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.
Do you need to know where we are in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop? I’m happy to do my best to catch you up on the storyline. I have my limits, though. I’m writing this in mid-October 2017. If you’re reading this much later than that, the story might have got so far advanced that this isn’t useful. In that case, try checking the top of this page. If I’ve written a further update it should be at or near the top there. Meanwhile, story. here.
If you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, you probably already saw this on my other blog, but what the heck. Never hurts to remind people that a thing exists, until they get tired of it and turn to rioting.
24 July – 15 October 2017.
Last time you’ll recall Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop was still wrestling with a spinoff of the pantsless-alien-frog storyline. The alien plant-frog-guy had left behind a mind-control ray gun that Alley Oop smashed and tossed all the way to the rival kingdom of Lem. There, King Tunk patched the thing together and figured to zap his way into, at last, the conquest of Moo. His attempt backfired, and shooting the thing left himself zapped and in King Guz’s power.
Guz orders Tunk to turn over his lands, his power, and his crown, and Tunk can’t refuse. Oop, fed up with this disrespect for consent, smashes the ray gun to pieces. Tunk comes to his senses, calls “no way” on his cession. He chases Guz, and the last pieces of the pantsless mind-controlling alien-frog storyline, out of the comic.
The new, and current, story started the 1st of August. “Meanwhile” in the 21st century (it’s their convention, run with it or read some other comic strip), Doctor Wonmug faces civilization’s greatest current menace. Rich white guy idiot M T Mentis III is interested in the time laboratory. His objectives are unclear at first. But the Time Lab could always use some more money. How could you make a profit with just the ability to traverse space and time to an exact spot at any exact second? So after a tour of the slick modern computerized time machine Mentis says what he’s up to.
He’s bored of his career of fixing up struggling companies. He wants to do something with meaning, by which he means buying the Time Lab and using the machinery to fix history. Wonmug is aghast at the idea of deliberately altering history. Even trying could force the comic strip to face potentially premise-wrecking consequences. You prove everything is strictly ordained somehow. Or you make the time travellers complicit in all the atrocities of human history. Or you make the time travellers responsible for destroying every living thing in the present timeline. Any of that’s heavy stuff for a comic strip that does better with, like, Alley Oop punching dopes. Yes, I am aware none of those verb tenses withstands any thought but I’m not getting paid enough to give them proper thought.
Since Mentis isn’t getting this, Wonmug sends himself, Mentis, and Mentis’s bodyguard to Moo and says, “see what you can do with this”. What he does is get chased by dinosaurs until he runs into Alley Oop and falls over and knocked out. When he recovers what he uses as his senses Mentis, shaking the idea that this is a movie set or something, works out a plan: he needs to kill the dinosaurs. After all, humans and dinosaurs shouldn’t coexist and they’re drawn kind of off-model and colored all weird. Alley Oop isn’t having any of it.
Oop does admit that King Tunk of Lem is a problem, what with his invading now and then and being kind of a jerk the rest of the time. Mentis proposes a wall, and Oop rolls his eyes so far back into his head they threaten to come around the other side. Mentis figures, well, how about better defenses than Oop’s ax and his fists? Mentis’s bodyguard Gunther epically failed trying out Oop in hand-to-hand combat. But how about if Mentis shows off his superior strategy? Mentis shows off his plan. It’s “holding enough spears and axes and swords and knives at once that Oop barely has to stop laughing long enough to kick him unconscious”. I’m not saying I’d be much better at uplifting the poor noble cavemen if I figured that was my business. I’m not sure what I’d introduce them to, exactly. Soap, I guess. Clean water. A Lockean concept of the social contract. Potatoes. The categorical imperative. I know I wouldn’t try showing off that I could hold too many weapons at once to be able to hold without the whole pile falling and stabbing my foot.
Here Oop asks a good question: the heck is Mentis’s deal, anyway? Before the rich idiot can mansplain why he figures he can patch up history despite his manifest incompetence some actual plot intrudes. It’s raiders from Farzoon, seeking slaves for some massive project. Mentis wonders if it might be Stonehenge or the Great Wall because I’m going ahead and assuming thought Chariots of the Gods was nonfiction. Oop and Mentis hide, but the Farzoonian raiders have their scent.
And that’s got us caught up.
So, still not answered: what is Mentis’s deal, anyway? It’s hard to square someone being bright enough to save struggling companies repeatedly with not being able to see any problems whatsoever in meddling with history. So what’s h out for? I guess it would be admirable if he did just want to fix the messy, terrible sides of history. And that would show up Wonmug and Oop for laughing at him. But if he is then he’s done a pretty poor job thinking through what that implies which, yeah, isn’t impossible. Especially given the casual, light tone of the Alley Oop world.
But it’s also baffling story for the Benders to write. As far as I know Alley Oop has avoided setting out the rules about whether, and how, history can be changed in its time-travel view. The storyline seems to threaten to commit them to something. Dr Wonmug says that history can change and time-travellers have to take care not to screw things up. But I don’t know what his evidence for that is. They seem to have a pretty casual attitude about time-travelling if they are afraid of messing up stuff. Alley Oop can activate the time machine to destinations of his choosing. Alley Oop’s an upstanding person, and he gets up to speed in situations quickly. But would you want to count on a caveman dropped into (say) the Battle of Manzikert to not do something off-script?
I suppose it’ll be avoided, or at least left ambiguous. I’m also curious how Wonmug figures that getting his hat stomped by dinosaurs will help Mentis learn about the interconnectedness of events or whatever his vague lesson is. You’d think just “what if you set it so your parents never met?” would get the point across. I suppose a reasonable person might learn from being shoved headfirst into Moo just how complicated and messy and big the world is and so how implausible it is to “fix” the timeline. But I’m not sure a reasonable person would have done more than have fantasies about history-fixing either.
So, I’m curious whether we’ll learn Mentis has some ulterior motive, or whether he simply believes he’s worked out the killer app for time travel.
So we begin with the Ken Russell’s 1975 documentary Tommy about the pinball cult growing out of Roger Daltrey mostly not looking directly at stuff. The cult was going great with people showing up at pinball holiday camps right up to the point they were expected to play pinball. I agree some of those old electromechanical games were brutal, but the mass riots were overreacting. Not really sure what they were expecting. They were expecting free love, by which “they” I mean “guys” and by which “free love” I mean “women don’t get to say no”.
Thing is, it was a worldwide utopian cult. The movie only shows one getting rioted into oblivion. But they showed the giant world map with light bulbs for all the camps all over the place. That sort of stuff doesn’t die easily. Not if you’ve reached the point you have a giant world map with light bulbs. When you’ve got past where you can do a poster from Staples with push-pins you’ve got too much momentum for one day to bring you down. There’s going to be true believers who aren’t going to be shaken off. They’re going to gather somewhere. So it’ll be in some place just rural enough that they can afford the property taxes, but just urban enough that people who want to join the utopian cult can rest assured if the free love doesn’t work out they can still find a department store.
So we follow one in I’m going to go ahead and say west Michigan. A bunch of dreamers who figured they were gonna take it, and go on having pinball contests for tourists who wonder why it doesn’t look like it did in the movie. “We’re fundraising to build a garish arena,” the guides would say. “We’ve almost got enough to build a shoe.” The tourists look on, wondering why the competition still doesn’t look quite like the movie. “Have you had anything at our snack bar?” the guide tries to direct people. “It’s quite good.” It isn’t, but it’s cheap and what, you’re going to schlep all the way to Ludington for lunch?
Anyway, they would offer “silverball” hoagies. They’re meatballs tinted silver. Well, they’re vegetarian meatballs, made of cracked wheat or something late-70s like that. They do something to so it seems exactly like meat when the right person makes it, and just an exotic substance someone can put in their mouth if they choose to, whenever anyone else makes it. Comes with cheese and, if you also buy a roll of color film, a 15-cent discount. Also, yes, baked beans, but you mark yourself as a total doof if you ask for them.
The color comes from a shocking amount of colloidal silver dosed into the “meat” balls, and eventually results in an investigation by the state into just what they’re doing buying that many boxes of dragees and grinding them up. “We don’t eat them regularly, we just feed them to strangers!” is the embarrassing quote that makes every statewide TV station during the 1985 trial for whatever the heck they were up to. The cult gets vindicated when the jury establishes that no, nobody takes the dragees off a cookie or cake before eating it, why would you do that? But it’s a blow to the cult’s attempts to get out of the “free love” image. Figures.
