“You wanna be where everybody knows your name…”

Reckon I was right; this is the place to come and commiserate. Just how did Diana find it, though? Perhaps the eatery has a reputation bigger than we think. In any event, I reckon this is the watering hole (so to speak) for the Lost Forest At Large community. So how come there is rarely anybody in here?

And what’s this action: Everybody Dump on Mark Week!? Can that poor slob get any respect from anybody? Rodney Dangerfield has nothing on ol’ Markey Boy. But give Cherry some credit. In spite of what Mark must have told her about his California experiences, Cherry retained her optimistic nature and tried to extend a welcome handshake to Diana. But, sisterhood über alles! Cherry still managed to identify with Diana’s frustration over Mark. It remains for Cherry to go over and have a nice chat about Mark, bees, and the value of good hotcakes.  Maybe Cherry will convince Diana to go over to the Sunny Soleil Society with her and scare the bees wax out of those other women.

I like how Rivera uses the diagonal lines and central axis in panel 1 to reinforce Diana’s dramatic entrance, drawing the attention of Cherry and Jeanette who flank either side of the central axis. They’re like two wings of a medieval triptych. If it was good enough for Van Eyck and Van der Weyden, it should be good enough for Rivera. Okay, I’m showing off again.

But all in all, the artwork is good and effective in supporting the energetic (and sometimes frenetic) nature of the strip, once you get used to Rivera’s style and stop comparing it to Elrod or Allen. That sense of frenzy and energy is not a feeling one gets from the older version of Mark Trail that we all know and still appreciate, which was more akin to a comfy recliner that you had to get out of once in a while to hit somebody that bothered you too much.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…!

Jeanette asks Cherry why she showed up at this “odd” hour. I want to know why a pancake house—normally open for breakfast—is still open during dinner hours. Of course, many people just gotta have their dinner flapjacks, as Cherry apparently does. And to be serious for a moment, Jeannette is only concerned about the late hour of Cherry’s appearance; not her appetite. Pancake restaurants are certainly open as long as any restaurant. I’ve made my share of night appearances at IHop and the Waffle House in my day. But what about poor Rusty? Is he to fend for himself? Must he depend on the skills and attentions of a mostly unseen Doc Davis? Or maybe Rusty’s just hanging out at the corner wood pile with his friends, happy to munch down a Slim Jim.

Unfortunately, as we return to Cherry’s week, instead of story development, we got a filler strip filled with classic misunderstandings and sitcom jokes. Cherry has clearly left the field of combat with the Sunny Soleil Society over the fate of the bees. I reckon we’ll learn more about that this week. This eatery must be the place to go if you need to commiserate. It was good enough for Violet, so it’s good enough for Cherry.

My remaining question is whether we will get to see Dale, since Jules Rivera has seen fit to show Chip in panel 1. I realize this might be an arcane cartoon reference for several of you who did not grow up watching the occasional Disney cartoon on a Sunday night.  If you are in that category, a quick Wikipedia (or YouTube) search for Chip ‘n’ Dale should be illuminating. YouTube Tip: Avoid watching modern and computerized versions and go for the old-school Disney animations (when they were still drawn by hand). They are usually directed by Jack Hannah.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This past week continued with Mark and Diana’s so-called escape from the supposedly dangerous anti-pirate measures the crew of the cargo ship deployed against Mark’s boat and the mysterious fishing boat that had just approached. Not having any idea of who they were, Diana got in a yelling match with that crew as Mark came to the surface. This is when the cargo ship decided to act in self-defense and deployed the water hoses. Surprisingly to Mark and Diana, the crew of the mystery ship told them to race away; they would remain to distract the cargo ship’s crew. Of course, the notion that both ships could simply move away was ignored for the sake of the dramatic plot development.

