I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blowwwwww your ice-house down!

Hey, that’s a pretty good ¾ drawing of Mark in panel 1. And Diana’s “cold reaction” in panel 3, with its old style hatching, is also a great panel. I do wish we knew for certain if Rivera is doing the colors or at least indicating what they should be. I have to say that the color really sets the in panel 3.

Anyway, that adrenalin bleed-off for Mark is really something, though. I reckon swimming underwater, alongside a moving ship (with one hand, as I recall), clearly takes a toll. But now, Mark swallows his own indecisiveness by laying some coffeehouse psychology on Diana, bringing up details of her life that I assumed he knew nothing about. Or did he have a background check run on her? Guess that part must have wound up on the cutting room floor.

Clearly though, Mark no longer seems concerned about the other crew, but more about gaining the moral high ground here. He’ll have to do better than this. The obvious question here is whether Diana will “open up” with Mark or whether she’ll try to open Mark up…with a knife. She’s been hot and cold in this story, so it’s a toss-up.

“Well, if you don’t think so…I guess…er, that’s okay with you, right?”

It is easy for long-time readers, I believe, to think that Rivera is making sport of them, if one reads captions like that in panel 1 as parody: “Terrifying brush with the Duck Duck Goose Shipping Liner.”  Really?! There was nothing really terrifying about it, of course. Absurd, perhaps. So Mark and Diana’s escape concludes with Mark still wracked over his moral dilemma, which Diana has so far resolved by telling him to stuff it.

But Mark, himself, is still in a moral quandary. Note that he doesn’t forcefully state “We must go back for the others”, but instead settles only on the possibility of going back. It’s one thing to have your morals (or ethics, if you will) thwarted by events out of your control, but at least you know what’s right. Here, Mark seems to doubt whether his compass is pointing in the right direction. This only gives Diana room to assert more control and leadership as Mark once again settles in as a rider and not a driver. Who’s in charge?

I get Rivera’s desire to give Mark more depth of character and reduce the strong (white) male hero kind of idealism that the traditional Mark Trail represents; that is, try to make Mark more of a real person. Or maybe the point is to define a “world” where being the Big Hero is less important than being one part of a solution. Yada, yada, yada. I don’t know. My mind could be getting infected by too much California Craziness. Yet, I think there’s currently too much self-doubt and indecisiveness in Mark. It’s hard to believe that this Mark is a person who can get things done, much less solve problems. There has to be a “happy medium” some place, but I don’t think it is there, yet. Unless, of course, tomorrow brings a turnabout in Mark’s current attitude and his moral/ethical certainty dominates the scene.

Two more quick points: 

  1. Why is Mark suddenly so out of breath? Is this some kind of delayed reaction caused by a surge of adrenalin brought on by their escape from the terrifying brush with the cargo ship? Mark certainly doesn’t sound like he’s in any condition to help the other crew, anyway.
  2. I forgot point two. I wasn’t quick enough.

The Sound of Running

So, Diana finally figured out what direction to go, as they make their “escape.” We also see that Mark’s conscience catches up with him. This is where Mark would be getting guidance from a passing fish or bird, since Ralph the rat snake is hanging out (literally) at Lost Forest.

So, what does Mark do at this moral juncture? Does he force the issue and turn the boat around or just store the incident away in his head as something else he can’t fix? Does he take Diana to task? Or will he just internalize the incident as a bad job all around?

I think if I was Mark and believed that that fishing boat crew were sincere, legit, and in real trouble, I’d push Daggers out of the way (or out of the boat) and go back for them. I might also pause to consider why they bothered to stay behind when both boats could have raced away. Looks fishy to me.

I was also going to comment on the contrary and unusual clouds in the four panels, but they do not appear in the black and white version of the strip. This makes me believe that the syndicate colorist put them in, apparently as a poorly conceived afterthought. Too bad some people will think Rivera is responsible for them. But the drawing of Mark in panel 4 is well executed, clearly showing he has a more sophisticated collection of emotions than his predecessor.