And there’s schisms, of course, because there always are. Electromechanical versus solid-state, obviously, because the early solid state games are totally different from electromechanical pinball machines in ways that are obvious to someone who’s not a pinball aficionado, what with the solid state games having electronic buzzing noises instead of bells. And then I bet when they got into modern games, with dot-matrix displays and complicated rule sets. Let me explain that to people who aren’t pinball fanatics: these are pinball terms. They mean things.
So I figure this gets to the present day, when the unleashing of the new Star Wars game — a game of such unbridled complexity that the only response to it is to sit down and weep some — the camp decides, yes, they’ve done all they can do. It’s time to close up. The last days of the last utopian pinball cult present scenes of such John McPhee-esque piquancy that they’re not even remotely pleasant to read.
My beta readers described it as “I guess what we were getting in for when we let you know we picked up that Murakami book we never did read” and “shocklingly involved arguments about whether it’s ethical to tilt your own ball away as seen from the perspectives of different decades so I guess that’s a thing?”, so hey, I’m in a good place now!
Do you like superhero stories that have a good bit of that Silver Age flair? I mean the melodrama, the plots that get a little goofy but are basically delightful, the stories that touch on serious subjects but avoid being dire or grim, and the resolutions that turn on some crazy fairy-tale logic. So I am, indeed, a fan of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man comic strips. If you’re reading this, I trust you like this sort of thing too, or at least you find it interesting. Also that you want to know what the current storyline is. If you’re reading this around mid-October 2017 you’re in luck: this essay should be on point. If it’s much later than that, the story might have moved on. If I have a more recent update it should be at or near the top of this page. Thank you.
I didn’t guess last time I reviewed the Amazing Spider-Man what the next recap would include. If I had, I would have included “the end of the current story”. That story saw Peter and Mary Jane Parker in Los Angeles on one of those comic-strip weeklong getaways that runs twelve months of reader time. They discovered Melvin, the Mole-Man Ruler of the Underworld wants to marry Aunt May. He’s free to do that now that he’s been overthrown by Tyrannus, the immortal Augustulus, last ruler of the Roman Empire of the West. And Aunt May’s partial to it too. And, yeah, the comic strip is its own separate continuity from everything else Marvel-branded. Still, I knew Melvin and Aunt May would have something keep them from getting married. Tyrannus leading an army of subterranean monsters to destroy Los Angeles seemed like a good enough excuse.
Thing is, that was back in the middle of July. I thought there were a couple weeks’ worth of Tyrannus invading. People around Spider-Man foiling the invasion while he’s tied up or maybe unconscious. Melvin accepting his responsibility to the Mole People Or Whoever Lives Down There that he has to go rule them. Aunt May not being able to join because she’s allergic to the Mole Kingdom. (I’m not being snarky there. It’s what kept them apart before.) They haven’t got quite there yet. But it does look like it’s going to wrap up soon? Maybe in a couple weeks? I think?
Well, here’s what happened. Peter Parker told Aunt May and Melvin that yeah, actually, they should get married if they want to. They set a date of “pretty soon, considering we’ve both died of old age as many as fourteen times dating back to the era of King Aethelred the Ill-Advised already”. And they both like James Dean. So they figure to marry at Griffith Observatory, taking the Observatory officials entirely by surprise. Mary Jane’s not able to participate in the plot, as a heavy storm trapped her in a side thread about her publicity tour.
Also taking Griffith Observatory by surprise: Tyrannus, who breaks the promise he made to Kala, his wife, that he’d leave Melvin alone. Kala’s content with having conquered the whole of Subterranea and doesn’t see any reason to bother the Mole Man as long as he’s staying on the surface. Well, not taking them completely by surprise. Peter Parker had spotted one of Tyrannus’s drones sneaking around the night before so he expected some kind of attack. But he figured going ahead with the wedding was the best way to get to the next big scene, and what do you know. A bunch of tentacled monsters grab Melvin, and Spider-Man follows close behind. Aunt May and the minister are left at the Observatory.
Melvin’s points out what an unnecessary jerk Tyrannus is being about all this. And Kala quickly joins Team Melvin, which serves as a reminder of how making false promises to your loved ones will come back to you. She gets the chance because Tyrannus is catching a bit of Old Age. He needs to recharge from the Fountain of Youth. This it turns out is a river underneath Los Angeles. Well, it wasn’t always, but with Tyrannus’s recent conquest of Mole Man’s territories he had the river diverted to Los Angeles.
Tyrannus runs off for the sacred chalice with the line drawn on it so he knows how much youth to imbibe. (It’s always a sacred chalice, isn’t it? They never just need a Wawa coffee mug.) Kala pops out the key to Spidey and Melvin’s handcuffs. She expositions about how he needs a drink or he’ll turn 1500 all at once. And she works out how to extort Tyrannus into giving up his conquest plans. Spidey, glad not to have to come up with a plan, goes for it. Spider-Man dams up the River of Youth before Tyrannus can get his drink. Kala tells the ancient Roman Emperor that if he does invade the surface world he’ll be a murderer. He’d have killed the man she fell in love with.
Tyrannus sends a flock of subterranean monsters after Kala, Spidey, and Melvin. Unless that should be a “herd” of subterranean monsters. (To be precise.) But his monsters can’t match Melvin’s knowledge of the tunnels. And he’s in a bad way, anyway. Without access to the River of Youth water he’s showing his 1500 years and might even get to be older than Aunt May. Kala gets him to make an Imperial Oath to never attack the surface world again, in exchange for Spidey un-blocking the River of Youth. And this one will count. Merlin the Magician made fidelity to Imperial Oaths a condition of the last Western Roman Emperor’s access to eternal youth. Spider-Man takes a moment to reflect on how this is kind of a weird scene. Tyrannus and Melvin shrug and point out, hey, you’re Spider-Man.
And that’s where we are as of today. Also, so now you see why I figure we’ve got to be near the end of this story. They just have to figure out reasons for Melvin to stay underground and Aunt May not to marry him. Then Peter Parker can head off to the next casually insulting scene.
Maybe you notice. I’ve been enjoying this. I guess there’s high stakes here, what with the threatened conquest of the surface world and all by an immortal Ancient Roman. But in truth it’s an endearing small story about people with goofy costumes and funny names messing up each others’ marriages. And Spider-Man even gets to do some stuff, although at the direction of much better-informed people. Which I like too. Newspaper Spider-Man has a passivity problem. But people with a lick of common sense should shut up and listen to the folks who are experts in their field of expertise. And yeah the story has covered really very few points considering it’s been a quarter of a year. But it’s had a good bit of action and humor and very little spider-moping.
We journey back to the land of Moo and peek in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. There was still more mind-control ray gun story to deal with. After that, Alley Oop faces the biggest problem of 21st century humanity: an idiot white guy with money. See you then, in the past.
So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.
My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”
In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.
My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.
Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.
I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!
Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.
PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.
Are you interested in the current storyline in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker? Are you reading this in or near early October 2017? Because if your answer to both is ‘yes’ then great, glad to have you here. If your answer to the first is ‘yes’ and the second ‘no’, the comic strip might have gotten on to some completely different storyline. So this essay might be true enough but not helpful. If I’ve written a successor it should be at or near the top of this page. If your answer to the first question is ‘no’ I’ll try to be interesting anyway but I admit I feel a little hurt you’d be so blunt.
My last update on Judge Parker storylines came suspiciously close to a change in the plots. This keeps happening with my What’s Going On In updates, by the way. I’m definitely not arranging stuff with Comic Strip Master Command to make these recaps come within a week or so of one story yielding to the next. It’s still weird.
I had said last update that it looked like the one major storyline dormant since Marciuliano took over writing the strip — the whereabouts and activity of April Parker, Super-Secret Spy Person — seemed to be heating up. Current Judge Randy Parker was falling apart with his wife and by-now-born child missing somewhere in one of those foreign countries where the CIA is always sending Super-Secret Spy Persons. Retired Judge Alan Parker was visiting, trying to help him through this. And he brought a guest.
