to deploy when he hears Iris and Zak telling each other “love you”. And that convinces him it’s all over.

This takes us to the 1st of January. And something I could not have appreciated at the time. In the midst of cleaning up Wilbur’s emotional mess, Mary Worth points out that she’s made muffins.

I do not think I am the only reader of Mary Worth blindsided by the strip’s turn to muffins. But let me give you this to consider: the 18th of February was the 49th day of the year. Since the 1st of January, 2018, Mary’s Muffins have either been shown or been named in no less than 48 separate panels. That’s not counting panels in which the characters are talking about Mary Worth’s muffins. Or discussing the implications of the fact that these muffins exist in the Worthyverse. This is literally just the panels in which a muffin is shown or the word “muffin” appears in text. And yes, this is in no small part because Mary’s Muffins have somehow transmogrified from an alliterative phrase that sounds like it might be naughty into a plot to rival CRUISE SHIPS. But that’s also with the first several weeks being devoted to getting Wilbur to stop his nonsense about how he’s through with love. Of the 133 panels the strip presented from the new year through to Sunday, more than one in three has focused on muffins. I don’t believe that Karen Moy and June Brigman are creating drinking games for the snark community. But I can’t rule it out either.

Anyway. Plot. Wilbur declares he is through and will live the rest of his life without love. Mary points out that’s ridiculous: he may have lost Iris as a girlfriend. But he still has mayonnaise. And here’s a large pile of muffins that aren’t going to eat themselves. And he’s got a daughter he kind of waved to between coming home from Colombia and creeping on Zak and Iris. Plus, this is the Worthyverse so he will pair-bond with some appropriate heterosexual partner and they will be happy together or else. He takes a bag of muffins to his daughter Dawn. They have a heart-to-heart that’s uncomfortably close to how my every phone call with my mother goes (“How’ve you been?” “Pretty good, and you?” “Good. … Uhm … so … guess I’ll catch you next week?”). He walks through a couple sunrises and figures, hey, he’s not dead. That’s doing pretty good these days.

Dawn: 'While you were gone, I pictured you on the road. And I tried to send you good thoughts through the ethers. I missed you, Dad. I thought a lot about you and your travels.' Wilbur: 'My travels were full of extremes ... high and lows. It's comforting to be home, Dawn. To be stable in a familiar place, with familiar people. I want to start the new year with the right perspective. I saw so much while I was overseas. I realize now ... I'm lucky. I'm blessed. And I'm loved.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 14th of January, 2018. Did you spot the muffin in this comic strip? Look again! IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

The 22nd of January the current wonder of a storyline gets going. It includes a panel that does not explicitly feature muffins. It does have clear muffin-related content since it’s got a bag of flower, and a bowl with more flour in it, and a stirring spoon. Jeff’s old friend Ted Miller is in town, and Mary’s happy to treat him to dinner. Ted Miller loves dinner. He loves even more the muffins that Mary serves as appetizer while the rib roast finishes. He’s a former salesman, so he knows ways of the business world, such as how to keep his face open to the exact same wide-eyed smile for days on end.

Ted’s sure that Mary Muffins could become a major success in the bread-adjacent food products line. And that could just be the start of a whole Mary Worth Food Universe of in-principle consumable matter. He plies her with the idea of fame. She’s enchanted by the idea, but in the way any of us are, not enough to do something. He tells her of how she could make a fortune. She’s got dreams of immense wealth, again as we all do, but she’s comfortable as she is. He finally deploys generically positive aphorisms like “Nothing in life is guaranteed! Does that mean we shouldn’t live it?” and “Don’t let fear stop you from doing something great!” and “Don’t be afraid of risk!”. Ted’s found her weak point. She goes to work making test muffins.

Ted, ecstatic over muffins: 'A new BUSINESS VENTURE! 'Mary Muffins are so GOOD, they're a GIFT for your taste buds!'.' Jeff: 'Ted's a former salesman.' Mary: 'I can tell.' Ted: 'YOU can make the muffins! I can handle the marketing! We can BOTH make it RICH!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 26th of January, 2018. Going out on a limb here and guessing that Ted was not invited back to the advertising team’s copy-writing sessions.

By the time that muffins became two-thirds of all the words spoken by all the characters in Mary Worth the ordinary reader had one question. I don’t know what it is. I know the question that the alert, partly-ironic reader had. That was: what’s Ted’s deal, anyway? He mentioned a couple times how Mary Worth would have to put up an investment to get Mary Muffins going. And that she’d really have to do work in making the stuff while he dealt with marketing and “details”. Could it be as simple as Ted Miller scamming a woman who could be flattered into believing the world needs to know how well she bakes?

[ WHEN TED MILLER CALLS MARY ... ] Ted: 'Mary, have you thought about marketing your muffins?' Mary: 'I have! I'm actually baking test batches now! Would you like to come over and join me for some taste tests?' Ted: 'I'M ON MY WAY!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of February, 2018. So the last time I specifically remember making muffins was in home ec in 8th grade, and that mostly because it was as fun as middle school can possibly get to be baking stuff in a little kitchen inside the B Wing. Also that they had wartime-propaganda-style posters warning DON’T OVERMIX – BECAUSE IT CAN’T BE FIXED if you were to make your muffins wrong. As an eighth grader I accepted this was something to warn about, although my father, wise beyond even my years, asked what exactly was the big deal about over-mixed muffin batter. The poster suggested it would cause the tops of the muffins to be more conical than the show breed ideal. I … guess that’s it? Anyway, flash forward to today and I don’t make anything more complicated than Noodle-Roni, except I slice up some Morning Star Farms vegetarian sausages and toss them in to make it as exciting as butter noodles can be.

Possibly. It seems a bit odd to have an old friend of Jeff’s turn out to be a scam artist. But the strip had Jeff back down on how well he did know Ted, saying (on the 17th of February) that he knew him “casually, a long time ago”. And also this past week we’ve had Ted declare how he and Mary Worth will be a great team, and go in for a hug that he doesn’t go out of for several days of strip action. Not until Mary warns she’s got an appointment and shoves him into the linen closet. Is it possible he’s a masher?

Could be. I admit I am not sure what Ted’s deal is. A confidence scam based on Mary Worth’s cooking abilities would be a believable development. Let’s remember that she introduced the comics snark community to salmon squares. I remember them as a plate of material the color of a Macintosh Performa 6115. She also did innovative work with shrimp scampi. The strip’s had confidence men pulling scams before, although not on Mary so far as I know. An attempt by Ted to flatter his way into a personal relationship would also fit. Jeff mentioned on the 17th that Ted was divorced. And, heck, a dozen years ago the strip even sustained a stalker plot, the famous Aldo Keldrast story. The Comics Curmudgeon made his name in the snark community covering that one. Could be a story like that coming around again. Or maybe it’ll be something more bizarre yet. I refuse to make a guess about whether Mary Muffins will turn into the next great baffling food thing or whether they’ll be forgotten as the Ted plot unfolds. Also I refuse to guess whether we’re ever given any hint what kind of product Ted ever sold. If you’d like to guess, please, leave a comment and we’ll see if we can make the text support any or all of them!

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

The car care place down the street has shifted from that dubiously sourced Jimi Hendrix quote over to this message, which is more cryptic but which I have no particular reason to doubt.
  • “Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.
  • “You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served” — Nina Simone, 3 December 2017.
  • “Above all, don’t lie to yourself” — Fyodor Dostoyevskky [sic], 10 December 2017.
  • “Love has reasons which reason cannot understand” — Blaise Pascal, 17 December 2017.
  • “No one wants advice — only corroboration.” — John Steinbeck, 24 December 2017.
  • “Love is the only gold.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 31 December 2017.
  • “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” — Doris Day, 6 January 2018.
  • “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn, 13 January 2018.
  • “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson, 21 January 2018.
  • “You begin with the possibilities of the material.” — Robert Rauschenberg, 28 January 2018.
  • “Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” — Napoleon Hill, 4 February 2018.
  • “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” — Maimonides, 11 February 2018.
  • “Enthusiasm is everything” — Pele, 18 February 2018.

Next Week!

I get to practically relax and take it easy. I have three months of Sunday strip continuity to catch up on, as we’re set to revisit Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday strips. Does the Rat get out of jail? Does he get put back in jail? Is The Phantom just screwing with everybody? Come back and find out, or, actually, you could read the comic yourself at least as easily. But I’ll put it together in like a thousand words, there’s that.


What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? And What Happened To Jim Scancarelli?

So I say this for people in my future who’re looking for information about Gasoline Alley, the venerable, long-running serial-comic strip. If I learn more about what’s going on in it than I do now, the first weekend of February in 2018, I’ll post it here. Somewhere above this article on the page should be some more current idea of what’s going on.