Conflicts of Interest

Well, somebody should tell me when my sense of timing is off. My wife won’t do it and I’ve done a bad job of it, myself. Of course, this is the second week of Mark’s adventure, so my Saturday commentary about what to expect is pure bunk, as usual. I reckon I should spending more time looking before I leap. So, apologies for the sloppy timekeeping on my part.

The madcap adventure drones on. In spite of the dubious “sacrifice” of the other fishing boat to allow Mark and Diana to escape, it appears that these so-called anti-pirate hoses are pretty wimpy deals. They look more like flat, yellow straps. And there is already one of them on Mark’s (or Diana’s?) boat! I reckon that their runabout is more of a floatabout, given they haven’t moved very far. Or have they?

Recall that Saturday’s strip shows that these two were a good bit further away than we see above. In fact, they seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the cargo ship than they are today. Clearly, there is something odd in continuity. Perhaps they have fallen victim to the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum, first discovered by Kurt Vonnegut. This is where time and space tend to coalesce, allowing a person stuck in this situation to experience multiple timeframes (past, present, future). Perhaps that is not what Rivera had in mind, however.

I suppose we must overlook these visual flubs and focus on what are the important points:

  1. The conflict between Mark’s moral sense honor and Diana’s moral sense of opportunity and self-interest.
  2. The dilemma of “doing the right thing” in a situation where you may not be able to make the correct choice.

From a broader perspective, I see that both Mark’s and Cherry’s storylines have converged on these same moral points. Do the right thing or do the convenient thing. And like Cherry, Mark may be in a situation where his sense of right is irrelevant.

Critics would point out that part of what made the original Mark Trail appealing was his moral certainty and unshakable resolve. His actions were almost automatic when it came to responding to danger or seeing another person in danger. The expression “moral uncertainty” was not in his dictionary. Now, I don’t think we can write off this Mark Trail as a moral relativist. At a certain point, Mark’s sense of duty rises to the surface and demands a response. Perhaps the Yeti story our former Mark Trail experienced is similar in regard to Mark’s conflict with Harvey, the expedition leader. For most part, Mark was simply an observer reacting to Harvey’s decisions. While Mark knew his position was correct, there was nothing he could do to resolve the situation except to walk away from it, so to speak. But the outcome was out of his hands.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This week continued the initial investigation of Trail & Daggers as they hunted for the elusive snipe…er snark; or was it a snail darter? Oh right, it was the insidious zebra mussel. So, Mark musseled his way to the front so that he could do the dangerous work of swimming underwater, alongside a moving cargo ship to take evidentiary photos. Daggers believes this ship is linked to one of the dangerous companies supposedly bringing in zebra mussels. For most of the time, nobody on the cargo ship seems to have noticed Mark and Diana’s fishing boat floating alongside them. That would soon change.

As Mark somehow made his way along the hull of the moving cargo ship while underwater with only a snorkel and no swimming fins, he still managed to take photographs of what he must have thought were zebra mussels, but looked more like barnacles. Meanwhile back in the boat, Diana Daggers only belatedly noticed that they had been shadowed by another boat, fast approaching.

As Mark surfaced, Diana was having words with one of the crew of this mysterious boat, and it looked as if there might be trouble. There was, but from another source. Some crew of the cargo ship finally noticed the two small boats along their starboard side, and started threatening them with “pirate deterrents” if they didn’t immediately depart. This is where things got even stranger.

Keep in mind that they were all in open waters, on a river. Mark’s boat and the other fishing boat could have just agreed with the demands of the cargo ship and turned their boats around to leave. Instead, the crew of the heretofore shadowy fishing boat suddenly acted friendly and told Mark and Diana to escape while they distracted the cargo ship’s crew, acting as a defensive screen. Thus, as Mark and Diana raced away, the cargo ship deployed fire hoses shooting water every which way, but mostly into the screening fishing boat.  

Was there any reason for this boat to stay behind and take this punishment? I don’t think so; it’s not as if the cargo ship’s crew were going to open fire on them. Of course, the cargo ship was well within its rights to at least wave off the two fishing boats. The boats were violating the cargo ship’s legal right of way and putting themselves into harm’s way. I’m not sure of the legality or even practicality of deploying pirate deterrents, but hey, this is an adventure story! There’s no drama if the two fishing boats just apologized and moved out of the way after a polite request. So, we have drama. But does the drama make sense? Will Mark turn back to help the crew of the other boat?

