“Chin up! We’re not going to let Rex have any fun on my watch!”

Maybe Rivera has been watching old episodes of Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties.  I have to say that this is an awful lot of melodrama for a situation that has yet to look threatening to Rex:  No locked gates, no 30 foot walls, no deep dungeon, no chains, no knock-out drugs. If Rivera expects us to believe there really is an actual threat against Rex, it would be a good idea to show some of it. A bit of seduction and an arched eyebrow hardly constitute a mortal threat. Frankly, a little seduction may do Rex some good, based on what we’ve seen of his personal life.

Now, I’m not completely sure about the white “cut out” highlighting around Mark in panel 4, except that Rivera must be using it as a visual device to offset his “actual” presence from the “mental image” of Rex and Mark sharing an intimate moment with pet dog pictures. She has drawn several “flashback” scenes, but this is the first one I’ve seen using this outlining.  I don’t think it is very convincing as a temporal border. Rivera would be better off using a large thought balloon, as she has done, before.

As if Rex is just going to suddenly live in a cave…

Rather stiff, awkward drawing today. When we look at the banner of this blog site (while admitting that it is a bit stretched to fit the screen), it might be jarring to realize that it was also drawn by Rivera.

Speaking of awkward, this story has reached an uncomfortable fork in the road. It seemed to me a bit earlier that Diana must be emotionally invested in Rex, based on her subterfuge in getting Mark involved. But her advice today (from wherever the hell she is) suggests otherwise, and that she knows Rex about as well as Mark does, which is not much. Doesn’t she know anything about her boss? And what if Rex is right and they are wrong? How do they know at this point?

So, what is Diana’s motivation, other than keeping Rex’s streaming show going in order to keep her job? Is that all there is to this assignment?

Why is Diana tongue-tied?

Note: In case you missed it, Monday’s blog was delayed until earlier this afternoon because the Comics Kingdom site was offline. Scroll down to see my late Monday post, if you dare.

Mark has his undies in a knot over potential hanky-panky between Rex and Tess. So what!? If those two want to get familiar, it’s not any of Mark’s business. A crisis is building, even if it is enlarged by Mark’s over-reactive temperament.

Things are not always so black & white. Except, when they are!

As some of you know, the Comics Kingdom site went down last night (I stayed up late, hoping it would come back up). It was still down when I returned from class today, so I took a photo from the morning paper to use, instead. But as I was writing this post, the CK site came back on, so I also posted the color version. They provide an interesting visual comparison. You can tell how much Rivera is tied to working online in color, due to the lack of hatching or other B&W modeling techniques done in ink. This is not a criticism, just an observation.

Also, this is the third week running for Mark’s story, rather than returning to Cherry’s adventure after two weeks, which has been Rivera’s common pacing.

Anyway, I’m wondering if this strip is taking hints from Gilligan’s Island, where whatever is needed (or worn) conveniently shows up in somebody’s hut? Where did this roomy caravanserai come from? Where did Mark’s laptop come from? Okay, maybe it came from the vehicle they drove in. But if so, why is Mark zooming Diana? Isn’t she waiting out in the car? Wouldn’t Mark have seen her when he went to get his equipment? Or did Diana walk all the way back to camp? Or did she take the car? If so, when did Mark get all this equipment? So many questions and so few answers!

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

(I’m recovering from all that typing on Saturday!) For this past week, Mark pretended to know how to manipulate a video camera while Tess seduced Rex during a tour of the Tiger Touch Center. Yet Mark did little actual filming. He spent most of the time talking to himself about animal abuse and possible quackeries at the Center. He was also bothered by the sensual manipulation of Vulnerable Rex by Temptress Tess. Mark feared that Rex might be drawn into Tess’s cult (for which no evidence has yet appeared), as Diana Daggers feared.  What to do, oh what to do?
Rivera ended this two-week’s story arc with Tess looking over her shoulder at Mark with an arched eyebrow and sly smile. Is she confirming Mark’s suspicions or recognizing Mark’s ulterior motives? On Monday we go back to Cherry’s story and see whether she and Doc have made any progress in proving the source of the pet rash. But, to help you transition from Mark’s reality to Cherry’s, first rest your eyes on the Sunday Nature Chat.