It was April Parker, along with a picture she said was their daughter Charlotte. Who’s somewhere “safe” and “in the country” that she gives Randy. She gives Alan an audio cassette. And then gives herself to the CIA-types who appear at the door, as foretold in the Thursday strip the week before. The CIA types let Alan and Randy keep their tape and the picture, which seems criminally negligent of them, so it’s plausible.
There’s an SD card taped to the back of Randy’s picture. Randy pops over to Sam Driver’s farm and plays April’s tale of entrapment and betrayal. April’s supervisors had been testing her on make-work assignments, and now she’s invited to join a secret sub-unit of the CIA, “patriots who just go that extra step”, the sort of thing that never goes wrong, ever, except for every time, ever. She’s revolted by the rogue agency, even before hearing about the “profit-sharing” potential, and horrified that by going on enough of what she now knows were nonsense assignments she’s been coopted into their group.
Norton, her father, pops in. He’s a faintly Dr Strangelove-esque figure with segmented cigar and the ability to kill any number of off-panel henchmen, so he’s well-suited to gun down the agent trying to recruit April. He promises that he can get April to safety, shelter her child when it’s born, and get word back to Randy Parker by way of his contacts.
So that’s what led to the situation as unfurled: April was in hiding long enough to give birth, and prepare her recordings and messages and all that and to wait for the collapsed-clothing-factory and the kidnapped-Sophie stories to reach a quiet patch. And he brings the infant Charlotte Parker to Alan, who’ll have to keep the child in secret until the heat’s off.
Over to Toni Bowen, the reporter who was on the scene when the deranged clothing factory storyline imploded. She’s not had much success since the factory collapse and the kidnapping of Sophie Spencer; her boss points out that the embezzling-stalker truck driver story went nowhere, which is unduly harsh on Marciuliano. It was a weird complicated side thread, but I liked that everyone in a soap opera universe is going through some crazypants events. Anyway, April’s sent her all the news about the rogue CIA agents, which shows that the Parker-Spencer-Davis clan does indeed forgive and bestow blessings even on those who’ve antagonized them, sometimes. Alan Parker, figuring the heat’s off somehow, brings Charlotte to Randy.
So. Three-month jump ahead in time. April Parker’s in jail, promising that between her testimony and her planned excellent behavior she’ll be released in under three years. Randy and Charlotte are as happy as could be. Alan’s wife, Katherine, is still furious enough about all this secret agent nonsense that she’s taken the flash forward as chance to leave, possibly from the strip altogether.
And that’s three months mostly spent explaining what April was up to. The story was mostly about characters learning what was, to them, in the past. But it’s not like the strips being flashbacks mean we weren’t watching tense stuff happen. Also we got some idea of who the mysterious figure sending Alan Parker cassette tapes with needlessly cryptic instructions was. (This might have been established before, but I don’t remember it.) And, after a bit over a year of this, I believe Marciuliano has finally taken all the plot threads left over from Woody Wilson’s writing tenure and done something with them. Mostly that’s been tamping them down to involve less unceasing praise of the Parker-Spencer-Davis clan. That’s involved a lot of blowing up the status quo, including another set of people being gunned down. There’s plenty of room to develop the stories from here. Most of the directions involve a lot of things families can quite correctly argue about. Should be quite some potential there.
You know what’s a comic strip that seems very close to wrapping up its current storyline? Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Please join us in Spider-Man’s natural habitat, the cavernous tunnels underneath Los Angeles, where a Roman Emperor with his own Fountain of Youth hopes to launch the conquest of the surface world and also break up Aunt May’s romance with Melvin the Mole Man. I realize I sound like I’m joking about what a Silver Age comic book would do, but no, this is what’s happening.
The 17th of July saw the start of a new storyline, one that took nearly two months to unfold. It features Heather Burns, a student who’s likely to be a great trainer or coach someday, and Jaquan Case, an alumni of Gil Thorp here for his tenth-anniversary storyline. I should say, I was not reading Gil Thorp with enough attention ten years ago to say whether Case really was a basketball star in the strip back then. It would make sense if he were. The comic has a surprisingly strong continuity. Stars of one storyline often appear as supporting players in a later one, and even make cameos after that. So I will accept Case as someone who was probably part of the basketball stories in the mid-2000s.
And then, mm. Well. There’s events. I just never got into the story. Case and his friend Trey Davis, another ex-comic-strip-character now working as a private coach, hang around the kids playing coach some. And Case is working through some stuff. He’s doing fine in the NBA, but he’s feeling like he lost something when he quit football sophomore year of college. Case wants to move back into football. A couple sessions with True Standish, a more current Gil Thorp quarterback, suggests that yeah, if he really worked at it, Case could be a plausible football player.
So, with this, Coach Thorp makes his excuses to be somewhere not involving athletes having personal problems. Heather Burns steps up, figuring out during a series of workout sessions that Case’s real problem is he doesn’t feel people’s expectations of him in basketball are in line with his idea of himself. So she does some digging and works out that Case could definitely get his Master’s degree in US History, a thing he would totally want. Maybe even go on to a PhD. He even gets ideas of maybe becoming a professor, which shows that even professional athletes in the major leagues who could plausibly switch to another major league have comically unrealistic career dreams. And Case shows his gratitude by hooking Burns up with someone at Iowa who might be able to get her a coaching gig.
And that, the 9th of September, closes out a storyline that really looks like it was something happening. But reading it daily, ugh. It just felt like people standing near sports equipment talking about how they might do a different sport instead. And it seemed to go nowhere. Every day I looked at the strip and all I saw was eight months of wandering through Featureless Manhattan in the final year of Apartment 3-G. I think the core trouble might be the premise. 30-year-old professional athlete who feels adrift going back to the High School Coach Who Made All The Difference for advice? Plausible. Getting life advice from the 17-year-old teenage girl with a talent for coaching who knows that she’ll never get a real job at it? Less so.
OK. So. The 11th saw the new storyline start. It features Rick Soto, who yields to his Uncle Gary’s pressure to play at the Elks Club Talent Show. There, apparently, his version of “Mack the Knife” steals the show. If I haven’t missed anything they haven’t said what instrument Rick plays, but that’s all right. He’s also a left tackle, which gives the Gil Thorp comic strip jurisdiction over his life story. Also, Coach Thorp is for the first time testing his players for brain function. This seems to set up a storyline about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is certainly the sort of thing this comic strip should talk about. (I do wonder, too, if the current moral imperative to Take A Knee won’t disrupt whatever Rubin and Whigham have planned.) But two weeks in there’s no guessing where any of that might go. I just include this so I have the first paragraph written of my next Gil Thorp plot summary written.
I am embarrassed to admit this is a story summary done in greater haste than usual. Somehow I’d got in my head that I was due to review Gil Thorp and was thinking about that storyline all week, and then late Saturday actually looked at my schedule. I’ll try to be fairly complete about this anyway. And for those hoping to understand Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., thanks for reading. If it’s much past September 2017 when you read this, the story might have drifted. If I have more recent updates they should be at or near the top of this page.
My last summary of Rex Morgan, M.D. missed by one week the conclusion of the Kelly-Niki-Holly love triangle plot, when it was revealed Niki didn’t know Kelly was jealous of his time with Holly. Niki needed some advice from her parents on how to cope with a non-heterosexual friend because millennials have so much trouble coping with this stuff than their parents do. That’s all.
The 2nd of July started the new and current storyline, when June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Taylor dropped into town. She bring along her son Johnny, played by Norm Feuti’s Gil, who instantly gets along with Sarah and Michael Morgan. Margie talks about how she’d had to leave town as a teen when her mother died, and how screwed up her life had gotten, and how she’s straightened out enough things that she had the courage to look up June Morgan again.
So yeah, Margie’s dying. June’s the first to mention it, to Rex, who does enough medicine to agree. It takes a couple weeks of reader time for Margie to open up about it. But she’s got third-stage plot complications and expects them to be imminently fatal. Margie panels the people in Rex and June Morgan’s lives about how good they are as parents and the reports are favorable. “Yeah, there was that weird thing where they let a mob widow muscle the Museum into publishing and buying a zillion copies of her book of horse drawings, and I guess June’s pregnancy did get into the tenth trimester before she gave birth, but they’re basically pretty good eggs,” answered person after person, verbatim.