Independently of that, I try to track mathematically-themed comic strips. I discuss them on my other blog, the mathematically-themed one. You can tell it’s different because it uses a serifed typeface for article headlines. The most recent of the comic strip posts is right here. I try to have at least one a week. The past few weeks Comic Strip Master Command has been sending me lots of stuff to write about, although it’s mostly “a student misinterprets a story problem”. But you never know when the teacher in your life is going to need something fresh taped to the door. So give that a try, please.

Gasoline Alley.

13 November 2017 – 3 February 2018.

My last review of the plot in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley came at a key moment in the storyline that’d been running since the 27th of April. Rufus was back from the circus after wrongly thinking another man had won the dear heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother. The day after my last plot review, Rufus — out of his Human Cannonball outfit and back to his regular duds — remembered he needed to get to choir practice. He needs the practice. The Thanksgiving Oratorio is coming up this Sunday. I didn’t think anything particularly odd about this. The commenters on Gocomics.com did.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Thanksgiving oratorio! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 16th of November, 2017. Also his strip for the 25th of March, 2013, with a slightly enlarged word balloon the first panel and some text replaced. From the way it looks I’m assuming the replacement text was stitched together from letters Scancarelli had written in other word balloons. Wikipedia says he doesn’t use a computer to draw or letter the strip, so, someone pasting in a replacement makes sense of the weird spacing and inconsistent line in that panel.

Because Rufus had hurried to choir before. In March and April 2013, he rushed to add his vocal emanations to what was, then, the Easter Cantata.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Easter cantata! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of March, 2013. The secret revealed! I understand the need to fiddle with the word balloon for the first panel; space just doesn’t allow otherwise. The minor differences in coloring intrigue me, though. I’m surprised whoever at Tribune Content Supply Company And Antique Screen Door Manufacturers Inc who’s responsible for the reprints didn’t just use the colorized version of the original. Or else they recolored it all, making mostly but not entirely the same choices. Maybe there’s a reference sheet saying that Holly Luyah should be wearing that color, but wouldn’t it also specify her hair color? And wouldn’t there be some guide to whether Rufus’s shirt ought to be white or yellow? Or whether he wears slacks or blue jeans? In short, everything about the colorizing of daily comics is a strange and unnecessarily complicated mystery.

Nothing had been announced about planned reruns. It’s not unprecedented for a cartoonist to put the strip into reruns a while. They deserve holidays as much as normal people do. Or they have personal crises — a health scare, a house fire, a family emergency — and only a capitalist would complain about their taking time to deal with that. It’s a bit unusual for there to be no news about it, though. This stuff might not draw the front page of the Newark Star-Ledger. But to hear that a cartoonist has had a medical crisis and had to take a few unexpected weeks off is why comics sites have blogs. Also, Lincoln Pierce, of Big Nate, is “attending to family matters” and that’s why that comic strip went into reruns for a month. There’s not any word about when he’ll be back. It does happen, though. Darby Conley, of Get Fuzzy, stopped drawing new dailies altogether without notice over a decade ago. In the middle of a story, too, although it was a boring story he’d done many times before. No explanation, and he’d keep drawing new Sunday strips, although those have tapered off too. Why? No one who knows, says. Jeff Keane’s The Family Circus has been nothing but reruns from the 70s, sometimes touched up with modernized captions. We’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice. Dan Piraro and Wayno will redraw some vintage Bizarro, usually remaking a weekday strip as a Sunday. But that’s a complete redraw. And Bob Weber Jr and Sr’s Slylock Fox reuses puzzles. Sometimes, like, the Comics Curmudgeon remarks on both printings of a strip.

So what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I don’t know. I haven’t found anyone who does know and says. It’s an unsettling silence. It’s easy to imagine things that might leave Scancarelli unable to write or draw the strip. Few of them are happy thoughts. Gasoline Alley is — or at least had been — the oldest (American) syndicated newspaper comic not in eternal reruns. It’s terrible to think that the worst might happen and Jim Scancarelli might not be drawing the comic strip when it turns 100 years old this coming November 24.

(If my research doesn’t fail me, the next-oldest is John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, if that counts as a comic strip; it began the 19th of December, 1918. Then there’s John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, begun the 17th of June, 1919.)

I’m sorry to have so little to definitely say. If I get news, or even any good rumors, that aren’t made under a pledge of confidentiality, I’ll share. In my entire life I have exactly once ever gotten a tip about comic strip news, and that was in confidence. So I couldn’t even go into Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and make an accurate “prediction” about what would happen and then be all smug when it came true. In fact, I predicted the opposite of what would happen, because that reflected what I would have thought if I didn’t have inside information.

Still, perhaps somehow you weren’t reading Gasoline Alley with care in 2013 or didn’t remember the story. So what did happen? Rufus sings awful. Choir director Holly Luyah and Pastor Present work out that there is one note Rufus can sing, and hold him in reserve for exactly that note. He signs that note with enough power to break a stained-glass window. Rufus and Joel replace the broken piece with part of a beer sign, and then scrub the letters, and all the color, off the window.

29th of November: the next rerun story begins, with Slim Skinner working as a Santa Claus for the Bleck’s Department Store. That’s a plot which ran November and December of 2008. Slim’s not all that enthusiastic about the Santa Claus job, but it gives him the chance for a bunch of jokes about awful kids. Then he gets a sweet bug-eyed girl who wants something nice for her Mommy, since Daddy was killed in Iraq. The weepy melodrama sort of story that the comic does. This was also when I realized something was awry in the dailies. Playing Santa Claus for a grief-stricken impoverished family was where the Rufus and The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother started their storyline.

Slim, driving the truck with a tree and presents to a rickety old cabin. 'Look, Clovia! It's snowing!' Clovia: 'Slow down, Slim! There's the little girl's home!' (In the house) Mother: 'Go to sleep, Mary, and say your prayers!' Mary: 'Yes, mommy! Santa will be here any minute! He promsied!
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of December, 2017. As also seen the 24th of December, 2008, though back then not in color. The strip reads rather well in black and white. I’ve assumed that Scancarelli does the coloring himself; it seems like it’d fit his working style. But I don’t in fact know. Not answered: Slim got arrested breaking into a good-sized house in a “ritzy neighborhood”. How did he get that house mistaken for this?

Slim figures to forego his own family’s Christmas and instead use the money to give the poor kid’s family a proper full holiday. With a fully-decorated tree and bunches of presents he breaks into the kid’s house. Before he can enter, he’s arrested by the Gasoline Alley police, which is about average for a Slim Skinner plot. The people whose house he mistakenly broke into don’t prosecute, and the police donate something to the poor girl and her mother. The girl’s name was finally given as “Mary”, because of course it would be. Close out with some talk about Slim’s resolutions for the New Year and that’s that.

With the 2nd of January the next (and current) story began its rerun. It first ran in January of 2007. It’s got Skeezix hanging out at Corky’s Diner. After a couple gags about about the food story interrupts in the form of Senator Wilmer Bobble visiting. He reminds Corky of the part he played in getting his Uncle Pert to sell Corky the diner back in 1950 (“I’ll talk with you, Corky, but not if Wilmer is in the deal!”). And they think back to the buying and early days of the restaurant that for all I know are faithful reconstructions of how the storyline back then went. And Bobble explains that now that his uncle Pert has died, and deeded the land to him, he’s evicting Corky’s Diner. He notes that “nothing lasts forever”, which is a pretty good line for a longrunning syndicated newspaper comic strip. He’s hoping to build a ten-story parking garage. The bulldozers will be here in two weeks.

Corky: 'What is this, Wilmer? We're being evicted?' Wilmer Bobble: 'Sort of!' Corky: "EVICTED?' Bobble: 'Aw! Don't look at it like that! Think of it as being relocated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of January, 2018. And also from the 27th of January, 2007. Put aside the whole “smoking in a public place? C’mon, was 2007 really that long ago oh my Lord it was wasn’t it” issue. Bobble blowing a triple-decker of smoke into Corky’s face as the papers fly off the table is a good, Walt Kelly-ish bit of emphasis and action in the midst of a talky scene.

And that’s the rerun story where it stands, as of the 3rd of February. (If they keep rerunning the story without interruption, the story will be here about seven more weeks. Spoiler: it doesn’t end unhappily for the core cast.)

Rufus: 'What yo'think my brother Magnus would like fo' Christmas?' Joel: 'Seein' how he's behind bars --- how 'bout some files?' Rufus: 'Naw! Ain't enough room in his cell fo' a cabinet!' [ And after the throwaway panels ] Rufus: 'Oh, man! This is fun ridin' th'elevator at th'mall! Ain't it, Joel?' Joel: 'Well, it shore got its ups and down!' Man getting in elevator: 'Four, please.' Joel: 'Er ... four what?' Rufus: 'Joel! Don't yo' mean, what fo'?' Man: 'Never mind! I'll do it myself! (Sniff, sniff) ... Whee-ew! Someone's deodorant isn't working!' Joel: 'Don't look at me! I don't use th'stuff!' Rufus: 'Me neither!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of December, 2017. Possibly, maybe, the last original strip he’s published? The other Sunday strips from December 2007 were reruns from December of 2007. Must admit I’d rather the comic strip go out on a stronger installment than this. So, according to Wikipedia Jim Scancarelli is an expert model railroader and a prize-winning competitor in the Old Fiddler’s Convention. I mention this as they’re possibly the two least surprising things I could learn about Jim Scancarelli.