In Minnesota, it is legal to trap and remove live raccoons from your city property. I’m all for that. As far as killing them is concerned, that depends on the circumstances. “Inhumane” is a ridiculous and erroneous term. A better word is “cruel”. I have a younger brother who actually leaves food out for raccoons, though away from his house. Well, truth be told, my father does the same thing, and also away from his house. I think it is a bad idea. Wild animals are not to be coddled or trifled with. Get a pet cat, if you must, preferably an aggressive one that will patrol your yard at night and scare away the raccoons. “Here first” is also an over-used and simplistic argument. Rattlesnakes and poison ivy may also have been here first, but I wouldn’t let them continue to exist on my property.

And so, we end this two-week story arc with more questions

This place is trouble. Volunteers who don’t get paid, tiger cubs that get held, and people that touch each other. What next, dancing!?” Mark is starting to sound like a hardline Baptist preacher. What he doesn’t look like is a producer filming a show. Methinks Tess has Mark’s number.

Optional:  Some thoughts on the writing in Mark Trail. Read at your own risk, or skip it, entirely!

A good adventure story almost always features a hero who suffers through obstacles (such as traps, villains, and lust) along the way to a hard-won victory. The original Mark Trail was a traditional adventure strip based on Mark going up against poachers, cheaters, mistaken identity, forest fires, bank robbers, and Nature, itself. The current iteration of Mark Trail is more or less in the same tradition, though it follows a quirkier path that many find unsatisfying, both in its story and art. So, I’m focusing on story today.

Jules Rivera’s approach to storytelling falls more in line with modern satirists, such as Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, and A. Lee Martinez, who pair crazy characters with crazy plots. Good satire is hard to pull off, which is why I don’t think you see it too often. Until Gary Trudeau got tired of it all, Doonesbury was a successful satirical comic strip with continuous storylines. And it took time for Trudeau to find his groove. Pogo was another great satirical strip, though too sophisticated for many readers. Yet, neither could be called “adventure strips” in the same way as Prince Valiant, Rip Kirby, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, or the original Mark Trail, to name a few. And none of them could be labeled satirical, either. I believe Rivera is attempting a significant goal, combining adventure with satire (think Don Quixote,  Gulliver’s Travels, or Indiana Jones).

On the other hand, Rivera has made positive enhancements to the strip, such as creating more complex plots, focusing on larger issues than hillbillies stealing dogs, and hosting concurrent storylines that flesh out Cherry, Rusty, and even Doc Davis, as actual characters. That is, these family members are no longer merely space-fillers or running jokes as they were in the original strip. I think playing down (or poking fun) at Mark’s macho heroics is fine and probably compatible with younger generations. But I do bristle when Rivera goes extreme and makes Mark look like a shrinking violet or a clueless rube.  In fact, this modernizing Mark Trail is what really sets off lots of readers who were happy to see the strip remain entrenched in its old-fashioned, white bread, 1950’s world as it has been, until two years ago.

Frankly, I think Rivera’s earliest efforts (such as her first story, introducing “Dad”) were more successful than recent stories. The hook of having Mark work for a collection of different magazine editors is also an inspired idea, though Rivera has not really taken advantage of its potential so far. I just don’t think Rivera has found her groove yet. Perhaps King Features could pair Rivera with a professional writer to mentor her. It would be worth their investment.

And just what are your qualifications, Tess?

As far as story development, shouldn’t Rivera have the characters at least look into this organization for such basics as certifications, training, licensing, etc.? At the least, Rex should be asking Tess these questions on camera, rather than reacting like she just put her hand somewhere else.

Just like the old Mark Trail, Rebooted Mark also fails to capture (on video or camera) current action and dialog. At least Peter Parker thought enough to set his camera on auto to capture images of his fights with Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin! Time to step in and take charge, Mark, since Rex is too smitten. Roll film!

