An Adult Finally Enters the Room

Boy, are these people dumb. I mean, d-u-m-b. They have no plan and no plan for a plan, yet they deliberately try to sideline the only person around <ahem!> who has a chance to help them. Just why they are so concerned about keeping Mark in the dark is still a mystery to me. Surely, they cannot think he is Cricket Bro’s ally!? Even Reptile Dude should know that. Yet, they act as if they’ve been caught planning a surprise party for Mark.

Still, I’m still slightly bothered by the fact that everybody is wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants in Palm Springs, California. Based on the evidence of this past Monday’s strip about the sun setting shortly after 7:30, I used my inner Sherlock Holmes to deduce this story is happening in May. Should be pretty warm by then. Nit-picking again? Of course, clothes in comic strips are as much a part of the character’s identification as the face, like Dagwood’s single-button business shirt or Charlie Brown’s zig-zag polo shirt. Anyway, Mark could at least roll up his sleeves…!

Please have your green ticket ready, ladies and gentlemen

The pity party for the eco-wannabes continues. I mean, how seriously can we take a group of naïve Millennials sitting around a fire pit, tea cups in hand, as if they are discussing YouTube videos at a local coffee shop? (I’m guessing they are not Gen Z’ers, as they are not texting each other.) They certainly think very highly of their dubiously innovative “Air for All” app, which apparently does the same thing that existing air-measuring equipment and software has already been doing for decades. Still, idealism lives on, I suppose. I mean, once we all have the “Air for All” app, then what?

So their recovery strategy—if one can call it that—is based around the off-chance of Reptilionnaire getting invited to another one of Cricket Bro’s parties, so he can presumably steal the targeted laptop. That’s real solid thinking. Meanwhile, Mark Trail continues to eavesdrop, while standing in the shadows (certainly Jules could have done a better job here), inside the most poorly sound-proofed hacienda in California, finding a purpose for his “green ticket.”

Not having heard that term (presumably because I’m a Boomer), I researched it and found a variety of uses for “green ticket”, mostly based around environmental issues. Well, except for the “green ticket roundup” travesty of the Nazi-enforced French corralling of foreign Jews living in France in 1941. I think we can dismiss that event from this particular situation.

And so the story plods along.

But it’s high time for Mark to finally come out of the shadows and take charge, the way he was brought up! This is your cue, Mark. Time to quit being a shlump!

“WAAAH! Cricket Bro is a Meanie!”

Wow, what a grumpfest (pseudo-German for “bitch session”)! Hard to know where to start here. How about ‘spying on reptiles’? Exactly how is that a crime? Are they special, extra-secret reptiles? Perhaps, lab-grown dinosaurs? Isn’t ‘spying’ what biologists often do in the field when studying animals? I mean the ones that run away or come after you, of course. Well, these people certainly made no attempt to hide the reptiles from Mark. Ah, no respect for Mark once again!

Now we know that the source code on the laptop mentioned yesterday is this air quality app. But what kind of programmer doesn’t have backups? And exactly how did Cricket Bro take the said source code? Everybody refers to the laptop as “a laptop”, so it isn’t her computer. Did Cricket Bro steal all the backups and wipe the woman’s own computer? Maybe that’s not an important point here, but I think it is an interesting technical detail. Perhaps Jules will come back to it later in the story.

To be fair, perhaps Cricket Bro believes the app is his due to his status as the funding source for this group. Well, it’s a bit dodgy:  Did he fund only the video production or is he funding this whole Herp Hacienda operation? This is where an attorney would normally be called in. I’m thinking this group has no business experience whatsoever.

Anyway, both people and animals suffer from bad air quality, of course. We already have protocols and equipment for measuring air quality. What’s special about her app? Is it attuned to specific animal respiratory systems? Does it automatically call the DNR when the air quality drops? Does it turn on a giant air purifier for the area? I’m nit-picking again, so let’s stick to the big picture that we have some idealistic environmental advocates who are only now realizing they’ve been played by a slick huckster and entrepreneur. Is this enough to get Mark’s participation? I still don’t see the crime or danger to the environment yet.