The Sunday strips have been the usual spot gags, not part of any particular story continuity. Sunday strips have a longer lead time than weekday strips do. So it’s likely that the most recently published Scancarelli comic was one of the recent Sundays. I don’t know which. Commenters on rec.arts.comics.strips (particularly D D Degg) and on the GoComics.com pages have identified most of the rerun dates. This strip from the 17th of December was a rerun from 2007, as the phone suggests. The last new strip might be that of the 10th of December, 2017. Can’t say for sure.

(Late-breaking addition, punishing me for getting this all written up like 30 hours before deadline: I can’t find where the strip for today, the 4th of February, 2018, ran before. The lettering, to me, makes me think the strip is another from around late 2007 or early 2008. But I can’t find the original if it is out there. Maybe we worried for nothing? Or Scancarelli had a couple strips almost done and was now able to do the Sundays at least? Even if he isn’t able to get the dailies done?)

I promise. If I get news, and can share it, I will.

Next Week!

Has Nature killed you, or anyone you know? Has it dropped parachuters onto any bank robbers? Have you ever counted the prairie dogs outside Rapid City, South Dakota? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “the heck are you even talking about?” please join me as I check back in on James Allen’s Mark Trail. Be warned: it does involve geographically implausible appearances of giraffes. Also be warned: it appears to build a story around things mentioned during but not directly related to a previous story. Also it’s been years since we saw a giant squirrel discussing the smuggling poachers. Just saying.

Thinking About Mort Walker

When I was growing up there was one author and one comic strip on the pages that was just the comic strip, the thing so great it was kind of the reason newspapers were made, so it could carry this. That was Charles Schulz and Peanuts, naturally. But it’s not like that was the only strip I read. I read all of them, at least except for the story strips, which always looked like these dark, muddy things about realistically-drawn adults saying they’d have to talk about stuff. But the rest of the comics page was exciting stuff.

I knew there were better and worse strips, yes. But I also recognized there were some strips that just seemed central. Comics that all the other comics were kind-of-like. Some that drew closer to the Platonic Ideal of the 1970s/80s comic strip. So if you read the subject line or the comics news the past week you know what strips I’m talking about.

And yet I was kind of a dumb kid; it took a newspaper article about an upcoming visit Beetle Bailey was going to pay to Hi and Lois for me to realize they were made by the same guy, or were set in the same universe. Still, that was mindblowing, in the way that Muppet Show where they have to do the show from a train station because the theater was being fumigated was. It revealed to me something comic strips could do.

Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois were the Mort Walker strips I always saw, of course. But somewhere along the line I realized that Hagar the Horrible had some connection to all this (Dik Browne, co-creator of Hi and Lois, created it). And now and then, in out-of-town newspapers, I’d see other weird alien comic strips clearly from the same hand, like Boner’s Ark or, rarely, Sam and Silo. And I do remember at least excerpts of Walker’s Lexicon of Comicana, about graphic design elements, appearing in newspapers and being read. (I have a particularly strong memory of reading one at the house of my aunt in Connecticut, on a family visit that I think coincided with when they took the toll booths out of the Connecticut Turnpike and the roads were torn up for that. I may be collapsing memories together.) I think that his last original comic strip, Gamin and Patches, might have run in a newspaper I read, but I’m just not at all sure.

Boner walks past the sign: Poultry Research Station! Caution! Chicken Crossing! Boner looks carefully, starts to talk. A giant chicken claw descends from the sky.
Mort Walker’s Boner’s Ark for the 10th of March, 1972 and rerun the 29th of January, 2018. Walker signed the strip “Addison” (his actual first name, somehow) so it didn’t look like he drew everything King Features offered. Also, if this wasn’t also a Gary Larson The Far Side or a Sydney Harris panel then both Larson and Harris have missed an easy one.

Oddly, for all that I recognized Mort Walker had this style that everybody was roughly imitating, and for all that I liked reading any of these strips, I don’t remember doing stuff like redrawing characters from it. Garfield, Popeye, Snoopy, sure, but somehow not these. Seems like a shame; I suspect that, like, Sarge or Beetle are pretty fun to draw. There’s something in their line.

Yes, I’m aware Mort Walker drew some “adult” installments of his strips, for the naughty fun of it. Not interested in them. I’m also aware there was an animated cartoon based on Beetle Bailey in the 60s, and a half-hour pilot made in Like 1989. I’ve never seen those but a a little curious. Apparently there was a musical, too, created in the late 80s because every comic strip made a musical in the 80s for some reason.

General Halftrack: 'Say! Maybe there ISN'T a Pentagon after all! That's it! The Pentagon doesn't even EXIST! I've been worrying for NOTHING!' Aide: 'I can't agree with you, sir. If there's no Pentagon, then who hangs up when we phone them?'
Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 19th of April, 1961, and rerun the 10th of November, 2017. That generation’s answer to the Ontological Argument. Another intersting thread that sometime got dropped, in these early-60s comics, was of Camp Swampy trying to launch satellites. It gives a setting for Space Race jokes that oddly tickle me even today, and it’s a shame that the comic strip did narrow its horizons to the point it couldn’t sustain a gag like that anymore.

Comics Kingdom has among its vintage comics Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois from the early 60s. They also have Boner’s Ark, from the early 70s, running. There’s some interesting stuff in them, not least the running thread that the Pentagon told General Halftrack not to call them anymore and hasn’t sent any orders in years. One of the snark community’s recurring jokes is that Camp Swampy is this nonsense pretend camp the actual Army would be embarrassed to be affiliated with. I’m amused that Walker had that joke a half-century sooner. And the vintage strips are, mostly, better than their contemporary versions. There’s more detail to the art and the characters and scenarios are 55 years less worn down. It can be easy to forget that comic strips that seem old and fusty — things that have been running in every newspaper since the glaciers receded — mostly got there by being novel and exciting, and staying so for a good long while.

Art moves on, and styles pass from fashion. Mort Walker-touched comics aren’t as dominant in setting the style of newspaper comics anymore. So it happens. There’s a lot of art, and a lot of what people thought art could be, that he guided. It’s amazing work.

Also I’m reminded of a Mort Walker quote in some Peanuts retrospective about how, yeah, his comic strip took off in the newspapers way earlier than Schulz’s, starting nearly the same time, did. But when Schulz’s came out in book collections those books just started selling and never stopped. This point can’t fit in the essay at all logically, but I don’t want it to go to waste either, so here it is, in a paragraph after the end of the essay.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? November 2017 – January 2018

It’s been only a few short months since I last checked in on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and yet plenty of stuff has happened. I’m glad to try catching you up on that. More stuff might have happened by the time you read this. If it’s late January or early February 2018 for you, this is probably enough to catch you up. If it’s a lot later than that, maybe the story’s developed far past that. If I’ve written a later summary I shall try to have it at or near the top of this link. Also I mentioned this on my other blog, but GoComics.com broke something so that My Comics Page won’t load, and broke their “Contact Us” page so it won’t submit error reports. I’ve got workarounds, but I’m not happy with them.

Also, on my mathematics blog, I review comics with mathematical themes. My latest report on those should be at or near the top of this link. Thanks for checking that out, if you do.

Dick Tracy.

5 November 2017 – 27 January 2018.

Last time you’ll recall, Dick Tracy and team were closing in on audio-recording forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate. The pair were hiding out in the Lyric (movie) Theater, Sprocket on a date with novelist and Les Moore’s less-punchworthy twin Adam Austin, Silver in the Phantoms Of Theaters room. Silver watches his sister have a date so serious she even wears sandals for it. So he gives her half their take and alibis her. He goes to jail. She goes to California with Adam Austin, who I’m assuming is writing the novelization for the Starbuck Jones sequel. Silver Nitrate and his boss/jailbreaker Public Domain go to jail and that ends that story reasonably logically.

[ Chaos erupts at the Lyric Theater ] Lizz Grove: 'That's an emergency exit alarm!' Dick Tracy: 'Everyone cover the exits!' (Voices) 'Over there!' 'It's Silver Nitrate!' 'Stop! You're under arrest!' Silver Nitrate: 'Okay, okay! I give up!' Sam Catchem: 'Anybody come out this door?' Officer: 'Nobody's come this way, sir.' Catchem: 'Everyone's checked in, Tracy. No sign of Sprocket Nitrate.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2017. I don’t mean to make light of what operational skill it requires to surround and secure a public theater with hundreds of people inside to secure one criminal safely. But Sprocket Nitrate is inside the secured building, and her costume is pretty much that she’s wearing sandals. Just seems like they could have checked.