We’ll have to wait a week to find out, as Monday should see us return to the exciting conclusion to the debate between Cherry and the Sunny Soleil Society regarding the future of the local bee population.  But for now, it’s time for Sunday’s nature chat!

At last! As readers know, I’ve been hoping to see Rivera turn her Sunday focus to another aspect of Nature, rather than the usual “Our friend, The Grubworm” subjects. So climate change gets the nod this week.  That’s fine, too.

For once, I think Rivera was stymied on how to depict the title panel when the subject is an effect and not an animal. I suppose she could have tried using clouds, smoke, or water currents. Maybe she did and it just didn’t work very well.

Other than showing a bunch of birds, how about a panel showing a before-and-after image of a bird habitat damaged by climate change? That could help make Mark’s case; and I’m not sure the penultimate panel makes that point clearly enough. Also, call me picky (I’ve been called a lot worse), but it seems to me if you are going to talk about actions birds take to help the environment, how about showing a few birds engaged in these actions, rather than just a bunch of “clip art” style examples where the birds are not doing anything?

In any event, Mark certainly looks fatigued, doesn’t he? I’m sure that’s the point.

“When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled.”

Okay, sometimes it’s really hard to not throw in with the snarkers. This is silly on so many fronts that it could take a page to get through. The fishing boats are just a nuisance. But maybe the ship’s crew were bored enough to make engaging their anti-pirate boarding system worth the time and effort for a good laugh. Still, this scene of “defense, sacrifice, and escape” just doesn’t live up to its moralistic aims.

  • Why did the other boat need to stay behind when they could have both just moved away? It’s not as if a cargo ship can turn on a dime and chase them.
  • Why are the two crew members of that other boat just standing around in panel 3 instead of trying to get away?
  • Exactly why are Mark and Diana worried? Nobody’s shooting at them.
  • When did Mark ever run away from danger? Oh, right. This is the less idealized Mark, who reacts to danger like many of us.
  • And what is Diana even doing in panel 4? Where did her bravado go?
  • So, was that boat’s “screening sacrifice” really an act of courage or just an act?

I mean, c’mon! Neither boat was in any real danger, except from the undertow of the cargo ship, itself. Those fire hose defense systems aren’t designed to pursue pirate ships moving away from the ship. However, perhaps Rivera thought it would make an exciting action scene to have fire hoses waving all around and spraying water everywhere. But the result reminds me more of the robot on the TV show, Lost in Space, which would ineffectually wave its arms whenever it sensed danger. On the other hand, I would feel very insulted if this entire sequence of “dangerous mission”, furtive pursuit, dangerous reprisals, and unknown sacrifice was all just some kind of parody. I’d be much happier if this were just Rivera’s attempts to construct a classic adventure story.

She has not had the opportunity to do so, until now. The first story was for introductions and more of a social commentary on the Mark Trail tradition of the idealized hero as much as it was a nod to environmentalism. The second adventure was less “adventure” and more mad-cap lunacy in a state (other than Florida) known for its quirky characters. So we are now into Mark’s third story, which is cast in a more traditional format of a Mark Trail adventure; only the premise is shaky (illicit zebra mussel importing). It’s still early in the story, though. But for all of you die-hard Trailheads who think this is not as good as the pre-Rivera Mark Trail stories, think back to the Bat Cave and the Hawaiian Island stories. Even the Himalayan Sasquatch adventure. These were all stories that mostly had no point to them, solved nothing, and suffered ridiculous escapades.

Another day of questions with few answers!

Crew of the cargo ship finally notice the action below and threaten to deploy “deterrents” if they don’t leave. Not sure what those deterrents are, but they probably do not include detergents.  And now, the crew of the pursuit boat appear to want to assist Mark and Diana’s departure, or escape. A minute ago, the crew of the pursuit boat were the problem. Now that’s the role of the cargo ship’s crew.