Margie asks June if she and Rex will adopt Johnny. June, hoping to stall long enough for the writer to change his mind, agrees to consider it if Margie agrees to see some specialists that she and Rex will think up. Margie agrees. While June and Rex take seriously the question of whether to adopt an all-but-certainly-orphaned boy, Margie tells babysitter Kelly that she’s off to run some errands, hugs Johnny, and walks out. She leaves behind a letter to the court asking that the Morgans be named Johnny’s guardian, and a note to not try to find her.
So that’s an exciting development. The police are vague about whether this does count as child abandonment or any other specific crime, which surprises me. I grant the situation’s not common, but it seems like it’s got to be something everyone who does child and family welfare cases has to hear about. I’m also curious what actual real-world case law suggests. My gut says that yeah, it wouldn’t be abandonment to leave a child with someone responsible who’d given you a verbal agreement to an adoption, along with a letter stating your intention to give the child to their custody, and contact information for your attorney (who’s presumably been clearly told the intention). But if I learned anything from watching too much of The People’s Court as a kid, the thing that seems instinctively right is contravened by actual law. (There must be some guide for this for soap opera writers, mustn’t there? So that if they want the story to go in a crazy direction they can do it in ways that don’t sound obviously crazy?)
And that’s where we land in mid-September. I am surprised to have another child airlifted into the Morgan family. For one, in previous months someone else in the comic — I forget who — had mentioned how she wanted a child. It seemed like a solution being set up for a problem. Also having a ready-made new child dropped into their lives feels a little like a return to the gifts-bestowed-on-the-Morgans format that Terry Beatty had drawn back from. There’s important differences, though. Particularly, the Morgans here think early and often about how much responsibility this child is, and how adopting him messes up reasonably made plans. Kids are work, and there’s been no discussion between June and Rex suggesting they’re thinking of how fun a third child could be.
Curious touch: Johnny is mentioned as having been born the same day as June and Rex’s second child, Michael. The adults remarked on the coincidence. It’s a remarkable coincidence. And none at all, of course, since Beatty got to choose when Johnny was born. So I’m left pondering: what is the artistic choice being made in having the adopted child be born the same day as the non-adopted one? It feels meaningful, but I can’t pin down what the meaning is to me. I’m curious if other readers have a similar sense, or thought about what it does mean.
Thank you, reader, for being interested in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. This essay is about the Sundays-only continuity, which runs independently of DePaul and Mike Manley’s Monday-to-Saturday Phantom storylines. I have updates on those as well. The weekday story recaps, as well as any Sunday story recaps that have been posted since the mid-September 2017 writing of this essay, should be at this link. Good luck finding what you were looking for.
And if you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematical themes, please consider my mathematics blog, which reviewed some of them earlier today. And should review some on Tuesday, too.
14 May – 9 September 2017.
The current storyline — The Phantom is Everywhere — began with the Jungle Patrol jailing some of the terrorist Chatu’s followers. The Phantom’s private little army was celebrating the three arrests when I last reviewed the Sunday Phantom continuity. The killers broke out of jail, though, killing several on their way. This quite riles up the Jungle Patrol, to the point they might have done something irresponsible for a self-selected private army acting outside the control of any governing body.
But they come to their senses, checking in with the Unknown Commander, so far as they know. Luckily it’s is The Phantom they check with. The Phantom’s plan regarding the fugitive terrorist supporters: find them. For this, he doesn’t rely on the Jungle Patrol but rather the many associates of the Bandar Tribe. The Phantom, Babudan, and Guran take their drummers and their expertise to hunt each of the three killers.
The drummers are an important part of the plan. Their drumming serves to instill in each of the killers the sense that The Ghost Who Walks might be nearby. At any moment he might appear and punch them out. And then what do you know, but he appears and punches them out. That’s probably fairly good psychology, although as storytelling it got confusing. For a couple weeks there it seemed like The Phantom was sneaking up on the same guy, by a campfire, and decking him, week after week. That they were different people didn’t quite stand out at weekly intervals.
It also suggests that the splitting-up of the three killers wasn’t all that useful a plan. They might, theoretically, have ganged up on The Phantom had they stuck together. But they probably also guessed they’d be separated more than about fifteen minutes before The Phantom got the drop on them. I gather they’re supposed to be pretty well-separated. But the three were found in the same night, and The Phantom was able to drop in and clobber each before sunrise.
So, The Phantom was able to deliver the killers into Jungle Patrol custody by morning. Presumably this will satisfy the desire for vengeance that threatened Jungle Patrol’s operating morale. And serve the cause of justice by putting the accused in the hands of a privately-raised police force whose funding and lines of authority are not at all clear to me. Probably nothing to worry about there.
There’s not been a formal wrap-up panel. But this week’s installation feels like the resolution. I can see, especially reading the whole sequence in short order to summarize the plot, how it works. Still, my impression as the story progressed especially in July and August was that of not being sure I hadn’t seen The Phantom sneak up on and punch this guy last week? Or was that the previous guy? Or was it just a lot of punching? Read all together, the story flows more obviously, although that also points out how linear the narrative was. The Sunday continuity does have a disadvantage, though. It’s much harder to fit a story in to about six panels of space per week; compare how more complex the weekday storyline has been over roughly the same couple months. I am interested in seeing how the Jungle Patrol, riled by the killers escaping prison, reacts to their recapture not involving a single member of the Patrol besides the Unknown Commander. That ought to involve some weird political dynamics.
More text that I couldn’t do anything with. If you can, congratulations!
Another problem is my speaking voice I sound like I’m being sarcastic. It’s an endemic problem with my family. Something in our upbringing caused us to transmute all our deepest Jersey vowels and verbal tics into, instead, conveying an eye-roll with the way we say words like “Hello” and “which”. I don’t think it was just my siblings and I trying to preemptively put one another down. We love each other, so far as we tell each other. But I can’t even say, “I spilled some tea and wanted to wipe it up” without sounding like I’m the one being hostile. I didn’t spill the tea on purpose. Anyway, a heavy dose of sarcasm is fine for some conversations, but not if you’re trying to make a real argument that, like, William Shatner showed a deft touch in some of the scenes he directed in Star Trek V: The One William Shatner Directed. See? You already think that’s me being sarcastic. — Cut from last week’s discussion about my lack of podcasting because it’s one of those paragraphs I thought up while in bed and figured oh, I’m definitely putting that in when I get up in the morning, and it was two days after I posted it.
ham sanitizer — Look, sometimes when you want to write a high-volume humor thingy you just go into these free-association free-form things and jot down whatever comes to mind and then you look at it afterwards and have to shrug because it doesn’t always pan out.
“The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic.” — Yes, that old Wikipedia statement once again, because I just can not make myself believe there’s nothing in there. But August was another month where whatever is there didn’t turn up for me. Maybe September.
hand satirizer — Again from the free-association free-form thingy and the thing to remember is that just because an idea pops into your head doesn’t mean you owe it the slightest gratitude for doing so. If it’s a good idea it’ll do some heavy lifting on its own and show why it’s a good idea and you don’t have to try building up every pair of words until it’s something.
Oh, yeah, I know how these things come about. You’re minding your own business and then you see this bolt of light and stop the car to examine. It’s this desperate, crashed alien who rallies himself from death long enough to transfer onto you a weird tattoo that tingles with a body-encompassing energy. The alien turns out to be this mutant human who half a millennium ago was a minor Dutch nobleman before being struck by a comet that granted him astounding superpowers he struggled to keep secret in his new not-quite-immortal life. Then you go on to discover that your own son, born with the powers of your now mutating body, will travel back in time hundreds of years to create a comet bearing the superpower tattoo, that proceeds to hit his own later self, given amnesia and planted in the Netherlands to be hit by the energy-bringing comet that sets this whole time loop into motion. I must know like twenty guys that’s happened to. — Cut because the person who was talking about this said no, he thought the character just inherited magical abilities from his father, and I pointed out that technically speaking that’s true in my scenario too, and the person shook his head sadly and walked away. This led us into a good argument about whether this would have been creating a paradox, or resolving a paradox, or avoiding a paradox altogether, and long story short we’re not speaking anymore and that person is justified.
yam sani– — No. Just, you know? No.
