Children, go to your room! No desert for you, tonight!

Well, well, well. The Trailverse is certainly becoming more adventurous and harrowing! But why the heck are Mark and his comrades-in-conspiracy holding up their arms as if they are being arrested? Do they believe Professor Bee (apparently driving at night in his pajamas) is going to shoot them down in cold blood? Where are the guns, guys!?  

Funny how Prof. Bee wags his finger and scolds them, as if they are naughty children. It’s ironic that he is claiming they are the ones up to no good. But why is Mark depicted in panel 4 in that cheap movie cliché of a guilty person fingering his collar when being questioned? Surely Mark must have some degree of self-control, yes!? So much for any contingency planning. But shucks, they’ll never tumble to Mark’s true mission, based on his innocent composure!

This tale is getting a bit whacky, even for an adventure yarn. If Bee and Daggers were going to trail Trail (thank you, thank you!), they could just as easily driven to Herp Hacienda and picked him up to ensure he came alone. Right? Why bother with the cloak-and-daggers stuff? Wait. This is an adventure strip: asked and answered.

A couple of observations on the visual angle:

  1. Not sure what that greenish-yellow shape is in panel 2. It’s not a car door. And not a headlight.
  2. An interesting choice to outline Professor Bee in white to make him stand out from the background, something Rivera did not do for Daggers in panel 2 or Trail in panel 4. While it does effectively bring focus to Bee, I wonder why Rivera did not use yellow instead of white, to maintain consistency with the car lights used in prior strips and provide a practical basis for the highlight.
  3. Nice job of having Aparna crouching behind Mark while still peeking around him in panel 1. It’s a small, but well-done detail. Have we seen that kind of attention to poses and character in the older Trail stips? I cannot recall anything off hand. Usually, they’d all be standing around like tree trunks.

I still have a latent thought in my head that all is not what it seems and that either Cricket Bro or Professor Bee may not be bad guys. But that is asking a lot to have that kind of complexity in a comic strip. And it is already a more complex plot than we normally find in older Trail Tales. Where do we go from here?

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Chat

This entire past week consisted of Mark, Reptilionnaire (sic), and Aparna driving their eco-friendly (and slow) car to Cricket Bro’s house to put their so-called plan into action. Well, it seems they were still working out some minor details along the way, such as figuring out how long it would take to get into the office holding Cricket Bro’s laptop containing the air quality app supposedly taken by Cricket Bro. As I’ve already noted, it appears that Cricket Bro may already be legally entitled to it, since he paid Aparna and other programmers to develop their apps in the first place. But Mark seems to have missed that legal point. We also noted the silliness of this entire operation, as any programmer would have made backups. For that matter, so could Cricket Bro, making this Mission Impossible plan pointless.

But Rivera throws a curve ball by having Professor Bee and his female assistant chase our protagonists down while en route. But why? Surely, not for Cricket Bro’s apparent feelings toward Mark, nor for such a pointless application. Something else is afoot. At the very least, Rivera gives us some good old-fashioned drama and action that leaves us puzzled. Is Cricket Bro the head villain or Professor Bee? Or are they the real good guys and Mark’s associates the bad guys who have apparently misled Mark?

Today, we focus on the Peregrine falcon, a popular species, even here in Minnesota. A family of Peregrines were the much-observed and reported-on focus of local TV station WCCO several years ago. The DNR had added a live webcam to a nesting box placed by the Midwest Peregrine Society atop a building in downtown St. Paul. Nearly daily reports on WCCO News showed mommy and daddy Peregrine nursing the eggs that eventually became a family of chicks. Problematic grammar aside (e.g. the caption in the penultimate panel), today’s nature strip is interesting, though the art doesn’t seem up to Rivera’s usual standard. Of course, other critics will quickly remark that none of her art is up to the standards of the old Mark Trail strips. But that is a false comparison, as I have noted before. Rivera is not trying to emulate that quaint style that had become as much a trademark of Mark Trail as the characters, themselves.

But what’s with the superfluous text in panel two: “Faster than any bird…on earth!” Well, where else would we expect to compare avian speeds!? Did NASA discover Martian falcons and forget to tell us?