And that development took up most of the week, focusing on Mark’s inner conflict between his desire to turn about and help the mystery boat and its crew versus his reluctance to take on Diana and force her to comply. In the end, the latter fear won out, leading to Mark’s self-loathing and humiliation (once again). He abandoned Diana and the boat near a shoreline, ignoring Diana’s attempts to get him to return.
As Mark wandered ashore while berating himself and shivering, he was interrupted by the shout of someone who turned out to be an old friend. And that old friend happens to be one of the crew of the mystery fishing boat that stayed behind. Apparently, the boat and crew escaped any real damage from the cargo ship. But Mark, recognizing his friend, must now bring himself to explain his (lack of) action. But, we’ll have to wait a week to see how that story continues. For now, it’s time once again for TheSunday Nature Talk!

Back to the animals, after a quick look into climate change. Looks like freshwater (acquarium?) catfish. So, people keep exotic catfish as pets. But then again, people are such slobs when it comes to responsibility, and Florida must be the home of slobs, based on all of the invasive animals and plants that have been abandoned by pet owners to the wilds of the semi-tropical Florida landscape. Forget Mexico, I’d vote to build a wall between Florida and the rest of the United States to keep them out; the invasive species and the people!

Time to Educate George!

Looking at the title panel, I was struck by the plainness of the name, itself; something Jules Rivera has consistently avoided through her usually inventive designs. Instead, we see a rectangular bar below the name, showing a series of colored sections in a simple repeat pattern. But what is it? It does not appear to be any kind of measuring rod that I could detect, in spite of the fact that it almost coincides with length of the suckermouth catfish above it. And it isn’t a tactical measuring stick used by miniaturist game players, either. As for the suckermouth, Rivera’s drawing does not do it justice. It’s one scary looking fish!

“Of course I trust Daggers with my boat. Why shouldn’t I?”

Poor Mark, isolated and alone, after abandoning Diana Daggers, with a long walk ahead of him. And who is this “old friend” of Mark’s? Mark Trail has a history of characters that drop in and out of the strip, sometimes with years or decades in between appearances. This might be another one. Now, I cannot say that I’ve been following Mark Trail for many decades, though I’ve read the strip on and off over the years.  Again, it’s too bad that nobody has thought to reprint the Mark Trail strips as has been done for many other comic strips.

Could this be Cliff McQueen, the “former” forest ranger who was once engaged to Cherry Davis before Mark finally won her over? I tried to find an old strip showing him, but nothing turned up in my searches. If somebody has a copy of his portrayal from back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, let me know. However, I suppose it doesn’t really matter all that much, now. But it does make you wonder if they are real friends. Seems that Cliff is now a “firefighter”; and his relationship with the boat “De-Bait Team” is part of his identity.

Today we do not see Diana or Mark’s boat. Perhaps Diana cut and run; or cartoonist Rivera simply focused on the current situation, leaving Diana off to the side for the time being. But it is a nice, if subtle, bit of drama, whether she is there or has left.

Of course, “De-Bait Team” is the boat that followed Mark and Cherry and was “hosed” by the cargo ship as it stayed behind to aid in Mark and Diana’s “dramatic” escape. It appears that neither the boat nor its crew suffered any lasting damage. In fact, it looks like Cliff didn’t even get wet! I reckon that they must have locked themselves in the bridge and simply moved away. Go figure! This doesn’t absolve Mark’s indecisiveness, of course, though it might help settle his current anxieties. Still, Cliff makes a point of mentioning his selfless act as he greets Mark. This should make an interesting conversation, once Mark has moved past his belated recognition of an old friend.

You go, Mark. Salve your wounds. Hug a bear.

Well, now. Either Mark has attained supernatural powers that allow him to walk on water, or he somehow convinced Diana to move close to shore so he could jump ship. In a way, one can sympathize with Mark, who seems to want to be shut of this entire assignment; but in truth, the assignment has only just begun. So let’s get the obvious points out of the way:

“My panic attack”

The last we saw, Mark was just huffing and puffing from his underwater photography session. But no shivering. Mark is clearly being sarcastic about a panic attack, since he displays no real symptoms. On the other hand, the Mayo Clinic states that part of the condition is based on a strong physical and emotional reaction when there is no real danger present. As noted earlier, the attack by the cargo ship was an easily avoidable event for both ships. There was no real danger to them.

