It’s easy to be snarky with a comic strip that usually takes itself seriously, especially one that kept itself in a world of old-fashioned values, corny dialog, and formulaic stories. The prior version of Mark Trail was a moralistic and moralizing strip with clearly defined good and bad actors. It was like “Father Knows Best”, staged in a fantasy-land, where the rugged father was usually out saving the environment, while leaving his family to fend for themselves. And they were always waiting at the door for his return. With its repetitious poses, Mark’s unflappable hair, his strong sense of self-importance, and a supporting cast of one-dimensional characters, Mark Trail was an easy target for poking fun at, like the fat grandfather at Thanksgiving telling jokes that were last funny when he was a boy.
But Jules Rivera does not give us an easy target. In fact, her iteration of the strip is, itself, sometimes self-parody, sometimes satire, and sometimes self-destructive. So maybe some fans are pissed to see that Rivera is out-snarking the Snarkers? Her drawing style deliberately changes from the old standard to what many feel is either incompetence or disrespect. Yet, the characters are given more realistic personalities and depth. The strip is also no longer only about Mark, which is good! Yet, Mark is especially put through a variety of external and internal crises that cause him to act in ways that the prior Mark would never experience. That includes a reckless streak that has more than once crossed the line of legality. It happened in Florida and it seems to have repeated in California, where we have spent this week watching a theater of the absurd take place in Cricket Bro’s HQ, all to help Aparna purloin a company laptop that apparently contained the only copy of a program she wrote for Cricket Bro’s company. Who is the bad guy here? Who is the trouble-maker? The usual tropes rarely apply, as Mark Trail coexists alongside a real world where good and bad are more often seen as transactional behavior.
Sure, Rob Bettancourt is a jerk and a bully. Professor Bee Sharp and Diana Daggers are certainly dodgy characters. But are they an actual criminal gang? Other than taunt and humiliate Mark, what have they done that’s illegal? Cricket Bro’s project management style may be slimy, but he did pay the programmers before firing them. What they designed belongs to him, no matter how he chooses to use or not use their work. Aparna appears to have no legal right to that software. On the other hand, the plan to recover “Aparna’s” app through less than honest means is almost clearly a criminal action, aided and abetted by Mark.
But I take issue here, as nobody (with the possible exception of Rivera) wants to think that Mark would actually cross the line into illegal or criminal actions. Damaging private property, fleeing police, and assisting in the theft of private property are contrary to what we’ve come to expect from Mark’s character. At least, the original Mark. So I’m not sure what the motivation is: Perhaps it is a finger in the eye of long-standing readers who complain about the change of style, character, and stories. You can make a character (or family of characters) more rebellious, adventurous, and even reckless, without crossing that line, unless you are also going to make that character accept responsibility for those actions. Shucks, I like Mark better when he is holding conversations with animals.
Perhaps using that roadrunner as a false clue this past Thursday, Rivera jumped over to another speedy animal. Interesting information in the panels today, though the closing statements seem repetitious: How do the young jackrabbits survive? Oh, I think Mark already spilled the beans in the earlier panels. Rivera gets better and better at drawing wildlife. One might quibble over whether that is dust coming from behind the bunny in the last panel or perhaps some internal gas. Likely, the former! As usual, we see that the title panel is composed of that dust kicked up by the escaping jackrabbit, as Rivera continues her habit of linking the appearance of the strip’s title to the main theme.