So, we were all set up by Rivera with that “fighting bears” gag. I reckon either Rod Radagast (okay, so we see Rivera has read some Tolkien) did not properly explain things to Bill Ellis, or he thinks a water bear and a bear are the same thing, so no reason to bother being specific in his explanations. Not a good take for a magazine editor, he could have looked it up.
Optional visual analysis follows for those with more time and interest: Rivera employs yet another visual technique (Rod’s extended hand) linking present-time (panel 1) to a past action (panel 2). Rivera employs various solutions for presenting past events within the context of current time. Here are the ones I tend to see. Maybe you’ve seen others?
As we recently saw in the Texas roadside zoo adventure, the white-bordered image of Mark superimposes itself over the background scene to underscore that the latter is a recalled event. This is one of Rivera’s most common techniques.
From the family vacation in Oregon (03/24/22) comes another technique involving thought balloon bubbles floating across multiple panels to illustrate a past sequence of events. The narrated past action begins in panel 2 and continues into panel 3. Obviously, the amount of dialog and action meant that Rivera could not use the prior technique. Rod Radagast’s overlapping hand in today’s strip is a variant of this one, reinforced by the “quoted dialog” in the textbox.
Looking back to the Zebra Mussels story comes the following depiction (11/11/21). It may be unique but requires context. Earlier in the story (11/04/21), Diana Daggers lamented to Mark that she was angry to discover that her boss—Professor Bee Sharp—was investing her salary in NFTs and converting it into digital currency. Note that nowhere else in the strip for 11/11/21 is Diana mentioned or shown!
While Sharp reviews new photos for NFTs, the background scene is his own visualization of what Diana revealed to Mark. The link between present and past is not a highlighted body or thought bubbles, but the use of color and silhouette. And Sharp is clearly in the room twice: as a silhouette in the past and himself in the present (note the light on his shoulders). Perhaps Sharp’s “No problems on my end!” comment textually applies to the photos as well as his talk with Daggers as he recalls the earlier encounter.