“Mark, get back here! You’ll freeze!”

Wait, Mark and Diana were dressed for a warm, sunny day. Mark didn’t wear a dry suit when he went for his swim. Diana is wearing Daisy Dukes and not much more, for goodness sake! They’ve been racing in their runabout, which would certainly give Mark more chills than wading through the shallows.

Frankly, this “abandon ship” scenario would be more convincing if Jules Rivera had had Mark walk away to a small, uninhabited island, where Diana could then stress over Mark’s isolation and potential vulnerability (he only has a towel, remember!). At least, that would have some plausibility. And he’s going to walk back to the car? I presume that when Diana raced away from the ship, she headed back towards home base.

Brave Sir Markie Ran Away.

I made the Monty Python reference a few days ago, and it bears repeating here. Instead of dealing head-on with the problem of Diana’s decision-making, Mark has decided to run away from the problem and sulk. No, this is definitely not the old Mark Trail. I’m not sure this is even the new Mark Trail, or at least the new Mark Trail that seemed to be evolving over these stories. Mark doesn’t have to be the indomitable, always right, comic strip hero of old. But does he have to be petulant so often? It wouldn’t hurt if he realized that it’s okay to assert control from time to time.

I think we saw this kind of destructive behavior in Mark’s first rebooted adventure, when he took his Dad’s boat and ran off in a temper tantrum, destroying it and everything else in his path. I could understand a bit, as Rivera was just fleshing out the new characterizations while getting her jabs in at male dominance. And Mark was trying to resolve the problem of Dad having a racing boat. But that was then. We are in the now, and Mark is still unsure, seemingly exhausted from trying to figure out if it’s okay to show initiative or assert authority. Maybe he’ll run into a bear he can talk things over with on the way back to the car.

Artwork. Today’s work is well drawn, as it has been the past several days. Rivera has been planting foreground animals, as in the old Mark Trail tradition, to carry some of the old traditions forward. But the most important tradition Trailheads want (aside from changing the artwork) is for Mark to be at least more secure in himself, a bit more decisive. I’m fine with the artwork, but hope for a more quietly confident Mark to appear.

I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blowwwwww your ice-house down!

Hey, that’s a pretty good ¾ drawing of Mark in panel 1. And Diana’s “cold reaction” in panel 3, with its old style hatching, is also a great panel. I do wish we knew for certain if Rivera is doing the colors or at least indicating what they should be. I have to say that the color really sets the in panel 3.

Anyway, that adrenalin bleed-off for Mark is really something, though. I reckon swimming underwater, alongside a moving ship (with one hand, as I recall), clearly takes a toll. But now, Mark swallows his own indecisiveness by laying some coffeehouse psychology on Diana, bringing up details of her life that I assumed he knew nothing about. Or did he have a background check run on her? Guess that part must have wound up on the cutting room floor.

Clearly though, Mark no longer seems concerned about the other crew, but more about gaining the moral high ground here. He’ll have to do better than this. The obvious question here is whether Diana will “open up” with Mark or whether she’ll try to open Mark up…with a knife. She’s been hot and cold in this story, so it’s a toss-up.

“Well, if you don’t think so…I guess…er, that’s okay with you, right?”

It is easy for long-time readers, I believe, to think that Rivera is making sport of them, if one reads captions like that in panel 1 as parody: “Terrifying brush with the Duck Duck Goose Shipping Liner.”  Really?! There was nothing really terrifying about it, of course. Absurd, perhaps. So Mark and Diana’s escape concludes with Mark still wracked over his moral dilemma, which Diana has so far resolved by telling him to stuff it.