If you or someone you love is able to make use of these scraps please submit a comment care of the Bishopric of Utrecht, 1024 – 1528. Please be advised that responses might be delayed, as, according to a quick skim of Wikipedia’s articles abou the history of the Netherlands, it seems like there was a lot of investituring and annulling was going on back then and that probably has everyone quite distracted.
Have you been wondering what the current storyline is in James Allen’s Mark Trail? You’re not alone. The past several months have been this story about Mark Trail and a bank robber and a much-delayed census of prairie dogs in North Dakota. It’s possible that this story, which was going on in August of 2017, has ended by the time you read this. I admit, right now, it’s hard to imagine that. But if “prairie dog bank robber rental car” seem like words completely irrelevant to what you’re reading in the comic strip, maybe this essay is just out of date. At or near the top of this page should be my most recent Mark Trail update essay. I hope that helps you out.
If you’re interested in other comic strips, my other blog reviews the comics that touched on mathematical topics. You might find that interesting. I don’t see why you wouldn’t. You know that thing where you write out a long number, grouped in bunches of three? Like, 10,000,000 instead of, say, 10,00,00,00 or 1000,0000? You know how long people have been doing that? I tell you over there.
11 June – 26 August 2017.
It’s been eleven weeks since I last reviewed the action in Mark Trail. Back then I thought we might be drawing near the end of a story that began in mid-March, about Mark Trail held hostage by a bank robber instead of doing a prairie dog census. I misjudged the story length. But now I really, truly, think we’re coming near the end of the story. We’re at the point that every James Allen Mark Trail reaches: the point where Nature tries to kill everybody. The story had promised “bad weather” last time around, but now we’ve got it.
Where we had been: Mark Trail, trying to rent a car in Rapid City, South Dakota, is approached by an armed gunman with a hostage. He’s robbed a bank and wants Trail to drive him to safety. Trail superficially complies but somehow alerts the car rental agency that he’s in distress. Trail drives the bank robber and hostage to the cabin of Johnny Lone Elk, where Trail picks up his friend and they all shift to horseback. Lone Elk knows something’s wrong and he and Trail talk trick riding, while Lone Elk’s wife suspects something’s up.
Trail and Lone Elk tell the Bank Robber (still unnamed, by the way) and Hostage that there’s a major storm coming. The least incredibly unsafe course is to go down the Vulture Creek ridge. The Bank Robber and Hostage go along with this plan, but they’re not near the ghost town they hope to reach before the rain gets heavy. Lightning explodes a tree next to Lone Elk, and his horse panics, leaping over the edge of the ravine.
Meanwhile — just a second here. I do mean “meanwhile”. Something James Allen’s brought to Mark Trail has been a relenting of the stories’ linearity. We can get information on separate threads. It’s not as unsettling as Allen’s choice to have Mark Trail sometimes think a thing instead of saying it aloud at the top of his lungs with random words emphasized. But it’s still a surprise for the long-time reader. That’s just the world we live in anymore.
Meanwhile, FBI Agent John Paul is on the case, because of the bank robbery. The car rental agent recognized Mark Trail and figured something weird was going on, I think because Trail rented a minivan and not a giant squirrel. He asks Cherry Trail about who Mark Trail expected to meet and where they were. And then why Mark Trail skipped out on his own reservation, instead using one for “Lesley Joyce” at “WaterWorld”. Cherry Trail finds this hilarious, but can explain: Mark surely figured this would be a way to alert people without raising Bank Robber’s suspicions. John Paul is surprised by Cherry Trail’s calm, but she points out she’s been in this strip since like the 40s. Mark’s been through way more serious hostage situations than this.
Lesley Joyce enters the narrative to explain while showing off every pose from How To Draw Realistic Fashion Design Figures ever. Trail and Lone Elk had been hired by Joyce and WaterWorld Theme Park to film a walrus giving birth. The walrus got loose, but Trail and Lone Elk found her. They loaded her into Joyce’s new Escalade, and on the drive back the walrus gave birth to twins. The car technically survived. So if you remember being confused when Cadillac kept running those “pregnant walrus” ads for the Escalade, now you know why they were doing it. And this all ties in to the current story because the car rental contract Trail had with WaterWorld from back then was somehow still open, and he could use that to get Joyce’s attention at least?
I admit this all seems like a lot of story time spent on a tiny point. It isn’t as if the FBI wasn’t looking for the Bank Robber or as they didn’t find the Mark Trail connection on their own. But it’s realistic that Mark Trail couldn’t know that, and would send out whatever distress signals he could. And that car rental counters don’t offer a lot of chances.
The FBI works out something about the bank robbery security footage and the car rental counter footage. The female hostage in the second is one of the Bank Robber’s accomplices in the first. Remember what I said about James Allen making the Mark Trail stories less relentlessly linear? The twist took me by surprise, yes. On rereading the story, I have to grant: Bank Robber and Hostage/Accomplice’s interactions make much more sense now. It wasn’t planted by anything overt; it was just interactions.
The FBI follows Trail’s … trail, into the storm, and they borrow horses from the local town sheriff to get to the ghost town. The storm’s getting worse, with tornadoes in the area.
Meanwhile, Johnny Lone Elk turns out not to have died by falling down the ravine. The plan was to go down a not-as-steep-as-it-looks part of the ravine to fake his death. Then Lone Elk would get help while Mark Trail manages a distraction, by which we mean, while Mark Trail punches somebody.
Besides punching the Bank Robber, Trail reveals he saw through the Hostage/Accomplice long ago. Trail explains he knows terror-stricken people when he sees them and she wasn’t it. … Which, is fair enough. But as fun as punching and yelling at people is, the storm’s getting worse and they need to get to the ghost town.
Lone Elk finds the sheriff, and they agree to head over to the caves where a big old grizzly bear named Samson lives. They figure this is the best way to get to the ghost town through the rain and maybe get the Bank Robber eaten by a bear. And that’s where the story stands right now. We’ll see how that all turns out, and see whether we do eventually find out how many prairie dogs live near Rapid City, South Dakota.
Sunday Animals Watch.
Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:
Tornadoes, 11 June 2017
Bees and Wasps, 18 June 2017
Giant African Snails, 25 June 2017
Egyptian Fruit Bats, 2 July 2017 (we understand their arguments! Weird, huh?)
Komodo dragons, 9 July 2017
Hoopoe (birds), 16 July 2017
Pygmy Dormouse, 23 July 2017
Slipper Lobsters, 30 July 2017
Roseate Spoonbills, 6 August 2017
Cook Pines, 13 August 2017 (wait, they grow at an angle proportionate to the latitude? The heck?)
Hi, readers of Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s weekday-continuity The Phantom. This is an essay meant to help you catch up on what’s happened in the strip through to late July, 2017. If it’s not close to late July, 2017, for you, the story might have progressed or a new story begun. I’ll try to have more recent essays that bring you up to date at this link. There’s also a separate, independent, Sunday continuity for the comic strip. That one’s written by Tony DePaul also, but is drawn by Terry Beatty. I’ll also have updates on that continuity, sometime soon.
Our last check on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, was about six weeks into The Curse Of Old Man Mozz. The Phantom, 21st Ghost Who Walks, had been so busy clobbering low-level thugs that he barely noticed Old Man Mozz was on the brink of death. His wife, Diana Walker Phantom, investigates. Mozz has been in a series of physically and mentally taxing trances, forseeing …
She’s coy about it, but it’s the death of the current Phantom. In a factory that’s by a charming scenic water wheel, a “weak man” with one of the most punchable faces in the comics will “strike from hiding”, killing the 21st Phantom, shooting him from behind. Mozz promises that this is destiny and no one can save The Phantom. Diana figures she can maybe do something about that. If there’s one thing that’s always avertible, after all, it’s destiny, because we don’t know what the word means.
But Mozz goes along with it. He decrees that maybe the vision of The Phantom being ambushed was caused by some well-meaning member of his support team warning him. So in a critical moment he would be thinking “is this the critical moment” instead of reacting. Diana is unimpressed by whatever the heck the rules of prophecy are in this story, but chickens out of telling him. Nevertheless, she’s plagued with doubts, and goes to the Whispering Grove, home of Bangalla’s largest forest of demon-haunted trees that seem to be crying out the Phantom’s name. There she reflects how much would get screwed up if the 21st Phantom dies: not least, he’s the only person who knows exactly what strange school in the Far East Kit Walker Junior is in.