Speaking of speed, Rivera’s comment about the influence on jet engine development looks correct. But it is important to note that she was not talking about the original creation of jet engines, but later developments, when jets attained supersonic speeds (Jet engine evolution inspired by the Peregrine Falcon – zackandscottkarmachameleons (wordpress.com)).

Finally, I like the fact that Rivera takes the trouble to dress Mark in clothing appropriate to the elevated height. Good attention to detail!

Lights! Exclamation Points! Action!

Ah, a rabbit frozen in the headlights? Well, this is a fine how-do-you-do!  Is this a bit of over-the-top acting, er, storytelling? I mean, all of this drama over an app that essentially does nothing that is not already being done elsewhere?

Of course not. Aparna already stated that Cricket Bro had gotten the app he wanted from somebody else and then fired everybody. But all of this, just so Cricket Boy can satisfy his juvenile fixation on somebody he knows is far better than he can ever be?  Well, that is a common motivation for arch-villains throughout literary and cinematic history, after all.

The artwork is correspondingly dramatic and bold, as the harsh lines of figures and the harsh glare of headlights work in conjunction to create a scene of blinding drama and potential betrayal. The style reminds me of some comic books from the 1940s. So, why are Professor Bee and his assassin-assistant acting like they are participating in a ransom payoff for a kidnapping? And what’s with Bee’s response to Mark about Trail trying to get someone killed? Is this group actually going to bump off Rept-Man and Aparna?  Clearly, there must be something really bad going on in the background to warrant this kind of reaction. And there is no longer any doubt that the good professor is part of this scheme, up to his neck.

Well, this wraps up the first week back in crazy Palm Springs, California. I’m guessing this would be a poor time to change horses in mid-stream and go back to Cherry, so I think this storyline will continue next week. I’m kind of going blind just looking at these panels!

Just when you thought it was safe to take a road trip…

So much for my theory of An Aggressive Driver Having Fun and Getting Ready to Pass. Is it my imagination, or does Mark suddenly look like a young Tom Cruise? Well, a wag on another site yesterday quoted lyrics from the Jan and Dean song, “Dead Man’s Curve”, and that certainly applies today. Exactly how does a cul-de-sac wind up on a 4-lane highway?

Unless the Mustang continues its spin and flips into the rough, I can’t see the green Prius outracing a muscle car, no matter how clever a driver Reptile Man thinks he is.  And, as Downpuppy noted, Reptile Man is somehow able–or arrogant enough–to drive at night wearing green-shaded glasses. Maybe he thinks he has the same optical capabilities as that hawk. But I doubt it.

Still, let’s give Jules some credit for her subtle “product placement” nod to the Fast and Furious movie franchise in that first panel. Maybe Jules is hoping to score some free tickets to the upcoming movie? In the end, I suppose the one who is really upset by these events is that hawk, because the car chase probably scared off its dinner. What I’m not sure of is whether the hawk in panel 1 (did you see it?) is the same as the one in panel 3. The coloring is certainly different. I think the dark head markings look different; but it’s probably the same one, waiting to be disturbed.

You want action!? I got your action right here!

Okay, this is more like the old Mark Trail, I believe: Lame TV-style dialog and outlandish events. First of all, it makes no sense for Rept Man to ask Mark about local car drivers; Mark should be asking Rept Man! Second, a high-speed car chase in what appears to be a Prius, really!? (Well, it seems similar to my Prius C) What kind of sound effect is that “VRRRR”? Shouldn’t it be “VRRRM” or “VRRROOOM”? Perhaps it is meant to replicate the sound of the car accelerating into high RPMs.

Well, real action going on! Will we get a real car chase, like “Bullit” or “America’s Greatest Car Chases”? Of course, we’re talking about what might be a Mustang or Trans Am pursuing what appears to be a Toyota Prius. Hardly fair, or exciting!

This brings up other questions, such as: Who are the chasers? We may assume the chasers work for Cricket Bro or may even be Cricket Bro. How did they know about the plan? Perhaps the chasers were watching the property and simply decided to follow when they saw the car leave. Or, Herp Hacienda was already bugged by Cricket Bro in order to keep tabs on these people. He could already have full awareness of the plans.