The pot begins to bubble…

The “Reptile Kids” either seem to be the victims of a plot by Cricket Bro or Cricket Bro has discovered their secret agenda. But why keep Mark in the dark? Seems like they would solicit his participation, especially now that they know his relationship with Cricket Bro. Still, they are a clannish group and have so far kept their own counsel.

The narration box in the final panel offers us a challenge or, perhaps, a joke? What could be worse than spying on reptiles? “Getting caught by the reptiles” comes to mind. True to form, wherever Mark winds up, adventure and mystery seem to gather ‘round him (as with all such lone avengers of justice). Now that Mark has apparently learned the reason for this cabal, what will he do? I doubt he’s going to call Bettancourt and spill the beans, but they might not know this. Hey, maybe Reptilionnaire already retrieved Mark’s phone and is holding it out of caution.

Last week, I briefly pondered whether color was being used symbolically. Notice that the sky in the last two panels is a purple or purplish color, which can often symbolize a heated, vitriolic situation, as we have here. Purple prose, is it?

In spite of this intrigue, the story must go on, of course; so I’m guessing Mark will take the initiative and invite himself to this party. Shucks, I’ve guessed wrong plenty of times before. Perhaps Mark will, instead, call an Uber and get himself outta there and back to a safer and saner Lost Forest, where he can help Cherry get that Sunny Soleil Society issue squared away in time for dinner. Oh, wait. No phone!

“What sound through yonder window breaks?”

Well, Juliet it beith not; yet doth the plot turn. And here, I was thinking Reptilionnaire might be in cahoots with Cricket Bro, or just a sidebar to the ever-changing focus of this story. Not only did Cricket Bro (aka Rob Bettancourt, the childhood frenemy of Mark, who just happens to be involved in this whole cricket protein racket) take advantage of Mark, but so has Rep. Like an old Mark Trail storyline, Rivera has already throwing several red herrings at us, with abrupt transitions and missing scenes (the unseen video shoot, itself; whether Mark took that card from Cricket Bro; whether Mark ever retrieved his smart phone, etc.).

Mark’s natural curiosity gets the better of him and he stumbles onto this secret meeting. As a spy, Mark is not exactly Mr. Subtle with his eavesdropping, is he? But maybe he can’t hear what is going on. A window you can open might work better, Mark!

Like Alice in her Wonderland, Mark has been bouncing between oddball situations, really out of his element, and trying to cope. But let’s give Mark some credit, even though it took some sleepy-time tea and a 7 PM bedtime suggestion to awaken Mark’s investigative juices. We can read Mark’s growing suspicions by his pointed expression in panel two.

Everybody else seems to have an alter-ego/avatar; so It’s time for Mark Trail, Conspiracy Cracker to make his appearance on the stage and figure out whatever the hell is going on in this land of kooks and solve whatever it is that needs solving. But what do you think it is?

  • A PETA underground group that thinks Cricket Bro is doing harm to insects and is out to destroy him?
  • A company of industrial spies intent upon industrial sabotage?
  • A gang of crooks who cooked up the “Reptilionnaire” scam just to get close to Bettancourt and rob his house?
  • Something completely different?

Personally, I like the third choice the best. It has the most going for it as a story line. And it gives Mark the opportunity of spoiling the conspiracy (here come the Two Fists of Justice!) and forcing Cricket Bro to ultimately eat crow and beg Mark’s forgiveness for his transgressions against Markey. Though Mark has not taken any photos (once again), he still has a sure-fire winner of a story to sell…maybe to one of the other magazines in the F.E. & Cook holding company, besides Teen Sparkle!

Pay no attention to the snakes behind the curtain!

So, we see that it really is time to switch back to Mark’s issues to give Cherry time to do her own regrouping. Otherwise, true to standard Mark Trail tradition, we have a sudden relocation of Mark from party to hacienda without fanfare, explanation, or follow up. I assume Mark continued to walk out of the party after being insulted left and right. Somehow, he found Reptile Man, who had more or less vanished at the party, his job in furthering the story line done for the time being.