But Mark, himself, is still in a moral quandary. Note that he doesn’t forcefully state “We must go back for the others”, but instead settles only on the possibility of going back. It’s one thing to have your morals (or ethics, if you will) thwarted by events out of your control, but at least you know what’s right. Here, Mark seems to doubt whether his compass is pointing in the right direction. This only gives Diana room to assert more control and leadership as Mark once again settles in as a rider and not a driver. Who’s in charge?

I get Rivera’s desire to give Mark more depth of character and reduce the strong (white) male hero kind of idealism that the traditional Mark Trail represents; that is, try to make Mark more of a real person. Or maybe the point is to define a “world” where being the Big Hero is less important than being one part of a solution. Yada, yada, yada. I don’t know. My mind could be getting infected by too much California Craziness. Yet, I think there’s currently too much self-doubt and indecisiveness in Mark. It’s hard to believe that this Mark is a person who can get things done, much less solve problems. There has to be a “happy medium” some place, but I don’t think it is there, yet. Unless, of course, tomorrow brings a turnabout in Mark’s current attitude and his moral/ethical certainty dominates the scene.

Two more quick points: 

  1. Why is Mark suddenly so out of breath? Is this some kind of delayed reaction caused by a surge of adrenalin brought on by their escape from the terrifying brush with the cargo ship? Mark certainly doesn’t sound like he’s in any condition to help the other crew, anyway.
  2. I forgot point two. I wasn’t quick enough.

The Sound of Running

So, Diana finally figured out what direction to go, as they make their “escape.” We also see that Mark’s conscience catches up with him. This is where Mark would be getting guidance from a passing fish or bird, since Ralph the rat snake is hanging out (literally) at Lost Forest.

So, what does Mark do at this moral juncture? Does he force the issue and turn the boat around or just store the incident away in his head as something else he can’t fix? Does he take Diana to task? Or will he just internalize the incident as a bad job all around?

I think if I was Mark and believed that that fishing boat crew were sincere, legit, and in real trouble, I’d push Daggers out of the way (or out of the boat) and go back for them. I might also pause to consider why they bothered to stay behind when both boats could have raced away. Looks fishy to me.

I was also going to comment on the contrary and unusual clouds in the four panels, but they do not appear in the black and white version of the strip. This makes me believe that the syndicate colorist put them in, apparently as a poorly conceived afterthought. Too bad some people will think Rivera is responsible for them. But the drawing of Mark in panel 4 is well executed, clearly showing he has a more sophisticated collection of emotions than his predecessor.

Conflicts of Interest

Well, somebody should tell me when my sense of timing is off. My wife won’t do it and I’ve done a bad job of it, myself. Of course, this is the second week of Mark’s adventure, so my Saturday commentary about what to expect is pure bunk, as usual. I reckon I should spending more time looking before I leap. So, apologies for the sloppy timekeeping on my part.

The madcap adventure drones on. In spite of the dubious “sacrifice” of the other fishing boat to allow Mark and Diana to escape, it appears that these so-called anti-pirate hoses are pretty wimpy deals. They look more like flat, yellow straps. And there is already one of them on Mark’s (or Diana’s?) boat! I reckon that their runabout is more of a floatabout, given they haven’t moved very far. Or have they?

Recall that Saturday’s strip shows that these two were a good bit further away than we see above. In fact, they seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the cargo ship than they are today. Clearly, there is something odd in continuity. Perhaps they have fallen victim to the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum, first discovered by Kurt Vonnegut. This is where time and space tend to coalesce, allowing a person stuck in this situation to experience multiple timeframes (past, present, future). Perhaps that is not what Rivera had in mind, however.

I suppose we must overlook these visual flubs and focus on what are the important points:

  1. The conflict between Mark’s moral sense honor and Diana’s moral sense of opportunity and self-interest.
  2. The dilemma of “doing the right thing” in a situation where you may not be able to make the correct choice.

From a broader perspective, I see that both Mark’s and Cherry’s storylines have converged on these same moral points. Do the right thing or do the convenient thing. And like Cherry, Mark may be in a situation where his sense of right is irrelevant.