So, why bother with an obvious and noisy car chase when the chasers could simply hang back and follow them? Cricket Bro could string Mark along at the office, while his security team monitors the other two as they attempt to secure the laptop and/or air quality app. Then they close the trap, as police are called in to arrest Mark and his co-conspirators before they can escape.

I suppose the Prius does not have an oil slick release lever. This “chase” will end as quickly as it began, unless a comic strip dux ex machina drops in, or on.

There is another alternative:  The chase car is not really a chase car, but simply a muscle car aggressively driven by a typical fat-head who likes to tailgate and hoorah other drivers before zipping past the rubes and disappearing around a curve. In other words, this could be a false alarm. What do you think, oh honored readers?

Finally, in the art news:  I like the artwork, both in the individual panel compositions and in the inventiveness of the imagery, especially in panel 3. For example, the car lights make an interestingly different visual effect than what I would have expected. My art history geekiness is showing here, but I see the rear car headlights tilted to the right, which in our linear time-oriented thinking suggests moving forward. On the other hand, the headlight of Rept Man’s Prius tilts left, suggesting moving slower. However, I would have preferred to see that headlight to be shown in a typical conical shape reaching to the street, as was done in panel 1.

“Pay no attention to the cracks in the story…!”

Now, just hold on a minute! There are some odd things going on:

First off, why should the offices be difficult to navigate, by which I suppose Mark means “to locate”? The flashback images of the developer’s area yesterday suggested an open, free-form space, not a bunch of securely locked-down offices.

Next, why should it take 30 minutes to get through the hallways? These people worked there, right? So, they should know how to get around by now!

Next, hasn’t it already been established that the laptop is a company laptop, so that it actually belongs to Cricket Bro? Thus, why is Mark concerned about “getting it back”? Didn’t anybody think to bring a thumb drive?!

Next, I’m curious to see how Rep and his gang are going to sneak into the office complex, since all of the developers were canned and presumably had their clearances revoked.

Next, we have a bunch of people, in close proximity, wearing the same clothes they have apparently been wearing for the past several days. In a desert community! I just hope washing machines are in use “behind the scenes” here, in the same way “answering the Call of nature” is often skipped over in stories and TV. Hoo boy!

To be fair, this is a comic strip, not a Tom Clancy 800-page thriller. We cannot expect a comic strip to justify every situation and plot device, right? Even movies don’t do that. Otherwise, the story would never finish and we’d all be pissed at how long it’s taking to move along. But we’ve been through that before, and we didn’t care for it, as I recall.

On a completely different course, the artwork looks pretty good today. Compositions are simple, but effectively balanced. The limited color palette also works well, especially how it suggests the car’s interior.

Who is gaslighting whom?

Okay, so now we learn something that Aparna still has not figured out:  It wasn’t about her or her app. All the whining, complaining, and anger back at Herp Hacienda was based on the wrong assumptions.

Cricket Bro found his golden calf in another programmer’s work, so he simply closed shop on all of the other wannabe killer apps and cut the developers loose. However, he kept their apps. This is not unusual, as they were using company equipment and working at his office. As employees or even just as contractors, he would own the rights to whatever they were working on, successful or not. No doubt, Aparna probably forgot about the agreement she would have had to sign to work there in the first place. It would be foolish to assume such agreements would not have been signed.

Sure, Cricket Bro and his associates are creeps, but what if Aparna and her compatriots are running a scam, themselves?  What if they deliberately brought Mark into this deal and manipulated him to get involved and volunteer to be the distraction they need for their own goal?  That is, what if they are not good guys, either? They could even be industrial spies of a sort, using Mark as a patsy.

Today’s air quality forecast: Get those snails inside. Quick!

Okay, it’s back to Mark, then. Well, is this app really “amazing”, Mark? I don’t get it. I assume that the text in the last panel contains a big clue (“valuable data”) why Cricket Bro wants to bury this program. Maybe it conflicts with his still unknown ulterior motives. Otherwise, I don’t see where today’s strip adds much of anything new to this story, other than adding some good old-fashioned padding.

FYI: “Aparna” is also a manifestation of the Hindu goddess, Parvati (the mother goddess), which means “without a leaf”, referring to a period of Parvati’s life when she underwent extreme hardships in a forest, wearing no clothing at all and eating nothing, not even a leaf. It is part of a complex story involving death, shame, penance, and love. Look it up if you are interested. Still, I don’t see any connection of the name or background to this story or even Aparna’s app. Perhaps Jules just likes that name? Well, I’m part of the “clueless generation”, so I am likely overlooking something. Feel free to clue me in!