And then, the 18th of November, came an odd interlude before the next story: a “Minit Mystery”. It was one of those adorable puzzle mysteries, you know, figuring out who killed the guy based on whether an umbrella is damp or figuring which jacket is underneath another on the coat-stand. It’s a week illustrated by Charles Ettinger, and it’s introduced as the start of a new series. There was just the one mystery presented this time around. Perhaps they’re waiting for the current storyline to resolve, or reach a logical pause, before showing the next. I’m not sure this is any more logically rigorous than an Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, but it’s a fun pastime. The story started the 19th of November and ran each day through to the 26th, when the solution was revealed.

Back to plotting, the 27th of November. Mister Bribery reappears, along with his niece Ugly Crystal and hired gun Sawtooth. Bribery’s hired Sawtooth to execute Dick Tracy. Tracy’s team has infiltrated Bribery’s organization, though, as their bodyguard, with Lee Ebony pretending to be “T-Bolt”. Bribery orders Sawtooth to carry out the execution plan, even though it’s not compatible with putting the shrunken head of Dick Tracy into a jar on his shelf. Okay then.

One of the dangling side plots comes back to the fore. The fellow you get by fusing Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop finds crime boss Posie Ermine. Ermine’s been disheartened since his daughter was abducted, surgically altered to be Mysta the new Moon Maid, and somehow brainwashed into a whole new identity who wants nothing to do with her biological father. Buster Oop has personal reasons for this. He’s the Governor of the Moon, and father of the original Moon Maid. (The original Moon Maid was killed in the 70s, when most of the really loopy science fiction stuff was written out of the strip, although her daughter — Honey Moon Tracy, Dick’s granddaughter — is still around and a critical character these days.)

Got all these relations? Because that just catches things up to early December 2017 and from there everything gets explosive.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal … Bribery, I guess is her last name? … meet cute-ish at the mall’s CD store. They get along surprisingly well, what with both having superpowers and Ugly Crystal envying Honey Moon’s antennas. I understand. I imprinted early on Uncle Martin’s extendable antennas from My Favorite Martian. And I’m not an ugly person.

Mister Bribery, out for a jog, shoves another jogger into the path of a minibus. It’s a startling moment. It establishes Mister Bribery’s villainy and menace in a way that his hiring someone to murder Dick Tracy hadn’t, somehow. I suppose it’s because you expect the villain to try killing the scientific superdetective. It’s normal and routine and built into the worldview and the name of the comic strip that the plan won’t work. But he can kill — or try to kill, as the victim survives with “minor injuries” — some nobody. And that it’s utterly unmotivated makes Mister Bribery’s danger more real. The murderous impulse doesn’t do Mister Bribery any good, either, as the city looks for whoever’s in the blurry video footage of the crime.

Mister Bribery, jogging: 'Ah, it's a beautiful, brisk morning for a jog!' [ He comes up on a woman jogging ] Bribery: 'That minibus is awfully close! Let's have a little room.' [ He shoves the woman into the minibus's path. ] 'SO much better!' [ Screech ] 'EEEE!' Bribery: 'What a hubbub! I'd better cut my jog short.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of December, 2017. And … jeez, can’t you just see this happening? A lot of the Dick Tracy criminal plans are a bit outrageous — robbing banks to the tunes of Chumbawumba, hijacking Space Coupes, forging 19th-century audio recordings — but just simply shoving a person into traffic to kill them? I can see local news covering that. And I’m in mid-Michigan; this story might bump Larry Nasser off the top of the news feed, but only maybe.

Which might be too late: Sawtooth snags Dick Tracy — from right outside his son’s house on Christmas Eve-or-Day, by the way — and drags him out into the woods. Sawtooth drags him into the deep woods, in the blizzard, and ties him to a tree to die. Sawtooth does well enough tying up Tracy, who’s unable to get his hands free, never mind untie any of his ropes, nor answer his Wrist Wizard to call for help. What Sawtooth fails to account for: Rifle Ruby, who found and saved Dick Tracy deep in the woods where Mister Crime tried to drown him in a story in 1952. (I had not the faintest idea of this, but GoComics commenter RGGlick recognized this and provided people with the link.) She and her niece Rhett run across the shivering, starved Tracy and nurse him back to non-death.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal meet up again, under Lee Ebony’s supervision. Honey Moon gets a bit of brain freeze from the Moon Governor’s transmissions. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine have been searching for Honey Moon. Meanwhile Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence assistant/digitally-uploaded former henchman Matty Squared has detected the Moon Governor’s Space Coupe. Mister Bribery orders Sawtooth to kidnap Honey Moon. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine close in on Smith Industries, there to find Mysta the (second) Moon Maid. Yes, I’m getting tired just writing all this.

OK. There’s a shootout. Ermine’s killed. Sawtooth grabs the Moon Governor and Mysta and takes them to Mister Bribery. Mister Bribery wants the Moon Governor’s help getting to the Lunarian valley settlement, there to mine lunar gold and whatnot. The Moon Governor tries to squash these plans. He drops the bad news that there’s no oxygen left in the Moon Valley colony. (This we the readers have known since in 2012, in one of the last uses of Diet Smith’s Moon Coupe. And that also shows how long this team is willing to let a mystery simmer.) Also, it’s dumb to go to the Moon to mine gold. These days the fashion is to go to the Moon to mine Helium-3, which is even dumber. Plus there’s the whole Rocket Hat problem. He tells Mister Bribery to move on, “as we did”.

[ Bribery's office. ] Mister Bribery: 'Whee! I must be dreaming! It's the Moon Governor! What a prize! Naturally, you came to Earth in your SPACE COUPE. I can utilize that in my master plan! This is so perfect!' [ Elsewhere ] Sam Catchem, on Lee Ebony's wrist wizard: 'Come in while you can, Lee This blizzard's getting bad.' Glitch: 'T-Bolt? Is that a POLICE wrist wizard?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of January, 2018. All right, yes, he’s a sociopathic crime boss who just weeks ago tried to murder a woman for absolutely no possible benefit, but to say “utilize” when “use” would be the correct word? That’s put him beyond the pale.

Mister Bribery takes this with all the calm and grace of Donald Duck finding Chip and Dale back on his folding lawn chair. Meanwhile henchman Glitch spots Lee Ebony talking on her official police-grade wrist wizard, astoundingly sloppy undercover work. It’s okay, though, since Glitch has figured out this is the big meltdown and he’s just telling people to run while they can. Ebony arrests Ugly Crystal (I’m not sure for what, but I suppose that can be sorted out). Sam Catchem says they’ve got the rest of Mister Bribery’s gang. And Tracy is going in after Mister Bribery himself, who’s got the Moon Governor and Second Moon maid with him.

And that’s where we stand. It’s a lot of stuff happening, and with (so far as I noticed) no weird cameos or digressions, after the Minit Mystery interlude. I’ve only noticed one odd, unresolved mention of a thing either: on the 4th of December mentioning how Diet Smith’s “time machine was a bust”. I didn’t know there was ever a time machine in Dick Tracy, but I’m also not surprised, given how crazy Chester Gould went in the 60s.

The only outstanding thread that I haven’t seen advanced, or mentioned, was the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty lair, which started action back in June 2017.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli has been out of action since the last time I recapped the plot in Gasoline Alley! Why? Where? What’s happening? Will the story of Rufus’s courting of The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom ever resolve? I don’t know. But I’ll do my best to share what I know, or can find out. And to recap nearly three months’ worth of reruns next week, somewhere on this link. Here’s hoping there’s good news ahead.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? October 2017 – January 2018

I thank all you kind readers interested in what’s happening in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. This is my recap for mid-to-late January 2018. If it’s gotten far past that, this essay might not help you very much. But! If it’s past about April 2018, I should have other essays getting closer to your present. If I have done that, they should be at or near the top of this link. Good luck.

I also review comic strips for their mathematical themes, over on a blog trying less to be about comedy. You might find that interesting too.

Prince Valiant.

28 October 2017 – 21 January 2018.

When I last checked in on Prince Valiant things had reached a happy conclusion. Valiant had helped a refugee village smash a band of marauders. The marauders who weren’t so much into the marauding thing were settling down to join the villagers. And he was leaving behind some of the supporting cast where they were sure they’d be happy. With that, they were to sail down the river, hoping ultimately to get home.

