Wait—what’s this? Mark is wearing a different type of shirt with a different color, to boot? Did the Earth change its rotational direction? At last! I have to admit, they both look like Fantastic Four cosplay characters. In other news, it is now clear that it was Diana who flew into Mark’s town and checked into that “log cabin” hotel. “Welcome to Hollywood“, indeed!
Luckily, Mark not only has a snake to help work out his feelings of doubt, he has his life-mate, Cherry. And she is not going to let him slide by. While some might call this more classic story padding, it is really plot development: Not in action but in motivation and causation. The earlier version of Mark Trail tended to keep Mark’s concerns and feelings fairly basic and easy to figure out: Aloof—check. Curious—check. Angry—check. Bemused—check. Now Mark’s feelings are more nuanced, if not sometimes stuck between shifting gears.
But a little bit of anguish goes a long way. As I have written before—and several others have also opined—we don’t want to see Mark become a basket case of emotions, neuroses, and self-doubts. Yes, it’s fine to make him more “realistic” and less of an idealized boy-man hero, but he is still a symbol for doing the right thing; for protecting nature against the predations of greedy humans; and for the notion that an individual can still make a difference. He has to rise above his doubts and fears and get the job done. That clearly did not happen in the California story, where Mark was more or less a passenger in a careening series of escapes and dubious activities. And we now have some of its after-effects (and some characters) infiltrating and affecting the the current assignment. As for that last part, I think it is an interesting and good story device.
As for the exploding boats riff, it’s a good rejoinder to Mark’s “time bomb” fear. If Rivera wants to inject her own jibes at some Mark Trail tropes, that’s fine. In his final year, James Allen clearly enjoyed taking swipes at his critics, the Internet, and social networking. And Stephen Pastis certainly enjoys taking potshots at his own persona.