The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

What’s been going on this past week? Mark conducted a nighttime hunt for the lost reporter in the woods alongside the STEM retreat. In a short time, Mark stumbled onto the reporter, one Jebediah Jeter, who popped out of the bushes. Seems Jeter was thrown into the woods by Sid Stump to be killed by a bear (!!) for discovering his secret plan to use AI (Artificial Intelligence, in case you came in late) to take over the world, or something like that. But Jeb and the bear somehow befriended each other. Jeb can’t leave the woods without Sid coming after him. What to do? We’re waiting on Mark’s response, which could appear as early as Monday.

I was a little disappointed in the story development, as I had thought there would be a chance for a more dramatic plot development. Well, maybe it is, a bit. Jeb is yet another weirdo; a bewhiskered reporter dressed more flamboyantly than necessary, running around the woods like Grizzly Adams. Jeb wants Mark (and us) to believe that Sid Stump is willing to kill him to prevent exposing the fact that AI can be used to create destructive amounts of fake information. The notion that other people are not already aware of this fact about AI seems farfetched, even within the Trailverse. Still, it’s a topical item in the news these days, and that’s something. At least Mark isn’t once again trying to expose fraudulent fishing at a bass tournament, so let’s see how this story develops.

I still don’t like Mark’s new beard. It just does not look right. Jules, return the stubble, please!


Sometimes the truth does not set you free!

Hmmm. AI is a timely enough plot device here, but I think, for all of his self-assumed brilliance, Sid is behind the curve. Everybody in the real world knows AI is being used to generate fake news, fake student papers, and fake conspiracies. But, maybe in the Trailverse the inhabitants are still getting used to no longer being stuck in the 1950s. It’s a lot to process in a short time!

As for Jeb’s little plight, bunk! Now that Mark knows, he’s also a marked man. Here’s a suggestion, Jeb: Take the back way out.

Why do all the beards have to look phony?

Sheesh! Making friends with a brown bear. “Gentle Jeb”, is it? Yeah, I know. Gentle Ben was the bear in that 1960’s kid’s TV show, but I won’t pass up an obvious reference. I’ll pass on Grizzly Adams. Oh dear, I feel like I’m being pulled to the Dark Snark by forces beyond my control. I’m doing my best to look at this dispassionately. Really, I am.

So, there is an effort here to move the story along by explaining the reporter’s disappearance and the motives behind it. But every panel today is a source of ambiguity: First, has everyone really been looking for this flake? Jeb’s own testimony in panel 3 seems to contradict Mark’s platitude. Second, what truth was Jebediah looking for? Clearly, he was not ready for the truth, and I don’t think that was covered in Mark’s briefing for this assignment. Third, who are the “they”: Sid and some of the guests or Sid and some staff that we haven’t seen yet? Fourth … well, you fill that one in, if you wish.

So it looks like Mark’s assignment just took another left turn, which might wind up reprising the “sneak into the office to get the goods” dodge he pulled while in Palm Springs investigating Cricket Bro’s operation.

It’s a small, small, small, small world?

Ow! Stabbed in the back again! Rivera tries to get cute by having Mark respond to the narration box in panel 1, as if it actually is his own thought. Actually, that is kind of clever, but not here, not now.

The big stab comes as Rivera pulls the rug out from under her suspenseful buildup and returns to her comfort zone of farce. Farce has its place and I enjoy it, but once in a while I’d like to see some actual drama play out here, without oddball jacks-in-the-box popping up or suffering Rivera’s inexplicable reliance on retreading the same opponents, over and over, like the 1960s Batman TV show and its rotating list of villains. Okay, so Jebediah Jeter is a “new” member of the troupe. Journalist? He looks more like “Jebediah Jeter, Professional Hobo.” And he has to portray another joker familiar with Mark and his work. Small world.

So what the hell has Jeter been doing, wandering around the woods for the past several Trailverse days or more? After all, he went missing before Mark was even called to take on this assignment.

A balloon for your thoughts?

Good, this adventure is turning into a classic mystery. And our shipping tycoon finally floats back to the surface for a moment. Mark conducts his search with a bright flashlight, so I suppose that stealth is not a priority for his investigation. Just as well, since he’s also been talking (or “thinking”) out loud to himself. Rivera has not gone with the traditional thought balloon. As we know, Rivera already relegated the thought balloon to its new role of showing a “reference image” for what is being discussed. While this function has merit, it does mean “thoughts” become another problem to portray in a comic strip. Should a dialog balloon also function as a thought balloon? We are left with this weird vision of Mark talking to himself, a situation sometimes diagnosed as a symptom of a mental illness.

Granted, Rivera needs to reveal additional information for the sake of the story. Maybe, for once, this would have been better handled by using narration boxes rather than dialog balloons. They would not be obtrusive but would help maintain the air of secrecy and silence that a night-time investigation normally requires. And they would make Mark look less weird.

Hey, Mark! Who are you talking to?