They raft along the Yinchu. This river’s now known as the Syr Darya, one of the rivers in Kazhakstan that leads to the Aral Sea, which was a vast body of water that existed in Prince Valiant’s time. Along the way the party runs into (checks encounter table) a nasty swarm of insects. They escape the insects, but not before Valiant’s stung or bitten or otherwise harassed by one enough to fail his constitution check. He falls into a delirious sleep, and that night, pursuing the vision of his mother, he falls into the river.

Bukota, Karen, and Vanni are jerked from their sleep by the sound of a great splash. The Ab'saban warrior immediately realizes that the feverish Val is gone from his bedding and is nowhere to be seen. Karen is close to panic with concern for her stricken father, but frantic eyes can find little in the moonless dark. Flint is hastily struck to iron and a torch is set ablaze. Bukota wades to shore and sees evidence that Val has passed into the tall grasses, but the trail is soon lost. 'We must wait for dawn, and hope his fever does not lead him to destruction.' Meanwhile, a delirious Val stumbles forward, chasing the elusive phantom of his long-dead mother, a vision that suddenly transforms into the terrible figure of Horrit, the witch-prophet of his youth! 'Why do you hurry so, O Prince?' [ Next: Past and Future ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of November, 2017. I admit I’m a bit impressed Valiant could get this lost this fast, given that he would have to get to the edge of the river. On the other hand, consider how easy it is to have something you’re holding in your hand drop eighteen inches onto a table, make some rattling noise, and then never be seen again. So yes, I am suggesting that Prince Valiant is kind of like that great dragon earring that was just here.

Valiant hacks his way through taunting visions of the witch-prophet Horrit and stumbles into a village. Jahan, the ruler, hooks him up with some salix tree extract, which naturally works great. Jahan explains their deal. His people are healers. They keep their neutrality in the wars between the Persian and Turkic people around them, ministering to both sides. And he’s atoning for a time when he kind of accidentally got the village cursed by not treating an ill stranger. (Jahan wasn’t sure if healing the stranger might alienate either of the warring sides around him.) Now, though, with “a good man — a man with an important destiny” treated despite being a stranger, he’d balanced the wrong.

Valiant’s companions find him. He’s sprawled out in the ruins of some ancient village, one massacred a long while ago. But then … how did Valiant find salix tree bark to chew on and to save his life? And with this (I found) charming bit of light Twilight Zone/folklore play Prince Valiant can get back to pondering the nature of reality and all that. For a couple days, anyway, while Karen and Vanni talk about healing herbs and chatter a bit with the local ravens. There’s a joke that the raven is passing word of their safe travels back home, but it turns out that is exactly what it’s doing.

Jahan the Healer continues to tell his story to the recovering Val. 'Our village maintained a delicate balance, providing remedies to the two powers surrounding us, until one day a man, dressed like none we had ever seen, rode into our village and collapsed. As headman, it was my decision as to how to treat the very sick stranger. But I was afraid --- he was neither Persian nor Turkic, and I feared that healing him might alienate one of those two clients. And so I chose not to treat him. The desperate man saw my intent to abandon him and, with the last of his strength, spewed forth a terrible curse. Then he died, and it was thereafter that disaster struck this village. But now I have saved a good man --- a man with a important destiny. I have balanced my wrong. I am finally free to go.' And as Val watches Jahan disappear into shadow, three worried figures track the prince's passage through the tall grass. [ Next: The Salix Tree ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 17th of December, 2017. There’s a lot that I like in the art of this panel, including Jahan introducing the audience to a scene presented behind him, the stranger’s desperation and anger as he curses the village, and all the fabric patterns. The vases aren’t bad either.

Something I didn’t pay attention to while it was happening, possibly because the one was taking place weekdays and the other Sundays: both the current weekday Phantom continuity and Prince Valiant include major, confusing, delusional dream-encounters for their strips’ titular characters. It also features what’s surely just a coincidence of words: Jahan speaks of Prince Valiant as “a man with an important destiny”; Savior Z speaks of The Phantom as “an important man of your kind”. All coincidence, surely. But I’m tickled to notice this.

Next Week!

So how did that bunco squad raid on the movie theater turn out? Is the strange Moon Governor Or Something closing in on Dick Tracy’s granddaughter from his abandoned farm base? How is Mister Bribery’s plan to bring someone from outside the strip in to murder Dick Tracy turning out? Did the strip acknowledge Gasoline Alley sending Joel over to visit? If all goes well, next week, I’ll read three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and let you know what the heck’s going on.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? October 2017 – January 2018

Good evening, you many people who’d like to understand what’s happening in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. This is my effort to bring people up to date to what’s happening as of early January, 2018, reader time. If you’re reading this later than about April 2018 I probably have a more recent update available. That’ll be at or near the top of this page. If I don’t have a more recent update, then this will be at or near the top of that page. This seems only fair.

If you’ve got an interest in mathematically-themed comic strips I can help you there. On my other blog I review some of last week’s comics, and along the way help you to learn why the new year comes when it does and what I think the cube root of 50,653 is. It’s easier than you imagine!

Alley Oop.

16 October 2017 – 7 January 2018.

The Land of Moo was facing a great peril last time we checked in, as rich idiot M T Mentis III had big plans for Dr Wonmug’s time machine. Mentis had the idea to use the time machine to go fixing up history. Wonmug can’t think of a better way to explain how problematic this is than to drop Mentis and his bodyguard Gunther off in Moo and say, “see what you can do with this”.

What he can do is get his hat stepped on by dinosaurs, at least until Alley Oop warns him to shut up. Approaching are raiders from Farzoon, which legend says has a major construction project going on that they need slaves for. Oop figures to get back home and warn everyone. But Mentis figures he’s such a brilliant dealmaker that he can teach the Farzoonians the errors of their ways. He sneaks out to try explaining to the raiders that they would, in fact, get better labor by advertising for employees and offering good wages.

Mentis, arguing to Farzoonian slavers: 'Excuse me, Gentlemen, could I have a moment of your time? As I understand it, you recruit workers by kidnap and forced employment! I assure you, though, that you'd get the best workers by advertising and offering good wages!' The slavers: '? Wages?!' Mentis: 'Paying makes a stronger, happier work force, and I guarantee people will come begging to work for you when they find out you're offering payment!' Korvo, the raider: 'Is that so? Whadya use for pay?' Mentis, taking out a bankroll: 'Where I come from, we use this ... ' Korvo grabs the cash. 'We'll give it a try! Thanks!' Mentis: 'Wait, no! That's not for you! It's only of value where I'm from!' Korvo: 'I knew it! You lied! It *is* worthless!' And he throws the money in the air. Mentis: 'What are you doing? That's a fortune!' Korvo: 'Ha! You just said yourself that it's worthless!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 5th of November, 2017. Don’t tell me you aren’t also enchanted by this comic strip fantasy of a billionaire like Mentis arguing in favor of well-paid, freely-employed workers. Unfortunately Roxly and Korvo take the dollars and start rambling about how bitcoin is a thing of real value unlike even gold or silver.

Part of me admires Mentis for arguing, rightly, that a well-paid class of workers free to do as they choose is better for everybody than slavery is. And part of me admires his courage in stepping up to an actual slave-capture party, with cage and a trained vulture that uses anesthetic-tipped claws to knock out victims and all, with no defense save reason. The rest of me wonders whether Mentis has ever met people, or studied any history, or ever read any story about anyone or anything ever. I love the Enlightenment-derived ideal that rational discussion is the best way to make people’s lives better. I just want faith in that ideal to be discernible from complete oblivious stupidity.

So Oop and Gunther set out to rescue Mentis. Technically before they even know for sure that Mentis is captured. Well, they’re properly going off to fight off the Farzoon raiders, but have to have known Mentis needed rescue. They bring some antidote potion that Wizer has, and one of the shields that fended off the Jantrullian frog-plant alien’s mind-control rays earlier in 2017.

They find the dollar bills that Mentis brought to the past for some reason, and from there find the caged Mentis and his captors. Gunther sets out to slip Mentis the antidote and get him back on his feet. Oop stands in the slaver’s way and, when challenged, hits their trained vulture with his club. With the bird out of commission, Oop and Gunther are able to smash the slavers’ cage and knock the Farzoonians unconscious and help Toni have what she tells Brad is sex. It’s a stirring conclusion that just raises the question of why Alley Oop was so afraid of these guys to start with. He handles them with his normal Popeye-ish aplomb. I guess it makes sense Alley Oop would want everyone warned in case he failed. But it’s not like that’s ever really come up.