But he’s back now, coaching Mark to take it easy. Take the night off, you say!? From what, I ask? Is he expected to clean out the snake terrariums? Even Santa’s secret twin brother suggests some sleepy-time tea for Mark that he happens to just have standing ready. Does everybody in that house follow farmhouse rules and go to bed when the sun goes down? I’m waiting to hear the door lock click. Aren’t you?

Mark certainly does look beat in panel three, unless it is the tea. And it looks like he is once again bunking with the snakes. Still, Mark should be suspicious, especially when the narrator prompts you! With the Sun still up at 7:30, this places the story in late May, based on the tables in the web site. Just in case you wanted to know.

But maybe Mark is also tired because he’s been wearing that long-sleeved, presumably cotton, plaid shirt all of the time. In late April, temperatures get into the high 90s and only get warmer in May. I’m surprised he is isn’t pleading for a cold shower, or a dip in the pool. Hey, this is California. Everybody has a pool, right!?

No, I have not overlooked the close-up of the roadrunner (Acceleratii incredibus), looking like some 1950s horror flick, where the “monster” roadrunner is ready to pick up the poor victim in the doorway and feed it to its children back at the nest. Still, I am keeping watch for the coyote, as well!

The Week in Review and “Palm” Sunday

As I wrote last week, this recap is an experiment to try to go beyond the daily pin pricks and reaction comments that we otherwise indulge in. Let me know if you find this dull, irrelevant, or too snooty!

Rivera has managed to portray Cherry’s initial meeting with the Sun Soleil Society within one week’s worth of panels. So the story is not padded out with meaningless panels. In terms of pacing, Rivera does a good job, moving between the protagonist and antagonist. I thought there was going to be a repeated visual theme of a close-up in the final panel for every day of the week, as there was the first four days in a row. But I reckon the story required Jules to use Friday to set up the Saturday ejection of Cherry. I also noticed that Rivera repeats the expression “Like a lady”: In the opening Monday strip, Cherry tells her Dad how she will behave. In the closing Saturday strip, Cherry has been expelled from the house “like a lady,” the caption tells us. Is this is a point of irony or a suggestion that Cherry’s “lady” act is not cutting it? But it does provide some sort of wrapper for the entire week, as if there is a moral.

The question we all face now is this:  Does Jules switch the story back to Mark, who is working through his own humiliation and—as I noted earlier—being completely out of his element while doing it? Interestingly, both Mark and Cherry are at a similar tipping point:  Resort to violence or find another way? This looks like a fork-in-the-road moment for both of them.

Regarding the drawing, readers who only see this in black & white must suffer from what appears rather stark inking with little depth, for it is in the color that the art is fleshed out. And I give Rivera credit for working the different angles for the daily panels of showing two people sitting across from one another. That could have been very dull. I have spoken earlier of the stylistic differences between this version of Mark Trail and the former, more familiar version; and I have suggested that, at the very least, a different drawing style was needed for the new personalities and stories.

And now we present today’s Sunday feature…

I like the fact that Jules designs her title panels to match the subjects of the Sunday panels. And her light humor keeps it from being too sterile. This week, the focus is the Sable Palm, and that is no surprise. What is surprising is highlighting California! Huh? It’s not as if Lost Forest or Cherry’s clients live there. So, Jules gets in a little jab at the whole California development scene.

Betcha didn’t see THIS coming, did ya!?

Oh, no! The big money was on Violet flying through the window, not Cherry getting tossed out the door like she was on the wrong end of a Wing Chun demonstration.  And let’s face it, that was one hell of a throw! Looks like the snobbish Violet Cheshire has a bite to back up that bark. Apparently, Cherry really did want to handle the situation as diplomatically as she could. But you cannot negotiate with somebody who won’t play along.

As the door to the Society gets slammed shut, Cherry makes a tactical retreat and considers a more persuasive strategy. But what can she do? Don’t know about you, but I’m not taking Rivera’s bait in panel four again.

Say, I wonder if Doc has some doggy bags to manage Andy? We already know that the Sunny Soleil Society is very particular about what goes onto their lawns!