She can’t stand it, and fetches The Phantom back from his mission of riding his big white horse around the jungle. And she makes Mozz tell him of the vision and his doom at the Waterwheel Factory. His team encourages him to take a pass for a couple weeks, wait out the current crisis and then get back to his world-saving duties. Mozz paints a solidly egotistical picture of this, arguing that The Phantom ought to be killed by some great monster like Chatu. Not by some drip who wears an orange shirt with green stars on it and a vest that looks like it ought to be a Home Depot apron but somehow isn’t. Walker thinks it over and decides no thinking necessary. Ghosts Who Walk just don’t ditch their job that way.
The Phantom rides his horse to Destiny Date Road, where he finds a truck hauling guns to the Waterwheel Factory. He sends his hose off, riderless, to stop the truck. One of the thugs has always wanted a horsey just like this and Phantom Horse is happy to play along enough for The Phantom to clobber them and take the truck. It’ll be a way into the Waterwheel Factory.
The envisioned killer’s scouted out the waterwheel and figured it’d be a great spot to ambush somebody from, just in case. He’s thinking how awesome it will be to kill The Phantom and can’t imagine any way that any of this could go wrong in the slightest, so that’s good for him.
The summary sounds sparse, but that’s because this is a plot summary. Much of what’s gone on has been atmosphere or self-inquiry. Particularly, Diana spent a good while tormented by the question of what she could do to prevent her husband’s getting killed. This included a couple gripping sequences, including her sitting in the Whispering Grove, or enduring nightmares based on her knowledge. That all condenses out of a couple paragraphs about the events of the story, though.
As I’d said recently, I won’t be making guesses about whether The Current Phantom dies this story. Either outcome is properly foreshadowed and set up. Either would be a logical outcome, and it’s doing pretty well to have such a believable ambiguity this far into a story.
The index rose three points today to make its third day out of the last four spent at 331, which is a little weird. Also nobody’s seen Lisa since she said she was putting together that Tiny McMansions pilot episode. These are unrelated problems.
Thanks for trying to work out what’s going on in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. I’m writing this in mid-July 2017. If it’s a lot later than July 2017, the story might have moved on, although I admit right now that’s not looking very likely. There might have been enough story development that this stuff isn’t useful anymore. If I’ve written a fresh follow-up since this essay, it should be at or near the top of this page. Let me know if you don’t see something and if the story has got so baffling you need an update.
The current storyline in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop started sometime in October of last year. The end of April and my last update of the strip coincided with what looked like the end of the story. Volzon, an alien plant-frog-guy with a mind-control ray gun, had been foiled in his attempts to colonize prehistoric Earth. It turns out dinosaurs, like Dinny the brontosaurus, aren’t subject to alien mind-control rays and don’t see any reason they couldn’t eat invading alien spaceships. Good stuff to know.
Alley Oop, knowing a loose end when he sees it, tosses the remains of Volzon’s mind-control gun out of Moo, and rejoins the quest for food and whatnot. King Guz, reasonably annoyed at yet another attempt to overthrow Moo, starts talking crazy about building a dome that will keep invading aliens out. Alley Oop reminds him that just because someone has an idea doesn’t mean that idea isn’t incredibly stupid. And he soothes the mind-control-wary Moovians. Even if Volzon or another Jantrullian return, it’s not like dinosaurs are going to vanish from the face of the Earth.
This fine example of dramatic irony gets a little bit weirder when you remember the premise of the comic strip. Alley Oop is a time traveller. He’s been, repeatedly, to the present day and knows that dinosaurs do vanish. On the other hand, he also knows the Jantrullians don’t manage to conquer the Earth, not before about 2016 anyway. (I don’t know if he’s ever been to our future.) I’m not sure how wry this is all supposed to be.
Meanwhile in the loose end, it turns out Alley Oop threw the remains of Volzon’s mind-control gun all the way into Lem, where King Tunk found it. As he only just got in the story he doesn’t know what it is or what it should do, but he can tell these are a bunch of sparky wires that got ripped apart. He figures he could twist the wires back together, cover them with tar, and wrap the whole remains of the gun in a palm leaf and maybe then it’ll work again. I admire his ingenuity and his success. I mean, I’ve needed the help of the car care place down the street just to take off my license plate holder. Twice. He’s fixing up an alien mind-control gun using sticks and leaves.
At least he’s trying to. He tromps into Moo with the repaired gadget, accusing King Guz of designing a weapon to attack Lem. His attempt to use it backfires, leaving him in a dazed and suggestive state. King Guz sees an opportunity, figuring “I think it’s high time Tunk did something good with his life”. This serves as a reminder that there are people who can’t be trusted with mind-control technology, and that would be pretty much “people who’d use it on the unsuspecting”. And I’m not sure it should be trusted to people who’d volunteer to have it be used on either. I get the idea, but there’s such major issues about consent and the respect of personal autonomy that I can’t see a way around it.
Anyway, this storyline keeps puttering on at the lethargic pace of a strip that makes sure the Sunday strip contains all the plot of the six weekdays around it. I would have bet the mind-control ray story was over with the end of April, so I’m not going to make guesses about when this story will end. There’ve been some teases that King Tunk needs to learn about working with people, and maybe that’s where the mind-control gun is going. We shall see, I assume.
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose — wait, this can’t be right. OK, it’s what everybody is saying, anyway. All right. The index rose 36 freaking points during the day, blasting way past the 300 margin and raising questions about whether the whole project is properly ballasted or what. I’m skeptical. Not looking to cause trouble but I’m not one of those people cranky about how they didn’t buy when it was at 80 or that did sell when it was at 256 because whatever this is, it’s not right.
The news is that he and King Features Syndicate have reached an agreement about the rights to the stories he’d produced for the comic since 1999. And they have an agreement to have him keep writing as long as both sides are happy with the way things are working. The breakthrough apparently grew over June, after he’d announced the intention to leave. King Features’ general manager for syndication, who hadn’t been directly involved in negotiations, asked for an informal meeting to see what could be done, and after — well, suppose it can’t have been more than a month of talks, yes, something could be done. And just in time, too; DePaul says Jeff Weigel, the Sunday artist, had just run out of story to draw. Mike Manley, the weekdays artist, had about six weeks of story yet.
I’m glad, certainly. The Phantom‘s been reliably interesting and who would want that messed up? Also the hint about how long the current Sunday storyline has to run confirms my resolve to change some of my “What’s Going On In” schedule. I’d been thinking to separate the weekday and the Sunday summaries for better pacing. Moving the next Sundays recap to closer to the end of the current storyline suits me. I was also thinking to move around some of the other strip recaps. I’d set the order without any plan, and I’d like to break up what seem like blocks of too-similar comics.
DePaul teases the idea that the current daily storyline will end in the death of the current Phantom, especially in saying how the story “would have been a superb sign-off to my Phantom career” and describes just how screwed up things would be if the 21st Phantom were to die just now. Me, I’m not making guesses. While the narrative would fully justify the current Phantom’s death this year, escaping certain death is just what superheroes are all about.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose an astounding fourteen points after looking up the lyrics and finding that the karaoke machine had it right. There is a bit in “I Just Called To Say I Love You” that goes “no Libra sun”, and hey, there’s this whole stanza that just goes through the months, one at a time, and counts Libra for September which is fair enough, although is there really anything distinctive about September’s sun? Granted that April is the cruelest month, what is September? The snarkiest month? When it’s up against November? No, that doesn’t make sense.
As Mary Jane spins out three anecdotes and two improvised gags on a chat show a mysterious eggplant wearing sunglasses starts hitting studio security with a stick. It’s the Mole Man, familiar to Amazing Spider-Man as the ruler of the subterranean world of … Subterranea. They were caught by surprise when someone asked the name of their land. Mole Man is also, per a story from a couple years back, a would-be suitor to Aunt May. See what I mean about continuity?