Alley Oop: 'This road's closed to you!' Roxly: 'You can't stop us!' Korvo: 'Yeah! Our secret weapon says we can go anywhere we want!' Gunther goes up to the unconscious Mentis, thinking, 'Time to rescue Mentis!'. Oop: 'Oh yeah? You mean that?' (He clobbers their vulture.) 'Looks like he won't be a secret weapon anytime soon! Not so tough now, are you?' Korvo: 'That's what you think!' Gunther, giving the antidote: 'Here you go, boss! This is supposed to wake you up!' And then Gunther joins Oop: 'Need some help, Oop?' They fight, knocking out the Farzoonian raiders and smashing the cage, but also bumping Mentis over the cliff.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 26th of November, 2017. The Sunday strips are recaps of the action from Tuesday through Saturday before, and a preview of Monday, which occasionally results in oddities like where in the second row Gunther seems to give Mentis antidote drops twice over. When that’s action on separate days it’s less obvious they’re underlining the action for people who missed a day.

In a dangling plot, Mentis gets knocked over a cliff and dangles a while. He’s saved by Dinny, getting Mentis to admit that maybe there is a place for dinosaurs in Moo. (On first arriving in Moo, Mentis figured the place needed their dinosaurs killed since history knows that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted.)

And then we got a couple weeks of determined epiloguing. Oop talks with Wonmug about how he figures Mentis has learned his lesson about interfering with history. Here I question this time-travelling caveman’s pedagogy. Wonmug tries another approach, pointing out that time travel could be used to understand the normal person and the challenges history’s non-winners face, allowing a fuller and more true understanding of the courses of societies. It’s a good plan that as far as I’m aware Wonmug has never used his time machine for. But maybe it is for want of funding; Mentis declares his willingness to fund research expeditions.

King Guz: 'Good work, Oop!' Oop: 'Thank Gunther too! It was a team effort!' Wonmug: 'Gunther?! Oh, thank goodness you're okay! And look at you, M.T.! Looks like you had a little rouble out there!' Mentis: 'I admit, Doc, that I wasn't prepared for this trip! I just wanted to help the world! Maybe I went about it the wrong way, but I still think I could fix some problems with time travel!' Wonmug: 'Perhaps you still could, but let's look at it in a different way! Since history is written by the winners, we only hear one side! If we could use time travel to witness history in the room where it happened, so to speak, think of how much we could learn! If you really want to use time travel to fix our problems, why not partner with our time labs and use your wealth to fund trips for research purposes?' Mentis: 'You know, with the memory fresh in mind of what happens if I try to change things in the past ... I think you've got an excellent idea, Doc Wonmug! I'm happy to join your team!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of December, 2017. I am, legitimately, interested to see whether this addition of Mentis as the money behind Wonmug’s time-travel operation sticks. How Wonmug supports his research is the sort of thing I’d have expected to have been covered in the comic long before, but I suppose the nature of financing is that it’s always needing replacement.

Gunther floats the idea of staying in Moo. King Guz likes his attitude, and Ooola likes even more of him. Wonmug’s appalled by the idea, and Oop figures there’s no way he can let Gunther stick around while he’s holding arms with Ooola and stuff. Funny enough bit of business.

As they’re dematerializing back to the present, Mentis sneezes, and all over Oop. Mentis thinks it’s allergies. Wonmug worries he’s going to spread a cold in Moo. (Cross-time infections seem like the sort of thing that should have been a concern and to have happened sooner in the comic’s history. But it’s not the sort of story that people would find interesting in Like 1941. And it’s a legitimate concern, I think, so might as well do the story now as ever.) They zap back to the present and tell Alley Oop to find some echinacea, so, good luck with that. I, being aware of the laws of dramatic economy, trust this is the hook on which we’ll hang the next storyline. And yeah, the last panel for the 7th of January is Alley Oop sneezing. As ever, I’m amazed the change of story matches so closely my recaps.

Next Week!

It’s the return of The Return of the Locust, revisiting Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. There’s been someone living on top of the Ghost Who Walks’ Southwest-American butte. He wants to know who’s still living there and shooting at him. I think many of us would have similar questions in his place.

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

Hi, enthusiastic reader of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic. I’m happy to help you catch up on what’s been going on. I write this the last weekend of 2017. If for you it’s later than about March 2018, there’s probably been a later essay bringing things closer to date. If I have one, it should be at or near the top of this page. I hope it helps.

If you’re interested in mathematically-themed comic strips, please give my other blog a try. Each week I spend some time talking about mathematical themes as expressed in the syndicated comics. I like it.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

8 October – 30 December 2017.

I said last time I figured we were at the end of the Tyrannus Invades The Surface World storyline. Tyrannus had begged for mercy, and River of Youth Water, after Spider-Man took a key supporting position in Kala’s plan to stop her husband’s nonsense. With an Imperial Promise from Tyrannus to stop all the invading, all seemed well. We just had to figure a reason that Aunt May could not engage in wedded bliss with Melvin, deposed ruler of the Mole-Men. At the risk of being one of those people who successfully predicts darkness arriving after sunset, I was completely right.

Though she rather fancies Melvin, Aunt May can’t move down to the subterranean world with him. She’s allergic and trying to adapt would kill her. And with Tyrannus sworn to retreat to his former kingdom, the Mole Men can’t think of who to lead them if it’s not going to be Melvin. So he’s got to go back to them just long enough to get an elected Presidency set up. They’ll have to part, neither of them remembering that there are dozens of ways to keep in contact with a distant loved one. Yes, yes, they’re older than calendars are, that doesn’t mean they can’t Skype. I mean, I can’t Skype, but that’s just because I’m boring. They don’t have that excuse.

Melvin: 'So you see, dear May, I'm torn on the horns of a dilemma. I fear my former subjects, the Subterraneans, will perish with no one to lead them. Thus, I must take back the crown I was content to have lost.' May: 'Perhaps ... perhaps there's some way I could come with you. Some medicine I could take to help me adjust to your underground realm.' Spider-Man: 'You know that's not possible, Mrs Parker. You learned, down below, that you're subject to Spelunker's Lung. It inflames the lungs, makes it a torment to breathe.' May: 'Yes, I know. But ... I dared hope.'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of October, 2017. You know, it’s been a couple years since Aunt May was last kidnapped by Melvin. There might have been some work done on Spelunker’s Lung. Have we ruled out that she might wear a CPAP machine or something? It’s a bit of a hassle but they do make a happy couple.

So. 2nd of November and a new story starts. With Aunt May safely off to home as far as he knows, Peter goes to Miami to catch up with Mary Jane’s press tour. Also with J Jonah Jameson, there for a publishers’ conference that hasn’t actually played any part in the story, if I didn’t miss it. Maybe it’ll be important in the close of this story, which hasn’t come just yet.

With a couple days free, Peter suggests they visit Doctor Curt Connors, who yes, had become The Lizard, rampaging monster … lizard … man, but who’s been doing very well since he started taking aspirin for it. At Connors’s old lab Peter’s met with the traditional greeting of a gigantic metal comic-book science thing whomping him in the face. It’s Connors himself, trashing his lab in a rage fueled by grief over his wife’s death. But once he gets to hit Peter Parker with some gigantic metal comic-book science thing the rage disappears. I mean, I’ve fumed about unfair tilts on pinball games longer than Connors spent getting over his laboratory-trashing rage. They were pretty unfair tilts, though.

Peter Parker, opening Connors's door. 'The door's not locked --- so let's find out who the INTRUDER is!' Mary Jane: 'Oh, Peter --- please be --- careful!' And Peter's clobbered by a something or other.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 14th of November, 2017. People in the comics-snark community talk a lot about how many head traumas Peter Parker suffers, but in fairness, he takes a lot of head traumas. And that was really funny back before we were paying attention to what football does to people. And yes, I am legitimately angry at Gil Thorp the past two weeks ever since this update.

Connors invites Peter and Mary Jane to his emergency backup lab, in the Everglades. He’s hoping to do some science work to regrow his lost right arm only without turning into a giant rampaging lizard-man monster. And who better to assist than a stage actor and a staff photographer for a New York daily newspaper? Peter admits the sense in hanging around since he did know some science back in the day. Plus when the mad science starts maybe Spider-Man will be able to find another superhero to nag into action. So they venture out to the Everglades.

Mary Jane figures her best chance to stay in the story is to appreciate the natural beauty of the setting. So she steps out to find some Everglades nature and get eaten by it. As the alligator attacks a mysterious figure that I initially snarked was Mark Trail decides he can’t stand by while she dies. He tries to intervene, but is body-checked by Connors, who’s heard all the shouting. Before anybody knows what the heck is going on the Incredible Hulk declares his intention to smash. He picks up the alligator and throws it into Moo’s neighboring land of Lem.

Peter Parker’s delighted in the success of his “attract another superhero when the mad science goes down” plan. But to get The Hulk from throwing all of them into a neighboring comic strip he’ll have to do a proper superhero fight. He figures the alligator-injured Connors is too delirious to work out any superhero identities. So he strips to his Spidey-Suit. From this I infer he’s been wearing two layers of long-sleeved clothing in Florida. Mary Jane interrupts the ritual punching match upon the meeting of two superheroes. She warns if they don’t stop they’ll have to go to their rooms. And this calms the Hulk back to his human form, the figure I thought was a dissolute Mark Trail earlier.