I might have just deleted the entire prior paragraph, owing to it resulting in a dead-end, but I wanted to let all of our readers know that this blog will stop at nothing to do quick Google searches to obtain easy answers.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

Down here in rather hot/humid Virginia (>90°) on vacation, so I’m slow getting today’s post up.

We’ve had one week back with Cherry, as she finds another one of her projects (a pro bono project, as we learn from the May 20th strip) sabotaged by the Sunny Soleil Society, even though it apparently broke no Association rules but simply offended the sensibilities of the Home Association’s chief enforcement thug, Violet Cheshire. In spite of Cherry’s gestures and speech, the only real violence has been Violet, who physically threw Cherry out of her office. Yet Cherry declined to involve the police. And yet, she remains on her own side of the fence, as Violet condescendingly remarks, getting madder and madder. Instead, she turns to a mysterious person or agency (“Dirk Davis”) on her smart phone (or tablet) for assistance. Who that is should be revealed in the strips this week, if Rivera gives Cherry equal time and equal worth.

Moving on to today’s nature strip, one of the ongoing highlights of the Sunday panels is Rivera’s take on the title panel, thematically linked to the topic of the day. Jules is not the only cartoonist who does this, for it is also a tradition with Zits. Hardly a surprise today to see a discussion on native grasses, though it is a change to finally see Cherry take the leading role for once.

The concept of a front yard, or lawn, was originally a status symbol of the powerful and wealthy since the 1500s, until lawn mowers were invented, and a middle class arose that could afford property with a bit of land. A trimmed lawn of green grass is still a status symbol of the middle class, though communities across the country have fought to allow homeowners to establish lawns of grasses and plants native to the area. It is ironic that many people today think our manicured “Kentucky Bluegrass” and other lawn grasses are natural, while the more exotic- and wild-looking natural grasses and plants somehow “look” intrusive, ugly, or detrimental to property values.

One of the things that especially irk me, here in Minnesota, is how the concept of a “lake cabin” has changed from a traditional simple structure built on a patch of land filled with natural growth and surrounded by natural features, to suburban style houses specifically isolated from their natural surroundings, with lawns of carefully manicured grass, as you would find in any urban or suburban neighborhood. It is a bitter irony to the whole concept of “going up to the cabin” to get away from city life and enjoy the simpler things in Nature.

However, I am hopeful that “green lawn” believers will ultimately discover that lawns that look a bit like natural pastures can be beneficial in many ways, such as drastically decreased (if not eliminated) need for watering, fertilizing, and cutting. That means, less time, less money, and no need for chemicals or additives that can harm pets or other animals.

And butterflies are free to fly, fly away…!

I’m sure there are readers who are thinking “Boy, oh boy! Is that Violet crazy or what? She’re really going to get it!” A lot of readers are no doubt looking forward to this death match.

But, who is Dirk Davis? Sounds like the leading man in a cheap action movie. Being the sucker that I am, I did some quick online “research“, assuming that the name on Cherry’s smart phone (or iPad?) is an actual person or based on one. What I found was:

  1. A not-so-nice character in the Goosebumps® series of books who seems able to switch bodies with other people.
  2. A character in a DC comic book who is secretly one of the intergalactic police officers known as Manhunters.
  3. A real-life professor in a private Christian college.
  4. Another real-life person in Academia.

So, I’m guessing “None of the above.” In short, I’m up a tree as to whom this Dirk Davis is. Possibly Rivera is having fun with comic strip geeks (that includes me!) looking to eek out hidden symbolism and cultural references. But the textual reference to “intervention” and “divine intervention” by the two characters suggest candidate #3. Or a comic strip version of that person, anyway. We may have to wait a bit before we find out, if Jules switches back to Mark’s story line.

Based on past practice, I’m surprised that Rivera did not label a “Wave!” sound effect in panel 3. Still, it looks like Jules is getting this story to a good pivot point to head back to Palm Springs where Mark seems eager to pin Cricket Bro to his own personal specimen board on Monday.