Just wait till I set up my acoustic coupler!

In action films it seems that the villain is always destined to waste time describing his/her/their true motives for taking over the world, the country, or the local pizzeria; meanwhile giving the captured hero time to break loose, destroy the villain, and try to save the movie. So it’s not enough for Aparna to steal (back) the laptop (which she doesn’t own) with the program (that she was paid to write for Cricket Bro). She has to take time to wipe Cricket Bro’s face with her own justification. This waste of time should give Bro’s cohorts plenty of time to figure things out and come to the rescue. Odd isn’t it: Who are the “bad guys” here? In spite of Cricket Bro taking away Aparna’s righteous indignation in panel 2 by revealing that his so-called insult was just his way of firing people, Aparna didn’t take the hint. She just continues with her vengeance panel 3.

Getting a bit nerdy here for a minute: What the hell is Aparna doing using the antiquated, unsecured File Transfer Protocol to upload her program to “the Internet”? For one thing, what server is she trying to send to? The transfer can’t simply go to “the Internet”; that’s not how FTP works. If it was going up to any server, it would normally be the Cricket Bro’s server. I suppose we can assume the entire building is a wired hotspot. So when did she have time to log on? Wouldn’t her account have been disabled when she was fired?!

Regarding FTP, there are several modern alternatives she should be using, but we need not get into those. After all, this is not a computer science blog. Suffice to say, it is a curious trope Rivera uses; and one that most readers will likely not even recognize. As this is a family comic strip for general readers, Rivera could have simply used a more recognizable abbreviation, such as XFER to keep nerds like me quiet. But then again, we know that Rivera likes to send up her readers.

Back to the story:  I suspect that there will be a full-court showdown by Saturday between the two groups, before jumping back to Cherry and her brother’s swine. That should make for an interesting week to come!

Finishing on a visual note, we are back (I believe) to a well-constructed set of panels, very nicely drawn and composed. Notice how Cricket Bro’s face is darkened in panel 3. Is this symbolic of his “dark nature” or simply a means of making a contrast to the background? Instead of using old-fashioned Ben Day dots or even simple hatching, Rivera uses a pattern of mixed line types, which adds more texture, though it makes no attempt to suggest facial contours. In this particular case, it would probably come across as too busy.

Mark Trail Starring in “Riding the Vigilante Trail”

“They thought he was just an Outdoor Nature Cornball. They found out he is a Man with a Certain Set of Skills, which don’t include fixing fences, installing light switches, or imitating bird calls!”

So, is this “Mark Trail: Nature Vigilante” now? We’ve come a long way from Mark’s former boy scout approach to righting wrongs, haven’t we? It’s one thing to twist an arm to get cooperation, but I think Mark is taking that to a new level. And I’m not sure I like the direction it is going.

First of all, Mark seems already sold on an application that seems to be a standard practice in many occupations, including animal welfare. And we never learned the practical, operational qualities of this app, which is to say, what’s special about it and how would it be used in a realistic setting? Furthermore, if it is designed for wildlife, what are you going to do if the air is not prime for the animals? Somebody going to go round up about 3,000 water buffalo and take them into a climate-controlled habitat for a bit? Mark never bothered questioning the practicality of this program. Frankly, I’m siding with Cricket Bro at this point, based on his responses and Mark’s actions.

Did Aparna or Reptilionnaire or Mark even think to simply ask Cricket Bro to buy back the application? I mean, if it isn’t a money-maker, why wouldn’t he let it go for a relatively small charge and the possibility of some royalties if the product ever hits the market down the road and makes a profit? They could have started with something like that, before starting instead with grand theft and battery. If all of this is caught on security cameras, I don’t think even Father Trail will be able to keep Mark out of jail and a bad date in court.

From the artistic side, I’m thinking…another day of quickly-drawn images, not like yesterday’s panels. In short, with last week in mind, perhaps some inconsistency in the work. As far as I know, Rivera does not have an assistant. Of course, as I noted before, it could be a case of employing style to represent the mood or temperament of the situation. But that is sounding like a stretch at this point.

Well, it’s nice to see that the boys shared a moment together.

Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday: The Brogurt hits the fan?

Time and space compression is at work once again as we see Cricket Bro and Mark magically transport into the alleged “complex” web of hallways where the Laptop Duo is attempting to make a getaway. Never mind that the company’s so-called Security (the person known as “Dare”?) has apparently disappeared. In any event, Mark adds to his expected growing list of possible criminal charges of accessory to theft and fraud by assaulting Cricket Bro, who suddenly speaks like a 1940s film noir character.

So where are Killer Bee, Diana, and Dare in all of this action? Did none of them think to come running when the alarms went off, or are they off to their appointed “battle stations”, ready to intervene if needed?