[As the last vestiges of the Incredible Hulk fade.] Peter: 'Good to have you back, Bruce.' Bruce: 'Peter? Peter Parker? Now I remember! I saved MJ from a python.' Mary Jane: 'You sure did!' Bruce: 'And then --- a big gator rushed me and --- and --- that's all I can remember!' (He flashes back to the Hulk throwing an alligator.) Peter, thinking: 'And now that my shirt's closed let's keep it that way! We've got more important things to worry about.' Peter, aloud: 'How's Dr Connors?' Mary Jane: 'He's lost a lot of blood from that gator bite. We've got to get him back to the city --- fast! Or he'll die!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of December, 2017. I am, at this point, confused about whether Newspaper Incredible Hulk knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man or not. As I follow the action Peter figured that Connors is either unconscious or delirious and probably won’t remember things reliably, and Mary Jane knows full well her husband’s recreational pastime. Bruce Banner certainly knows Peter Parker, and the Incredible Hulk recognized the Amazing Spider-Man, but that’s as far as I am sure.

Bruce Banner had been lurking around the emergency backup lab because he thought Dr Connors might help with his Hulk problem. Dr Bruce Banner, I should point out since this seems like it’s going to matter. But Banner thinks Connors might be able to help. Why, they even have the same rare blood type, Banner points out in an expository lump so perfectly clumsy I genuinely admire it. Anyway, Connors is losing a lot of blood, and they’re going to have to rush him to a hospital somehow, and probably arrange a transfusion. At the risk of forecasting the arrival of darkness after nightfall, I suspect there might just be one that has awkward side-effects. If they can get him to a hospital in time, anyway.

As my tone maybe suggests, I’m enjoying all this. It’s got the cheery daftness that I enjoy in comics about the superpowered. And the stories are moving well enough, certainly if you go back and read them all a couple months at a time. I’m looking forward to 2018 with this crew.

Next Week!

Check in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. The Land of Moo versus a time-travelling idiot with a lot of money: who! will! win!?

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? October – December 2017

Hi, reader interested in figuring out what’s going on in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. It’s an exciting ride. It’s also one that’s probably gone off a couple of tracks since I wrote this in late December 2017, if you’re reading it more than a couple months after late December 2017. If I’ve had a more recent story summary it should be at or near the top of this page.

Also, my other blog has reviewed the handful of comics with mathematical themes from last week. I helped it some.

And finally, if you’re interested in having opinions on Mary Worth, the Mary Worth and Me blog has opened voting for the best of the year in various Mary Worth storytelling events. I wouldn’t dare tell you what the greatest floating head of the year that strip was. But I am baffled by the thought that there might be a better storyline than CRUISE SHIPS. Well, each to their own, even when they’re wrong, I suppose.

Judge Parker.

2 October – 24 December 2017.

I don’t know how many movies I was introduced to by SCTV. Possibly everything that wasn’t a kid’s movie. (Indeed, just last night I caught a moment of The Unholy Rollers and realize I just saw the source for one of SCTV’s Movies of the Week although I can’t place the title just now.) But I was also introduced to a genre by SCTV. They ran a soap opera spoof, The Days Of The Week. It started with a simple premise, the town’s respected surgeon trying to con a widow out of her fortune by setting up a patsy to play her long-lost son. Within a half-dozen sketches they had dozens of conspiracies unfolding at a wedding interrupted by multiple gun-weilding fanatics. And somewhere along the line I realized they had made a ridiculous yet strangely legitimate soap opera. They just chose to make every possible storyline go crazy, and cling to the crazy.

When I last checked in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the strip had just jumped three months ahead. April Parker was in super-duper top-secret jail after being framed for a complicated CIA-based fiasco. Randy Parker’s been united with his daughter Charlotte, through the workings of April’s father Norton. But the craziness and Alan’s secrecy has smashed his relationship with his wife Katherine, and she’s leaving. It had blown up what of the status quo hadn’t been blown up already. It was crazy.

Alan fumbles the last chance of Katherine reconciling with Alan. She sees he’s mining their scenario for his stalled-out novel. Sophie Spencer, recovering from her own kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s long-lost half-sister, buys a replacement guitar. And talks with Neddy, who’s herself recovering from when her ill-conceived clothing factory fell into a sinkhole. And Neddy agrees with Sophie that yeah, she needs to have some focus for her life again. That’s a couple weeks spent working out older stories and setting them basically in order. A not-crazy order.

Neddy: 'Hey, Sophie. Mind if we chat for a moment?' Sophie: 'What's up?' Neddy: 'I know we discussed me moving forward. But every time I try to determine a new career path, I draw an absolute blank. All I can see is that factory imploding. All I can hear are people's accusations. All I can d is ... nothing. I feel like I can do absolutely nothing.' Sophie: 'Okay, let's start simple. Write a list of everything you're good at. Don't be modest or self-deprecating. Just do it.' Neddy: 'That ... that sounds like a good idea.' Sophie: 'You should probably do it now.' Neddy: 'Oh, right.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of November, 2017. My experience with depressed people is they are not able to think of things they’re good at, and will not accept other’s testimony about what they are good at. Which is not to say I think Sophie’s giving bad advice, nor that she’s acting improperly for her character. (And I suppose Neddy is more guilt-wracked than depressed, but I imagine the problem is similar.) Mostly, depression: who’s responsible for that being a thing we have, you know?

Then we got to the end of October, and focus on April Parker. She’s spending her three-year prison sentence the way Calvin might spend having to sit in the corner and almost as successfully. She picks fights with her cellmate, her blockmates, the guards, the plumbing, the air, and several imaginary friends. So the early-release plans are off. Randy isn’t able to talk her down and fears she’s going to go crazy.

Charlotte: 'Mama!' April: 'Charlotte! You ... you said your first word!' Charlotte: (crying) 'Mama! Mama!' April: 'Mama is right here, sweetie. Right here.' Charlotte: (crying, fidgeting out of April's arms.) 'MAMA!!!' April: 'I'm here, Charlotte! I'm right --- ' April wakes up, alone, in prison.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 5th of November, 2017. Marciuliano’s tenure has been a very plot-heavy one, with stuff happening in the middle of other stuff happening. But that doesn’t keep the strip from pausing to soak in the torments inflicted on its characters, such as in this nicely effective page.

One night Alan’s pondering how screwed up everything is when Norton breaks in. Norton dismisses Alan’s complaints that his scheming and conspiracies have destroyed his life. And explains that he’s there to reunite the family, for example by breaking April out of her maximum-security federal prison. And flee the country with Randy and Charlotte. And Norton won’t discuss whether there’s any options that don’t involve doing the craziest possible thing.

And this past week the crazy thing happens. Norton kidnaps Alan. His operatives break April out of prison. April breaks in to her and Randy’s house, collects Charlotte, and informs him they’re going to become a family of fugitives. He tries to point out, this is crazy.

Alan: 'You're ... you're making me a prisoner in my own house.' Norton: 'Alan, this is all about freedom. All of ours. Trust me, you'll never feel freer than when you're away from all this.' Alan: 'But if ... if you break April out, her life will be ruined. My son's and Charlotte's too. We can't become fugitives. We ... we just can't give up everything.' Norton: 'My daughter has been without her family long enough, Alan. She will not leave without Charlotte. Asking you and Randy to come is for your benefit, so you can keep the family together. And speaking of family, shame we had to destroy your phone. It appeared Katherine had left a message.' Alan: 'She did?!' Norton: 'Of course not. She's moved on. This life is over, Alan. So start getting ready.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 10th of December, 2017. I … I had not noticed how often Marciuliano uses a word that’s trailed off and repeated after ellipses until I started transcribing the dialogue for the alt text. Just … just saying. Also yeah, breaking April out of Federal prison and taking her whole family into a fugitive life is one thing, Norton, but that talk about Katherine is going a bit far.

So something like sixteen months into his tenture writing Judge Parker Francesco Marciuliano has thoroughly embraced the Days of the Week style plotting. It’s almost seemed like a search for status quos to blow up. And clings to that.

It’s also all been surprisingly funny. The scenarios a little funny, yes, in the way that Doctor Strangelove presents an irresistible argument for a nightmare. But also funny in the writing of daily strips. There’s well-formed, logical punch lines often, and characters keep reaching for them. A woman tells Neddy she heard what happened. “What, that Hank and I broke up or that I fear my life is devoid of all direction, purpose, or even the faintest ember of hope?” Norton tries to allay Alan’s suspicions of something being in the coffee. “Here, I’ll prove I’m not poisoning you … oh … uh-oh … this … this is some expired creamer.” It all happens a good bit. It’s not overwhelming and doesn’t threaten to shift the comic into the serial-comic form of, say, Sally Forth or Funky Winkerbean or Luann. That it’s not every strip, not by far, helps. That it’s playing against such big, breathtaking plotting, helps too. It’s people responding rightly to the craziness around them.