Normally, when characters talk to themselves, the artist uses a thought balloon, not a dialog balloon, as we see here. If this was a 1940s film noir—think Double Indemnity, where Fred MacMurray confesses his participation in a murder told in flashback—Mark would here be reflecting back on how he broke the case of an attacking bear and uncovered a sinister plot. But, this is not a flashback. So who is Mark talking to?

Based on Mark’s research, the obvious next question is So why are these losers here? And how will this trip salvage their crumbling careers? Riffing again on film noir, maybe that narcissistic rich boy who owns the resort invited them here so one person has a chance to gain favor and funding by fulfilling some really difficult task or puzzle. Of course, this type of story usually involves one of the hopefuls getting rid of the competition to better the odds. Can anybody say “booby-trapped cliff”?

Now if this turns out to be the way this story is going to develop, it could be an exciting adventure!

Stop, Rivera! Enough with the full-frontal animal poses!

Nothing says “diving deeper” better than climbing a hill!

Okay. Today’s installment makes less sense to me. First, how can Mark be staying late when last we saw, he was home with Cherry? Did I oversleep for a week? Second, who said this was a resort for the rich? It is supposed to be a retreat for STEM professionals. That could mean teachers, too. Third, when and how did Mark check into the financials of the residents? Fourth, Mark’s “faces” balloon in panel 2 fails to display the shipping owner and his assistant, who were present when Mark first showed up. Don’t they count, or did they check out immediately after Mark arrived? Fifth, why is Mark searching through the hills at night if the issue is financial? Does he expect to find a hidden workshop printing counterfeit thousand-dollar bills?

Any answers or explanations, other than Rivera must have been cuckoo or stoned?

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

I won’t have much to say this week because I have a head cold and I’ve messed up one of my oral discussion projects in my Italian class. Mama mia! Che schifo!

This week should have featured Cherry and her concrete adventure. We got to it, but not until Thursday. The strips for Monday-Wednesday were devoted to Mark and Cherry trying to share an intimate moment sitting out a nighttime storm. Normally, such lovey-dovey events appear after completed adventures. In fact, it originally seemed that Cherry’s concrete driveway story was done and buried under the concrete when Violet Cheshire went ahead with plans to lay a concrete driveway, using the services of Honest Ernest. Of course.

After the nighttime storm, Cherry showed up at the Sunny Soleil Society the next morning with Violet, only to discover pools of water on the floor inside the house. Somehow, water also got onto Violet’s work desk! Is there a leaky roof, too? Well, Violet acted as if she had no idea that there could be bad consequences to a concrete driveway, in spite of Cherry’s earlier warnings. Cherry volunteered to help clean up, issuing an odd warning about the (very remote) possibility of spadefoot tadpoles showing up, presumably to lay eggs in the pools of water. Somehow, this flooding disaster was supposed to have made Violet more sensitive to Nature, the Earth (e.g., Earth Day), and Conservation.

Okay, the Saturday strip was not a lead-in to today’s discussion, as I guessed. Fool me once, shame on me… fool me uh …  won’t get fooled again!

So, we have another topical subject, still in the news. Rivera provided another great custom title panel. From what little I read in a Scientific American discussion, rather than one giant blob (or “mat”) of Sargassum, it is more like a lot of separate chunks floating together. That distinction may not matter much when we are dealing with some 5,000 miles of moving seaweed. This might not be the best time to take a vacation to the Southeast, Caribbean, or Gulf coasts.  The NY Times reported the seaweed contains arsenic, so it should not be used as fertilizer or in animal feed, as some entrepreneurs are wondering.

Finally, why is Mark’s figure outlined in white in the central panel? Is this some kind of “flashback”? I don’t think so; rather, it was probably done to ensure Mark’s image did not get obscured by the Sargassum background. I don’t think it was necessary, given she didn’t do it with the other images. Perhaps we are looking at an example of digital copy-and-paste.

Make Honest Ernest clean up that mess!

Why did Cherry back down when Violet questioned her about the driveway? Cherry certainly did not lack backbone when she confronted Violet before the concrete was laid. But, spadefoot tadpoles, Cherry!? Adult spadefoot toads would have to make their way into the house, lay their eggs in the puddles, then move out. And it takes a few days just for the eggs to hatch, so what’s the emergency? They will get mopped up when the floor is cleaned. Maybe Cherry is just trying to put a scare into Violet.

I’m going to go out on a limb and prematurely give Rivera credit for having Violet’s comment in panel 4 set up what I think is a clever segue into Sunday’s nature lesson.  We’ll see if that limb I’m on gets cut, sending me down into a puddle of embarrassment.

Buon Compleanno, Roma!

Yes, dear readers. April 21st is the traditional (modern) date for the mythical founding of Rome. Having noted that, my prediction about how this flooding incident would be characterized by Cherry is hardly inspired. But Cherry was wrong. The storm did not cause the damage. It was the incompetence of Honest Ernest for not properly angling the driveway to funnel water away from the building. I’m betting he didn’t partition the driveway concrete pouring, either. But none of this explains the water on top of Violet’s desk.