Today’s strip is a great improvement in artistic quality, with regard to style, staging, and overall effect. The off-kilter point-of-view in panel 1 underscores the urgency and anxiety of the current crisis. Cricket Bro in panel 2 is well-delineated in a three-quarter, foreshortened pose. Though Mark’s corralling of Cricket Bro in panel 3 gives the impression that the Herp Hacienda team now have a free pass to escape, it may be an illusion. Or delusion.

After all, Mark has to also escape. And there are still three formidable forces for Mark to deal with, excluding Cricket Bro. What will they do now?

Oh, about that software:  Why would Cricket Bro leave it on a docked laptop, if it was so important? In any realistic situation, the software would have already been uploaded to a server or other secure storage devices and the laptop drive wiped clean. In fact, it would have been proper that all of the laptops were connected to a server while being used.

Now, should we assume Jules is just not cognizant of such things? Hard to believe in this day and age. So, is there another angle here? Is the software issue merely a blind? A ruse? If so, for whom?

In case you missed last week…

In adventure strips of the ‘30s and ‘40s, it was common for the big Sunday panels to more or less summarize the previous week’s dailies, since many newspaper subscribers only took Sunday. We don’t have that in Mark Trail, since Sundays are reserved for nature talks. In fact, we don’t normally have recap strips at all. However, today looks mostly like an “In case you missed a day” strip, with a recap of Mark’s silly boxing match with “Killer” Bee Sharp, while the Herp Hacienda kids have (already) set off a security alarm. All old news! In short, today’s strip gives us nothing new with regard to the story.

It’s not specifically story padding, as what we have here is more review than pointless filler. But why bother? The storyline is already getting long; it’s time to move it forward.

I’m also wondering if Rivera is deliberately playing around with continuity. That is, deliberately altering space and time for some unspecified reason. I already pointed out the example of the changing clocks, which have since been absent. Today we see the presto-change-o position of Cricket Bro, originally observing from the floor; but suddenly up on the outside edge of the ring.

The composition of panel 1, lowered point of view, well done. The overall drawing of the panels is tighter, though still looking off from Rivera’s usual work. Mark’s face in panel 1 with its punch-drunk expression will likely tick off long-time readers as either incompetent drawing or just a disrespectful representation, though I think it is deliberately humorous, like the way villains and tough guys looked in the old Popeye comic strips after they got walloped.

A possible interpretation of Mark’s face in panel 1 is that he is visually suggesting to Killer Bee that this is what his face looks like, as Mark also orally taunts him in the first two panels.

Final observation:  I think the dialog in panel 2 is a reference to the rhyming jokes in The Princess Bride. What do you think?

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Talk

As we recall, this past week was the continuation of “Mark’s Trail of Woah!”, as we bounced back to his impromptu fight, in progress, with Killer Bee Sharp, after cutting away for a week to watch Cherry cozy up to another one of her oddball siblings.

So, we watched this supposed “pretend fight” start and stop and start and stop again, allowing Killer Bee to get in more actual punches than our “Champion for Nature” was allowed to do. Still, when he did connect, he left messages.

While Mark was more concerned with how to make this travesty of a meeting last for about 30 minutes, the Herp Hacienda kids bungled their attempt to sneak Aparna’s laptop out of Cricket Bro’s hands. Oh, it’s been a herky-jerky week for Mark and Company, both in story and in drawing. If this was the first week of viewing Mark Trail for a reader, I would understand that person complaining of headaches and confusion. Even many of us veteran observers are likely scratching our noggins trying to understand current events. As before, I think these story segments demand two straight weeks at a time in order to help improve overall continuity. And let’s get Dirty Dyer back!

Even though the Butterfly Bush has been mentioned, along with its problems several times in the past few weeks, it has still found its way into a Sunday nature talk. Once again we see a nice cooperative Sunday chat featuring both Mark and Cherry. Still, I wonder why it couldn’t be just Cherry this time, as it falls in her bailiwick. Perhaps there is some long-standing rule Mark Trail has in his contract where he has to be in every Sunday strip.

Well, at least Rivera gives us a set of recommended butterfly plants that help the butterflies. Good show! I will go on to add that the common milkweed (Asclepias) is another good choice, especially beneficial to Monarch butterflies.

Otherwise, this is a nicely drawn page. Perhaps Rivera draws several Sunday strips at one time, after several weeks of dailies are drawn. This would help keep the drawing consistent from one Sunday to the next, especially as the Sunday strips are generally drawn cleanly, evenly, and sympathetically; whereas the style in her dailies is more confrontational and sometimes jagged, perhaps to support the current drama. Anyway, some good continuity with Mark showing garden shears in the middle panel and again with the same shears in the final panel!

Mark’s “Fists O Justice” are stymied once again!