Next Week!

Did Aunt May marry Melvin the Mole Man after all? Who’s this one-armed fellow in Florida that Peter Parker’s hanging out with? Who’s throwing all these alligators around? And why isn’t there more Rocket Raccoon? There’ll be answers to some of this when I get back to Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Spoiler: no, somehow, Aunt May did not get married.

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

Thanks for finding me in your search for an explanation of what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is, for me, the middle of December. So if you’re reading this much past December 2017 the story might have resolved and gone on to the next, or even one after that. If it’s far enough past December 2017 there’s, I hope, a more up-to-date description of what’s going on. It should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck.

Also, I review mathematically-themed comic strips of the past week over on my other blog. Thank you.

Gil Thorp.

25 September – 16 December 2017.

My last update came about two weeks into the current Gil Thorp storyline. What we knew back then: Coach Thorp had tested all his players’ brain function so parents will stop asking questions about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Rick Soto is a promising offensive linesman with musical talent. His uncle Gary — really Les Moore, taking some time off Funky Winkerbean to see if he can be the most punchable person in two comics at once — hopes to move from his attorney job into being a pushy stage-mother agent for Rick. And since then?

Gary’s pushed his program of getting Rick out of football and into music. His first strategy: concern-trolling. That was a great touchdown, Ricky. “Do your eyes look cloudy? Cloudy eyes can be the first signs of a major problem. You know my wife Dead Lisa died of death. And her eyes were cloudy at some point I’m going to suppose.” That doesn’t get Rick or his mother to think about dropping football.

Rick's Mom: 'If it's NOTHING, why did you tell Rick his eyes looked cloudy?' Gary: 'Ease up. He barely heard me.' [At lunch.] Rick: 'Hey, Pelwecki, do my eyes look weird?' Pelwecki: 'Vacant, empty ... nope, same as always!' Somebody: 'Yo, Soto! Get up here and sing the Milford fight song!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 9th of October, 2017. There is no Milford fight song that anybody knows, which is fine by me. Rick Soto goes on to sing something or other that my research indicates is a correctly-formed tune that’s popular with the kids and so we shall accept this as correctly formed. Also, wow but it’s annoying how teenage boys can only talk to one another in insults, but that’s not the comic strip’s fault.

The football season carries on like like football seasons do. There’s a couple games and the action seems to be football. I admit I’m not a football fan. I’m aware of it and only have the normal moral objections to it. But I grew up in the New York City media market in the 80s, with the Giants and the Jets, so grew up without professional football except for 1986. And I went to Rutgers, which played in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and is hoping to someday play in a second game. So I missed a lot of exposure back when I was young enough to learn things. When I watch football what I see is:

  1. Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
  2. Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
  3. Everybody collides into a huge pile, and then the person with the ball runs straight into the pile as if that should help clear matters up.

After any of these there’s three yellow flags, two red flags, a checkerboard rally flag, and a Klingon insignia tossed on the field. Then everyone has to wait about eight commercials to straighten it out before the next play. It’s all jolly good fun and if you like that, please don’t let my ignorance stop you. I’d like to see if the sport could be played with less brain injuries. Anyway the talk between Coach Thorp and other people about how they’re going to improve their strategy doesn’t mean much to me. I will trust that it’s relevant to football. But I’ll defer to fans about whether it’s sensible to say, “we’re adding pieces of the veer offense. It’s sort of like the read-option, but the running back and the QB go the same way”.

Gary doesn’t understand the football talk either, and points out to Rick that cat videos are popular things and he should try going viral. Rick rolls his eyes and I did not mean that, but you’ll notice I let it stand. And now I’m curious if the whole arc was built out of Rubin or Whigham thinking of those words together and figuring “why not?” Gary suggests Rick sing the National Anthem to Coach Thorp, every ten minutes. And he offers to e-mail the suggestion more often if it’ll make this happen. Coach Thorp digs deep into his reserve of not really caring and decides he doesn’t really care. And even if he did care, he couldn’t have one of his linesmen singing the National Anthem when he’s needed right after that on the … line.

Rick, watching his video on a phone: 'What IS this?' Friend: 'Some website that my grandpa goes to with his old Marine buddies. Check it out --- Rick's singing at the homecoming game!' Someone: 'You sound even better than you did on the field. But what are you doing online?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of November, 2017. That last panel is also my face when my father tells me how he read the thing I posted last week, the one that included my annual kind-of-racy slightly off-color joke, and he’s making sure all his friends and all my aunts and uncles see it.

But Gary has a stroke of luck when Dead Lisa phones in a bomb threat to the airport (some December 2010 silliness in that comic). Plus, Rick has a sprained ankle and has to skip a game, so he’s free to sing. Gary arranges a camera crew. They make a video that goes viral among the National-Anthem-before-high-school-football-games crowd, a group I accept exists. Gary seeds the video with the story of how the concussed Rick wanted to sing and had a father posted overseas and all that. Rick’s father isn’t in the Army. He’s a contractor in Dubai, helping the United Arab Emirates build the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. It’s a prestige project that, when done, will allow them to smother the workers building the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete beneath the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. Rick’s annoyed, Gary’s proud, and Rick’s mother is a person who exists and has feelings about all this, I would imagine. Rick’s father might, too.

As Rick Soto watches the last four minutes, Milford holds off New Thayer, 30-20. Rick's Mom: 'You can ride home with us.' Rick: 'Thanks, but I'd rather ride the bus an act stupid with my friends.' Rick's Mom: 'We just want you to be with us, in case you ... you ... ' Gary: 'Have to go to the hospital!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 1st of December, 2017. “You know, my dead wife Dead Lisa had a videotape about how great it would be to have her football surgically removed before it could kill her! Would you like to read my three-volume graphic novel collection about that?”

In his next game Rick takes a knee to the helmet, when Gary arranges to have a squad of knees thrown at Rick’s helmet. The team doctor doesn’t see any reason Rick shouldn’t keep playing. But Gary explains how they should cover Rick in a soft, protective layer of foam and bury him in a cube of feathers eight feet across to rush to the hospital. And his new round of concern-trolling does give Rick’s mother reason to doubt this football stuff is a good idea. Rick’s pediatrician says this looks all right. And a concussions expert says Rick’s all right. So Gary has to go back to the closet of Dead Lisa videotapes to see what advice she has about quitting football and being a professional singer.

And that’s where we have gotten: to multiple people in this comic strip about sports issues saying “don’t worry about all those blows to the head”. Part of me is sympathetic: we should act on realistic estimates of risk. To respond to a long time of under-estimating the risk of head injuries with a period of over-estimating the risk does not make things better. But part of me also thinks: there’s a lot of money which would very much like it to be believed football-caused head traumas aren’t so bad. If nevertheless we’ve heard they’re this bad, they’re likely worse. I will accept the author’s intention that Rick’s injuries are routine and unthreatening. And that the medical professionals who’ve cleared him repeatedly are acting according to the best evidence they have. Neal Rubin would know. It’s still a weird tone. The premise of the athlete being pushed out of sports by a noodge of a relative is good enough. I would feel less weird about it if it weren’t about football-caused head injuries. I feel weird that my essay about all this has been so merry, considering.

But that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2017. The story feels at least a couple weeks away from resolution to me. I’d expect the basketball-season story to start in around a month, unless there’s a major twist coming. And we’ll see; sometimes they happen. The softball-season story took such a major twist last year. These things happen.

Next Week!

Spies! International intrigue! Prison drama! Divorce, kidnapping, and deliberately smashed cell phones! What else could it be but Judge Parker, the most “What” of What’s Going On In comic strips for 16 months running! Francesco Marciuliano’s writing has brought a lot of changes to the strip, but don’t worry. He hasn’t gone so far as to make Mike Manley illustrate any judge work.

What’s Nude on Television

The satellite TV dial is filling with these Christmas music channels, more every day. And we were looking for them and discovered there’s this weird huge block all labelled NUDE. I guess they’re specific nude channels, since the show listings talk about how it’s stuff like “girls kissing 24/7” and my love pointed out how tired their lips have to get. Probably their whole faces get worn out.

But the channels all look like that, and that’s disappointing. Why couldn’t they just be a bunch of regular channels only nude? I’d be interested in, like, Nude Discovery Channel, or Nude Comedy Central. Heck, Nude Animal Planet is like 70 percent of the way to reality. Naked A&E.

Look, I know there’s a killer Nude Channel joke to be made here somewhere. I haven’t found it, but we’ve been scrolling for like 18 hours and we’re not through all the channels we don’t have, because of all those video-on-demand channels each offering Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The right application for this concept is somewhere.

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.

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 some 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.