Aunt May had rejected his proposal, since as fun a date as he was they lived in separate worlds and barely knew one another and I think he met Aunt May when he was busy kidnapping her. I forget. Anyway, the separate-worlds thing might no longer be an issue because he’s been deposed. Tyrannus the Conquerer, fresh from thinking of the first name he could for who he was and what he would do, has taken over. And now Tyrannus is coming for the surface world.
Before anyone can ask serious questions (“Wait, to Tyrannus was the Western Roman Emperor Augustulus, deposed in 476 AD, and kept alive by the Fountain of Youth that’s in Subterranea? Is this a thing in the real comics or … the heck?”) a giant rampaging armadillo-beast breaks through the Los Angeles streets and starts rampaging, giantly. Also Mole Man says the beast’s named Lenny. Mole Man can’t bear to hurt Lenny, but Spider-Man shames him into doing something, since giant rampaging armadillo beasts seem like they’re too hard a problem for Spidey to handle. Mole Man knows how to handle Lenny: chop off some of his scale, then toss the scales down the pit he’d just dug, and Lenny follows. This works because … I’m not sure, exactly. Giant rampaging armadillo monsters can’t resist following their own scent, I guess is what they say.
Mole Man recognizes that Lenny was sent to bring him back to Tyrannus. And while Lenny failed, Tyrannus will send more, possibly harder-to-foil monsters. He resolves to surrender himself to spare the surface world, which underscores how complete a heel-face turn he’s done in the face of Aunt May’s affections. And nothing is going to talk him out of this except if Aunt May asks him to stay and what do you know happens but? She accepts his hastily renewed marriage proposal. The gang retreats to discuss options and how Mole Man can afford to support Aunt May in the style to which she’s become accustomed and maybe next week they’ll talk about stopping Tyrannus or something.
Next week: Jack Binder and Carole Binder’s Alley Oop and the aftermath of the pantsless alien’s mind-control gun. And one final note for this week: if you like more talk about comic strips but would like them to be more about word problems, please consider my mathematics blog, which reviewed the past week’s syndicated comic strips with mathematics themes on Sunday. It also does this most Sundays and sometimes the odd extra day of the week, such as “Thworbsday”.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
And now the index jumped up thirty points to what’s got to be an all-time high as traders realized they’re not Belgian and don’t have to eat crickets if they don’t want to. This is just proving my point, guys, and I don’t see why you think this is anything else.
Now, finally, I’ve run out of excuses and will talk about my popularity around here as measured by WordPress’s statistics page. June was my second-most-popular month this year, based on readers. There were 2,118 page views, up from May’s 1,944 and April’s 1,765. I credit this to people wanting to understand what was going on in Judge Parker, which has seen a lot of stuff going on the past couple weeks worth keeping track of. There were 1,501 unique visitors in June, my second-best count of unique visitors ever. That’s the highest it’s been since the Apartment 3-Gocalypse, when The Onion A.V. Club casually mentioned my existence and people checked to see that I do indeed exist.
This surge in popularity did nothing about the long-term decline in the number of likes: there were only 122 of them in June, the lowest total in years. Comments were up to 19 from May’s 10, but that’s still below April’s 26 and it’s meager in any case. I need to find somebody I can banter with and force them to say something every post, I think is the problem. I am a little surprised the story comic review posts don’t inspire more responses. Maybe I’m giving off vibes that I have said everything I can imagine ever saying about Gasoline Alley so nobody feels the desire to see if I could maybe say a little more.
The most popular postings in June were all comic strip stuff:
You have no idea how much it bugs me that I took so long to decide between “What’s Going On In” and “What’s Going On With” the various story strips. I’d go back and change the inconsistent ones but I feel somehow like making a change like that now would be falsifying my historical record, unless I put in a note saying what I had changed and why, in which case I’d still see it every time. And the URLs would have the old, inconsistent titles anyway.
So where am I getting readers from? According to WordPress my page views for June came from:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
St. Kitts and Nevis
US Virgin Islands
I honestly believe that to be 67 countries, up from May’s 58 and April’s 51. I also make out 26 single-reader countries, up from May’s 17 and April’s 13. Belgium, Cambodia, Turkey, and Vietnam were single-reader countries in May, also. Taiwan is on a four-month single-reader streak.
The month started at 56,793 page views, from something like 31,335 unique viewers. Sundays were the most popular day for reading around here, with 16 percent of page views coming that day. In May it was Fridays that got 16 percent of page views. That’s so close to one-seventh of the readership that I suppose it shows no date is particularly tredy around here. The most popular hour was that from 12 to 1 am, which is also the hour I set most things to post. That got in 12 percent of page view, just like in May.
I failed to check how many people were subscribed via WordPress at the start of the month. There are 744 right now, and two of them have been around fewer than eight days, but that doesn’t tell me anything about who might have unsubscribed between the 1st of July and today. It’s somewhere around 742 readers that I started the month with, anyway, up from 736 at the start of June.
If you’d like to be a subscriber, please use the blue “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” strip on the upper right of the page here. If you’d rather get this delivered by e-mail, there’s a “Follow Blog Via Email” box just underneath that. And I’m on Twitter as @nebusj if you’d find that more fun.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose nine points today when the adoptable pet of the day turned out to be two puppies even if they only had a picture of one. Traders are willing to suppose in the existence of puppies they haven’t seen. Aren’t so many of us like that?
I don’t mean to disappoint. It’s just that my love and I have been busy the whole last week, visiting small amusement parks and giggling at mistakes in their signs. I should say we’re not doing this maliciously. We go in expecting we’re going to have a great time, wearing the T-shirts for other small, obscure amusement parks, sometimes on other continents. And we do have a great time, because there is a real delight in a small park where they’re still going on about how they put in a frog jumper ride in 2011, and at any moment you might blink and be in the middle of a swarm of up to forty kids, some of them reaching up to the lower end of your knee, in a screaming birthday-cake riot. But the point is I haven’t had the time to write anything amusing and I apologize for that. Here’s my mathematics blog writing about comic strips yesterday. Thanks and I’ll be back to normal not tomorrow because that’s going to look at the June statistics. But sometime or other. You’ll know it when you see it.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose above 200 which is being treated as a great triumph for the long investors what with this being index territory nobody has seen in two days. Well, if it makes them happy, good. They can deal with it.
Sam Driver, having got nowhere with his Crazy Evidence Wall, chose to meet up with Totally Legitimate Non-Suspended Non-Crazy Not-An-Ex-Cop Sean Ballenger. He’s the father of one of the other kidnapped teens and wants Sam’s help finding any booby traps and remaining homicidal gunmen at the kidnappers’ hideout. On the way there Ballenger mentions that, oh yeah, he’s been suspended from the force and isn’t handling a really severe trauma any better than Sam is and oh yeah, here’s the booby traps, right where the homicidal Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey left her webcam pointed. Sam starts to suspect a trap, but Ballenger’s so enthusiastic about it he gets himself severely wounded even before the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey can shoot them.
While Ballenger distracts the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey by bleeding profusely, Sam discovers her wall of Off-Model Spencer Family Photos, plus her time bomb. He grabs Ballenger and runs him right out into waiting police with drawn guns ordering them not to move. Sam’s not even able to explain that he’s both rich and white before the bomb explodes, destroying the compound and what’s left of Sean Ballenger’s career. With this mess on their hands the police give the whole kidnapping investigation a serious escalation, moving it into the hands of some guy with a much darker suit jacket.
Back home, Sam shares with Abbey some evidence he’d been withholding from the police. The Off-Model Spencer Family Photo he’d taken just before the bombing leads to the discovery Abbey’s father had a whole second family. It’s a good juicy bit of gossip, and a nice proper soap-opera development. It does make me wonder, though, like, was Abbey’s father already an established character back in the day? What would Nicholas P Dallis, or whatever later author introduced Abbey’s father, think of this wrinkle being added to his life? I suppose they don’t really have a say, what with being dead or retired from the strip or whatnot, and maybe they’d like having something juicy and exciting like that added to the character’s story.