Hapless is as hapless does. I reckon that Aparna never realized there were security alarms for the docking stations. Apparently, Reptilionnaire set off the alarm when he removed the laptop. As Aparna is shown in panel 1 half-way removing a laptop without an alarm going off, it is clear that only total removal matters. As if that mattered, anyway. Have to admit that Cricket Bro is no dummy. Meanwhile, poor Mark is once again denied his revenge, just when he is again getting into form. Fisticuff Blue Balls, to coin a bad metaphor.

Artistically, we see Mark’s oddly-foreshortened face certainly looking like it took a lickin’, while Killer Bee’s countenance merely looks like Rivera’s ink pen slipped. Hate to note it, but the overall drawing again looks rushed and untidy, especially panel 3. The panels also lack the kind of detail we normally find in Rivera’s work. Not sure why. One thing for sure:  Cricket Bro needs better pest control for his offices!

Perhaps, when these two kids are captured, Mark will finally get to—if not have to—use his Fists of Justice to save the day.

Dissension in the ranks? I’ve seen better days!

Okay, I’ll admit to being confused here. More than usual, that is. Based on the remarks of Diana and Professor Bee, I’m thinking they are not quite the bosom buddies of Cricket Bro. Or am I misreading the room? It’s just that their comments have the tint of criticism against Cricket Bro. But is the phrase “It’s the only influence he has in the ring” meant to refer to Mark? Surely not; that makes no sense. But neither does this entire phase of the adventure.

So what happened to Dare and his role in this so-called video commercial scam? Did we miss a day of panels?! Or did Jules drop a daily without fixing the continuity? And exactly how is Cricket Bro provoking this fight? Certainly, his lame insults at Mark are not “encouraging”, unless they are meant to get Mark mad enough to lose focus? Sounds like Cricket Bro is self-projecting! In fact, as I recall, no provocation was needed for Killer Bee to start this so-called fight by throwing a sucker punch at Mark. Dare temporarily stopped it when Mark was getting his licks in. And suddenly, the fight has somehow resumed.

On the cartooning side, this is not one of Rivera’s shining examples. In fact, the entire set of panels looks rushed and sketchy, as if she submitted a draft, rather than a finished product. Or maybe this set of panels was ghosted by somebody filling in for Rivera. She usually does better, in spite of how anybody feels about her drawing style. And as for that last panel, it’s a nice overhead composition. But Mark’s right jab is more of a probe of Bee’s weak defenses rather than one of those famous “fists of justice” he has thrown in the past.

Hey, Bud, you got the time?

Well, Aparna had no problem with the door code, whose “dit-dat-dit” sound calls to mind the letter “R” in Morse Code. Maybe that’s an “Easter Egg” planted by Jules Rivera. So, how many laptops are in that room? I can’t tell where they are, or are those two structures on either side of the room supposed to be the stored laptops!? Black Widow spiders wanna know!

Also, there seems to be an inexplicable continuation of the fight which Dare had just stopped! Supposedly. Well, if we see this entire series of panels as concurrent with the panels of the prior days, then panel 4 may just be a recap of the impromptu fight that Dare goes on to stop, although Killer Bee originally walloped Mark with a right jab, not an uppercut.

But this is all quite vague and contradictory. In fact, the timing…er, time, seems out of whack. The clock on the wall in panel 4 looks like it is around 7:20. However, the strip yesterday clearly showed the clock at 6:00.

So, what gives here? I’ve got no answer. Do you? Oops, I’m out of time.

Doesn’t take much to bait the Bee!

Dare has a vision!? Looks more like he has Excedrin Headache #22. Poor Dare. If only he had bothered to share his vision with everybody before the current kerfuffle! But even by panel 4, we have no idea what that vision is. Does it involve Killer Bee, dressed in boxing attire, attacking Mark, sans gloves? Or maybe the two of them meeting in the middle of the ring, knocking fists against each other, and deciding to work together to solve the world’s problems? Or maybe Dare has a deal with ESPN.

Well, while we wait, seems that Mark has a busted lip (panel 3), leaking black blood, not red. Either that, or Rivera smeared the ink before it dried.

I think we have to assume that a good ten minutes has gone by since Dare first let Mark into the building, while the Herp Crew snuck into the off-limits wing. That means—if my college German is any good—that Mark only has to fool this crowed for 20 more minutes. But if Mark’s strategy is to coax Killer Bee into a premature rematch, I’m not sure this is a winning approach, as either the Bee goes down quickly, or Dare the Bear knocks them both down.

Maybe Mark can play Boxing Clown to Bee’s Rodeo Clown and waste a lot of time literally running around the ring, avoiding those yellow gloves. Or Mark can break the fourth wall and ask Jules Rivera to change the minute hand on the wall clock so we can get this story moving on.