Critics would point out that part of what made the original Mark Trail appealing was his moral certainty and unshakable resolve. His actions were almost automatic when it came to responding to danger or seeing another person in danger. The expression “moral uncertainty” was not in his dictionary. Now, I don’t think we can write off this Mark Trail as a moral relativist. At a certain point, Mark’s sense of duty rises to the surface and demands a response. Perhaps the Yeti story our former Mark Trail experienced is similar in regard to Mark’s conflict with Harvey, the expedition leader. For most part, Mark was simply an observer reacting to Harvey’s decisions. While Mark knew his position was correct, there was nothing he could do to resolve the situation except to walk away from it, so to speak. But the outcome was out of his hands.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This week continued the initial investigation of Trail & Daggers as they hunted for the elusive snipe…er snark; or was it a snail darter? Oh right, it was the insidious zebra mussel. So, Mark musseled his way to the front so that he could do the dangerous work of swimming underwater, alongside a moving cargo ship to take evidentiary photos. Daggers believes this ship is linked to one of the dangerous companies supposedly bringing in zebra mussels. For most of the time, nobody on the cargo ship seems to have noticed Mark and Diana’s fishing boat floating alongside them. That would soon change.

As Mark somehow made his way along the hull of the moving cargo ship while underwater with only a snorkel and no swimming fins, he still managed to take photographs of what he must have thought were zebra mussels, but looked more like barnacles. Meanwhile back in the boat, Diana Daggers only belatedly noticed that they had been shadowed by another boat, fast approaching.

As Mark surfaced, Diana was having words with one of the crew of this mysterious boat, and it looked as if there might be trouble. There was, but from another source. Some crew of the cargo ship finally noticed the two small boats along their starboard side, and started threatening them with “pirate deterrents” if they didn’t immediately depart. This is where things got even stranger.

Keep in mind that they were all in open waters, on a river. Mark’s boat and the other fishing boat could have just agreed with the demands of the cargo ship and turned their boats around to leave. Instead, the crew of the heretofore shadowy fishing boat suddenly acted friendly and told Mark and Diana to escape while they distracted the cargo ship’s crew, acting as a defensive screen. Thus, as Mark and Diana raced away, the cargo ship deployed fire hoses shooting water every which way, but mostly into the screening fishing boat.  

Was there any reason for this boat to stay behind and take this punishment? I don’t think so; it’s not as if the cargo ship’s crew were going to open fire on them. Of course, the cargo ship was well within its rights to at least wave off the two fishing boats. The boats were violating the cargo ship’s legal right of way and putting themselves into harm’s way. I’m not sure of the legality or even practicality of deploying pirate deterrents, but hey, this is an adventure story! There’s no drama if the two fishing boats just apologized and moved out of the way after a polite request. So, we have drama. But does the drama make sense? Will Mark turn back to help the crew of the other boat?

We’ll have to wait a week to find out, as Monday should see us return to the exciting conclusion to the debate between Cherry and the Sunny Soleil Society regarding the future of the local bee population.  But for now, it’s time for Sunday’s nature chat!

At last! As readers know, I’ve been hoping to see Rivera turn her Sunday focus to another aspect of Nature, rather than the usual “Our friend, The Grubworm” subjects. So climate change gets the nod this week.  That’s fine, too.

For once, I think Rivera was stymied on how to depict the title panel when the subject is an effect and not an animal. I suppose she could have tried using clouds, smoke, or water currents. Maybe she did and it just didn’t work very well.

Other than showing a bunch of birds, how about a panel showing a before-and-after image of a bird habitat damaged by climate change? That could help make Mark’s case; and I’m not sure the penultimate panel makes that point clearly enough. Also, call me picky (I’ve been called a lot worse), but it seems to me if you are going to talk about actions birds take to help the environment, how about showing a few birds engaged in these actions, rather than just a bunch of “clip art” style examples where the birds are not doing anything?

In any event, Mark certainly looks fatigued, doesn’t he? I’m sure that’s the point.