It makes me realize among the reasons I shouldn’t write a story comic is that I’d be afraid of breaking someone else’s universe by doing something like that. That’s not to say I think Marciuliano is breaking anything; the development’s a fine enough one. It’s about my worries about how ineptly I’d do something like this. I mean, ask me to write about the week Captain Kirk spent falsely accused of a jewel heist on Rocket Raccoon’s planet? I could probably whip that one out. Ask me to write something that changes our ideas of what drives Captain Kirk as a person? No way. Something mentioned a good deal in how-to-write texts is that there’s a certain arrogance in writing. The writer has to assume that she has something worth reading. It seems like it requires a certain greater arrogance to do your writing with someone else’s work. At least it takes self-confidence.
Sam shaves off his Crazy Beard and takes down his Crazy Evidence Wall, to restart it with a perfectly rational and appropriate thumbtacking up of the Off-Model Spencer Family Photo. And Sophie Spencer, released from full-time psychiatric care, goes to her (biological; she was adopted by Sam and Abbey) grandfather’s grave in search of reassurance. Abbey follows, and can give a hug, in a scene that is touching.
So with that done Sophie offers some more information about the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey. The Woman — named Senna Lewiston, it transpires — believed Abbey’s father was going to leave her mother and marry Senna’s mother. In revenge for the “stolen” life Senna had Sophie kidnapped and was trying to gain her sympathy and support in destroying Abbey’s life and place in life.
Meanwhile, one can’t help but notice we haven’t actually seen the body of the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey. So, you know, soap opera rules. Plus, Senna Lewiston, the police had worked out, somehow bought the kidnapping compound in cash, despite the lack of visible means of supporting massively complicated, expensive revenge schemes. How to explain this? Good question and possibly related to a plot thread that’s been dormant for months, possibly since Marciuliano took over the strip last fall. April Parker, wife of the current Judge Randy Parker, and sometime CIA … person, was sent off on a mission to one of those foreign countries the CIA is always sending people off to in soap opera stories like this. She hasn’t been head from since. And Randy suspects his wife “may have betrayed this country, and she certainly betrayed our marriage with secrets upon secrets”, since she’s gone missing and the CIA won’t stop asking him where she went. So he’s been letting the house get disarrayed enough that the Judge (ret) Alan Parker has noticed, and he’s thinking about putting together his own Crazy Evidence Wall.
Caught up? Good. The strange thing to me about all this is how much there’s been both a lot happening and yet it’s only been one story. And, for that matter, only a couple of days of action within that story. It’s not so breathtaking and baffling as immediately after Marciuliano took over. And basically all the crazy stuff has been explained in ways that pass an initial reading. There may be implications that don’t make sense, but the emotional tone and course of stuff has been believable enough. And with the April Parker storyline heating up I’m looking forward to this fictional CIA fiasco almost as much as I’m looking forward to our next real-life CIA fiasco. Can’t wait.
In its third straight day of sliding the Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped below two hundred bringing it to territory it hasn’t seen since the 9th of June and that’s somehow the worst thing these people can imagine happening even though that was like three and a half weeks ago. I mean, they sound a little whiny to me, too.
Interested in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Sure, who here wouldn’t be? If you’re looking for a recap of the current plot, it’s cruise ships. But in case the cruise ships plot ever ends there might be something more to say. So if you’re reading this much later than June 2017 you’ll want to see my most recent story summary. It’ll be at or near the top of this page. Good luck, meanwhile.
26 March – 18 June 2017
I mentioned last time the new Mary Worth had lurched into action. Mary Worth had taken Toby’s warnings that they hadn’t been important to a story in ages. Mary Worth decided to make her big story a cruise ship. I had understated then just how much Toby and Mary Worth told each other about how awesome cruise ships were. You know, how they let people with different interests have fun despite travelling together and all that. This had been the focus of like 18 weeks of strips in a row before my last summary. I thought that had all been prologue to make sure no readers questioned why someone might decide to go on a cruise ship as a recreational activity. And I imagined most of you would be willing to take that as read.
Since that time, Mary Worth and Toby have gotten to the cruise ship and been on the cruise ship. A lot. I’m not sure the cruise ship vacation will ever end. I’m not sure it’s capable of ending. This is a cruise ship vacation that my parents and their friend who always went on cruise ship vacations with them might well say was too much cruise ship.
Mary Worth overheard Derek and Katie Hoosier thinking about how this was their first cruise and latched onto them with the resolve and determination of Lieutenant Columbo noticing that Patrick McGoohan is in this episode. But she establishes pretty quick that the Hoosiers are indeed linked in an approved heterosexual monogamous relationship. What possible problem could they have? Well, Derek’s hoping the cruise will help him finally break his smoking habit.
Mary Worth and Toby talk with each other about how CRUISE SHIPS offer all manner of relaxation and entertainment options, including towel folding, lamb chops, and theater. Derek and Katie go to one of the professional entertainments, a show featuring professional entertainment professional entertainer Esme, who sings and dances and wins the wide-eyed gaze of Derek. And that attention is returned by Esme, who meets him at a secret smoke break. She’s smitten by him, which is understandable. Women with tolerably successful entertainment careers are hard-pressed to ignore starstruck young-adult males who exist and have definite physical properties and are able to set cigarettes on fire.
So smitten, in fact, that when the CRUISE SHIP stopped in Haiti for a bathroom break, Esme locked Katie Hoosier in the nation’s bathroom. Derek gets all tense and worried about this. Not unreasonably, I should say, and I’m reminded of an anecdote my father tells about their honeymoon whenever he needs my mother to roll her eyes at him, about what turned out unexpectedly to be a pay toilet in Spain. They knew about the Spain part going in. Not so much about the pay part, nor about the attendants making sure users didn’t leave without paying. Mary Worth suggests Derek try checking Haiti’s bathroom, and what do you know but she was right and everyone was silly not to ask her sooner. All return to the CRUISE SHIP, but Derek ponders what kind of world he lives in that innocent American tourists can get locked in foreign bathrooms.
Derek fumes about this all the way through the CRUISE SHIP’s stops at Jamaica and Cozumel. At least he joins Esme for smoke breaks through all this. The smoke breaks aren’t enough for Esme, who follows Derek to one of the CRUISE SHIP’s piano lounges to give an impromptu concert. Katie catches Derek committing some solo smoking and kicks him out of their cabin if he’s going to be doing that to his lungs. Moments later Katie checks on him and sees that not only is he smoking, but he’s kissing Esme, a woman who is not her. Derek protests that it wasn’t what it looked like. The entertainment professionals on CRUISE SHIP will just naturally pursue and kiss innocent smoking passengers.
Katie is having none of these excuses. Fair enough given that her husband’s been acting like the character in a Jam Handy film whose thoughtless behavior we, the audience, are supposed to discuss amongst ourselves. Plus she got locked in Haiti’s bathroom. It’s going to take a lot to get her to like CRUISE SHIP vacations again. But, then, Mary Worth has barely had anything to do this story except explain to the Hoosiers how CRUISE SHIP carpeting will show you which way is forward and which way is back. And eating things. And going to that towel-folding demonstration. Plus, after all, Katie and Derek are having one actual breach of trust (the smoking thing) and one crazy-but-basically-a-misunderstanding issue (Esme). I bet she has them meddled back into a happy marriage, possibly with children, well before the CRUISE SHIP finishes its tour, if it ever does.
The index rose seven points today as someone finally explained how to make a cell phone actually scan a QR code so it does something, although projections are for the market to drop precipitously tomorrow what with how we’ve already forgotten how to do it.
I was listening to a Flophouse podcast episode that got onto talking about supervillains and how so many supervillains were just making life worse for themselves trying to conquer the world. Why not try selling their super-inventions instead and get rich so their evil will be socially acceptable? And that’s when I realized you could totally make that a supervillain’s backstory. Like, someone invents her army of mind-reading robot soldiers and they try making an honest living on it, and then the companies they sell it to all steal her invention without respecting her patent rights. And then she’s not just got her supervillain science going but also has a logical reason for turning against society and fighting society’s lackey superheroes. And just as I thought I had a great idea for cracking the supervillain motivation problem I realized: I was building a story premise on long-running corporate abuses of patent law. Once again I am reminded of just why everybody kind of had a point treating me like that in middle school. Please forget I said anything and if you can use this idea for your supervillain origin story I will neither sue nor send an army of battle sheep or whatever after you. Promise.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index fell twelve points as the house down the street that somehow throws out a sofa every two weeks this week threw out a toilet and whatever that signifies it can’t be good for the neighborhood.