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The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

From the story point of view, we saw the actual start of Mark and Diana’s assignment, begun in typical Mark Trail style:  Skip preliminary events (such as meeting up, renting the boat, going over the assignment, etc.) and just jump into “action.” Mark and Diana began their undercover assignment by pretending to be on a fishing outing, while Diana queried Mark about local zebra mussel sightings. They come upon a cargo ship, under power, in a river in the vicinity of Lost Forest, much to the ballyhoo of old-time Mark Trail fans. Diana ascertains that this particular vessel belongs to a company suspected of being involved in the so-called importation and spread of zebra mussels, also revealing she’s likely been on the assignment before Mark came on board. Diana declared that she was going to do underwater research around the moving ship, a statement supported by her progressive disrobing to reveal what looks like a bathing suit. However, Mark, who up until now, had been acting like clueless land lubber, decided it was time to “man up” and insist he would take the dive; never mind that the entire idea of swimming around a moving cargo ship was inherently a stupid idea.

Curiously, this pair came with no underwater gear, save for a snorkel. Mark didn’t even have a pair of swimming fins to at least give him a fighting chance to avoid getting trapped in the cargo ship’s undertow. Meanwhile, there have been no lookouts on the ship to watch for dangers, such as this.

Technical faults aside, the story moved along at a fairly brisk pace, considering they are supposed to be searching for target vessels while acting like a couple out for a day of fishing. Other than a few possibly sincere cautionary remarks from Diana, readers got to read more snide remarks between the two investigators. Some might call this a kind of combative flirting, as if this was a 1930’s rom-com; however, if this was combative flirting it was certainly only coming from Diana.

Speaking of old times, Jules Rivera could do a lot worse than consult adventure comic strips of the 1930s and 1940s (when they were in their prime) and study how they put together dramatic storylines. Terry and the Pirates, Capt. Easy, Little Orphan Annie, and even Dick Tracy still have a lot to offer. But I get Rivera’s conundrum: How to update a male-dominated adventure strip to be more in line with modern concerns about equality, sexism, and stereotypes.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this week’s dailies to see how Mark’s underwater research goes, and whether he drops Diana’s supposedly expensive camera. Let’s hope so.

It’s Frog Sunday, with one of Rivera’s more inventive title panels. I like how the toad sits up to represent a capital ‘A’, while the frog sits lower, imitating the lower case ‘a’. I think it’s a clever panel. And her drawings of these amphibians is also very good.

Several scribblers on Comics Kingdom have pointed out that Rivera’s terminology (or understanding) is incorrect. At first blush, this appears to be correct. If you looked online at various scientific sites, it appears that frogs and toads are different Families of the same higher-level Order, Anura. Then again, it depends. Note the following description, variants of which can be found on several scientifically-oriented sites:

Let’s dive into their similarities and differences, starting with this fun but confusing fact: All toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads, according to Penn State University. Basically, toad is a classification of frog. And here’s another fun fact: There’s no scientific distinction between a toad and a frog, according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web.

“Frog” and “Toad” are not scientific names or labels, but informal and inexact ways we describe these creatures, based on their looks. It gets complicated, as even the differences in skin are not always a clear distinction. So, Rivera’s Venn diagram is as accurate a statement as any for our inexact labels. As for another non-scientific approach, I recommend the charming Frog and Toad stories of Arthur Lobel.

Rivera’s last point about the frog and toad’s greatest commonality is argumentative. Is their sensitivity to pollution really that important? If so, how is it observed and how can we benefit from that knowledge? I think that would have been more interesting for Rivera to illustrate. Personally, I think their consumption of pesky insects rates pretty high on the human benefits scale.

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