In today’s installment, Mark continues to just stand around (on what looks like a Christmas Tree railroad track), instead of filming the “therapy session”, as Tess suggested. Way to (not) go, Mark! This will truly be some kind of documentary.

And apparently, today’s strip is an “edited” view of the actual therapy session, since Rex does not mention his dog. If only we had complete video footage to look at …! Mark? Mark?

Today’s Twofer

Home chores and new window inserts kept me too busy yesterday, so today is a double-header.

Okay, the story is finally moving along as Tess explains her Touch Center in more detail. (But quit fantasizing about the cub in panel 3!)  And Mark is finally capturing video of activities. That’s some progress, at least. Maybe Tess actually believes this is a valid therapy technique. Or maybe she is a good con. They do seem to be very popular these days.
But Rex hasn’t got a lot to say. Odd, since they are supposedly filming an episode for his show.  Perhaps that is meant to suggest his distracted state. Well, I think this adventure would pace better if Rivera cut down on the gag-a-day format for lame puns. They should be dunked!

At last, an actual crisis to deal with. Suddenly the temperature dropped some 30 degrees as the story takes a walk on the darker side. Mark doesn’t seem to understand what the word “volunteer” means with regard to wages. At the same time, Tess exhibits a quick change from politely flirtatious to accusatorily defensive. We’ve seen that anger suddenly flare up before. Meanwhile, Rex must have forgotten that he is supposed to be filming a show. What we have here is failure to communicate.

That toad is not the only horny thing around here!

Now hooooold on there, Baba Looey. . . I mean Mark! Tess might be doing something wrong in the way she runs her Tiger Touch Center, but making eyes at Rex is just biology in action. Same for Rex. Aside from Tess, the only other person doing something wrong is squishy Mark, who so far refuses to film the cubs, undermining why he is there.

Diana Daggers may be giving Mark a story about this place being a covert cult and it could turn out to really be a case of jealousy. It’s possible that Diana may still be recovering from Professor Bee Sharp’s stinging betrayal and fixated on Rex on the rebound. Based on her surreptitious photographing of Mark’s abs while on their boat during the zebra mussel adventure, it’s not too big a stretch to see that she could be interested in Rex. Even Tess has noticed some of Rex’s physical attributes.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

If you missed this past week’s strips, you won’t be too far out of the loop. Mark started his pretense of filming the Rex Scorpius Show in the Tiger Touch Center, without knowing how to even run a video camera. But then trouble appeared when Mark got sidetracked by Tess taking a baby lion cub out of a holding pen to demonstrate its calming influence. This resulted in Mark holding an internal discussion with himself on the mistreatment of lion cubs and whether he should get involved. That took up most of the week.

Mark’s concern conflicted with Tess and Rex, who wanted Mark to film Rex holding a cub. Mark didn’t want to, thinking it would be exploitive, rather than evidentiary (for the undercover exposé). Mark offered up a weak excuse about not having enough battery life to film Rex holding a cub, but strangely enough, he said there was enough battery life left to get location shots of the Touch Center!

How Rex and Tess will respond to this transparent lie is something we’ll have to wait for Monday to discover. Anyway, if your newspaper doesn’t carry the Sunday Mark Trail…

Unlike the daily strips, there does seem to be a larger reader acceptance and even appreciation for Rivera’s Sunday nature strips. Rivera might even agree. I’ve read that she enjoys doing them the most; possibly because she has an affinity for nature and animals. I’m betting it’s also due to the fact that the drawing space allowed is much bigger than what is mandated for the dailies.

And following her habit, Rivera once again focuses on an animal that is popular in the state/location that is the basis of the current Mark Trail story. Once again, an animal is endangered by urbanization and farming. Mark makes a fair point about the horny toad eating harvester ants, but for that to matter, a farmer would need hundreds, if not thousands, of those creatures. That would not likely be possible or practical.