Why does the pursuit boat’s crew want to help Mark and Diana? Why do they even need to “distract” the crew of the cargo ship so Mark and Diana can escape when the ship’s crew can plainly see them from above and have already demanded that they leave?! It’s not as if Mark’s boat can go into stealth mode and slip away, sight unseen. What then—Is the pursuit boat going to start deploying smoke? Are they going to attempt to board the cargo ship? Or is this whole thing just an elaborate trap? There is certainly no end to mystery and suspense going on here.

Back to the artwork, how come the pursuit boat keeps gaining height (panel 2—that’s right, boys and girls. panel 2 is not one of the crew on the cargo ship!.) and losing it again (panel 3)? What’s the point to that? Finally, where did all of those black splotches in the water come from? They were not there before…maybe that cargo ship is leaking fuel?! Forget the stupid zebra mussels, call the EPA!

Why do I have the feeling that the goose (?) is laughing at us? Cheeky bird!

Maybe Mark can blame Diana for this crash!

Okay, everybody! Just settle down and let’s try to make some sense of this. Wait…none of this makes sense. First, I appreciate the topical pun in the initial message box. And an emerging Mark shouts “STOP!”, but it isn’t clear if he refers to the argument or the boats drifting around him. Marks looks to be swimming towards the other boat, which is named “Debait.” Of course, it’s a boating pun, not a pun for a collegiate discussion forum, one presumes.

Diana, far from being the in-your-face menace she has always been, now sounds more like the old Cherry, at least in panel 2. But she does get a little more testy by panel 3. And what’s with the argument over boat ownership? Diana says it’s Mark’s; the guy in the hat says they know it isn’t. But on Tuesday, these guys said it was Mark’s boat! Make up your minds! That man in the purple hat might be a marine police officer or an HVAC installer. I didn’t notice any police stickers or sirens on his boat. If it is really his boat, that is! As the two groups of people square off, they fail to notice that they are drifting into the wake of the passing cargo ship. Then again, the water looks as placid as a fishing lake at 5 AM. But the collision definitely puts a wrinkle into the story and may provide an excuse for moving Diana and Mark onto the cargo ship, if their boat falls apart and sinks. We know Mark’s history with boats, so it’s an odds-on favorite it will happen.

Now, to address some of the art; specifically, the issue of scale. It’s tough trying to make the case for small boats and big ships all in the same location, at the same time, when drawn in a set of small squared panels. You should try it. It isn’t easy. Nevertheless, in panel 1, Mark and Diana’s boat seems to be close in size and height to the pursuit boat. Yet in panel 2, it looks like the pursuit boat suddenly grew ten feet higher, as the man in the purple hat looks down at a smaller Diana. And in panel 3, they are both on the same plane once again. I’m getting dizzy!

Panel 4 is an interesting angle, showing us the passing cargo ship and the two smaller boats. We finally see two people on the upper deck of the vessel, looking down at the smaller boats. The observers seem pretty small compared with the people in the two boats. Since we are looking down, they should be larger to our eyes. Don’t you agree? In fact, the cargo ship (on its own) looks like it should be about twice the size it is drawn in. But I’m sure there are small cargo ships like this. Still, the variations in scale are jarring. It shows how difficult it is to consolidate objects of diverse size in one scene and make them look realistic. I don’t know if Jules Rivera uses an assistant or not. Many cartoonists do, as I’ve come to find out. Perhaps her assistant got to take up the pencil today, as compared to the strips from the prior three days.

Finally, Mark’s attempt to bluff their way out of this situation in panel 3 came to a crashing halt in panel 4. So we move into darker waters of suspense, ladies and gentlemen. What will happen? Who are the men in hats Are they professionally related to the ship or ship’s owners? Will Mark try to continue his bluff?

Clever zebra mussel smugglers: Hiding them in plain sight!

Amazing underwater acrobatics as Mark essentially leg-paddles along with the moving ship as he takes photos. The hull now seems to have sunk down several feet, based on the lower point of view in the first panel. But I’m unjustly quibbling and overlooking the bigger picture. Are t hose zebra mussels? Last I saw (when they were first brought up), they looked more like tiny clams, not barnacles.

Oh, I get it. Perhaps Mark is ignorant of what he is looking at; a potentially embarrassing moment for “Mr. Sunday Nature Encyclopedia” and another opportunity for Diana to insult Mark.

Panel 3 implies that Mark is vertically swimming to the surface. Well, water does tend to create distortions in angles and space, so perhaps the river really is deeper. So, is a snorkel the best thing to use here? It seems to depend too much on a person’s lung capacity and breath retention without blacking out from the exertion of underwater swimming and taking photos. Again, I’m quibbling. I apologize. Getting back to the plot…

The story unfolds simply and directly, as Mark finds his “evidence” and breaches the surface, only to discover that Diana has finally realized they are being followed by people with suspicious intent. According to the “Handbook of Heroic Actions” (as used in action movies), this should be where Diana throws a roped life ring to Mark as she speeds by to escape. Mark grabs the passing buoy, pull himself upright, and water skis to safety on his bare feet, leaving startled strangers behind in their slower craft.

I’m just not sure Jules has seen that reference book; or cares. More likely, she’ll just have Diana wave a fist at her pursuers and threaten to hurt them really bad. It’s a tactic that sure worked on Mark!

I’d like to comment on the color over the past few days, which is good, but again, we don’t know who is specifying it. I do know that the comics syndicate usually does it on their own, unless they have specific instructions from the cartoonists. The artwork, itself, continues to be fine, with interesting changes of view and without the scribbly, hurried look we sometime see.

CHECK HER OUT!

Now, if this was a story about the illicit trade of coral, for example, it might have more weight. Not to take away from the menace of zebra mussels at all, in spite of Mark’s discovering what must be the mussels-under-investigation, and conveniently stuck to the bottom of a cargo ship’s hull that has a draft of no more than two feet. This must be a really small, empty ship to be sitting so high on the water. It does justify the snorkel, I suppose.

And Mark doesn’t really have to swim very deep, especially in a river that seems to have a depth of about…what, 10-15 feet?! So, we have a tiny cargo ship running in shallow waters—apparently really, really slow!—without any lookouts to notice Diana tailgating the cargo ship (and without being affected by the ship’s wake). Mark, being a modern day Johnny Weissmuller, has no trouble keeping up with this ship using only one hand to swim while he takes photos. Atta boy, Mark! With that kind of strength and stamina, we have to believe that Diana is already thinking about how her night is going to pan out.

And she must really be preoccupied to not notice another boat just behind and closing. This reminds me of those cop shows where the good guys follow a suspect only one or two cars directly behind for 10-15 blocks, and never get made. Maybe there’s a case for that:  Many of us live our lives, oblivious to daily routine. If prompted, we probably could not describe any cars we drove alongside or passed on the road, unless it was something notable, such as a Ford Model-A or that cyclist we just missed, as it blew through a red light.

In spite of the rather “small potatoes” scope of this zebra mussel investigation, somehow the purpose of Mark and Diana’s boat excursion has been leaked to one or more of those dangerous companies that Rafael mentioned, in passing. Who are they and why are they dangerous? We don’t know yet. Will we ever? And does the crime of having zebra mussels on a ship’s hull require a boatload of thugs to follow, and deal with anybody who got too curious?

Or is this really not about zebra mussels? These unknown bad guys might be surprised, if not astounded, to realize that Mark and Diana are not looking for illegal drugs stored in the ship’s hold, nor abducted and imprisoned young girls destined for a slave market somewhere in Southeast Asia. Just zebra mussels.

Otherwise, we are left with a premise, something like this:

OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY: “Okay, yous guys. Get inna da boat and follow behind our ship. Look out for anybody that getsa too close to it and startsa snooping!”
BAD GUY #1: “What do we do if we spot somebody, boss?”
OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY: “Unless they actually sees-a the zeebra mussels we are smugglin’ in, just-a scare them off, Benny. Otherwise, give ’em cement goulashes. Got it?”
BAD GUY: #2 “Sure, boss, we get it! But what’sa the big deal with these mussels, anyways? Dey’re all over the country already, and nobody wants ’em!”
<SMACK!>
OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY:Stupido! We don’ta get paid to aska the questions. This is just the story Rivera stuck us into, hokay? Now get outta here!”

Well, now that Comics Kingdom is back online, there is a good supply of jokes and snarks to read!