Amy Lee is such a joker!

Okay, we must allow Jules to have her joke. Where is it? It is the 4th panel, where everybody is having some kind of vocal group hug and the speech balloon points to Mark, though the text seems to be something the other four would be telling Mark! Trailheads sometimes speak of older strips where dialog balloons on occasion seem to point to the wrong person, or thing. I admit that I was too lazy and tired to look through the backlog of strips, so feel free to add some footnotes in a response. In any event, it seems odd that Mark would be welcoming himself to Herp Hacienda, unless this is meant to be some kind of campy commercial where Mark and crew are actually welcoming us readers to come back. Well, thanks anyway.

Like so many other stories, this one ends with a trunkful of dead-ends and unexplained subplots. We all know what they are, so I won’t waste my time or yours going over them, yet again. Just scroll back through these blogs, if you have the desire and patience.  As for patience, I can’t say I won’t be glad to be shut of those four Herp Hacienda Hippies. But it would have been nice to at least find out what and who the two creepiest characters were. And why the hell they keep lining up, as if they are suspects in a police lineup?

I think many of us will agree that this is not the strongest ending to a Mark Trail story, though it is not much worse, either. Aside from the dodgy animal air check app, this story seemed to be a series of unresolved, random vignettes. I’ve never been a professional comic strip artist, but I’ve played one in my head, and I know that there can be tremendous pressure to put out a 7-day comic strip. In fact, have we not seen other cartoonists these days going on hiatus every so often, content to rerun older strips in order to get away from the pressure? Or, perhaps to catch up? And perhaps Rivera deliberately constructed this story in a way that would mimic or rip some Mark Trail story memes sure to raise the blood pressure of Trailheads. Or, maybe Rivera is just ripping the old-fashioned notion that a Mark Trail story should follow conventional norms.

MOVING FORWARD:

Well, my biggest request here is that Mark gets a chance to do a story for one of the other 7 or so magazines that make up part of the holding company that Woods & Wildlife get rolled into. Let’s see how Mark gets along with a different magazine editor for a bit. And let’s get some more conversations with snakes! Too bad he didn’t try to talk with any snakes at the Hacienda. A missed opportunity, if ever there was one.

Mark tries to bluff, but is called by Amy

Readers who are coming to Mark Trail without a lot of knowledge of the strip’s history could do worse than read the Mark Trail Confidential page of Mark Carlson-Ghost. It is an in-depth review of the strip, its characters, artists, and a lot more. You’ll learn, for example, that Woods & Wildlife magazine had been bought out at least twice before; that recycling old stories and subbing difference characters was a common practice; that under James Allen’s tenure, Mark starting showing a more sculpted physique, Cherry became sexier looking. Mark started getting clumsy and not always winning fights, in spite of his ripped abs. And he was destroying boats as if they were enemy invaders! Carlson-Ghost also has created a yearly summary of major stories and characters, which is linked on the Confidential page. I might have written on this before, but I think it bears repeating.

There appears to be a total lack of reprinting Mark Trail strips. For some twenty years or so we have been seeing (and buying) sometimes lavish reprints of entire runs of vintage comic strips (Peanuts, Popeye, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, etc.). But where are the reprints of Mark Trail? I reckon that King Features does not believe there is enough public interest; or maybe much of the older art is no longer available or in good shape. Instead, they have recently started just posting old strips online.

Okay, looks like Amy Lee knows a lot of what went on, but still backs up Mark after getting tired of Cricket Bro’s immature and arrogant manner.  I reckon spoiled billionaires are getting to be pretty common these days. Today’s panels were apparently designed to showcase the many faces and emotions of Amy Lee. Now, where is Amy getting these photos from? Mark certainly wasn’t on assignment with his camera. But I wonder if Amy is now going to want a story based on Mark’s adventures in Loony Tunes Land? That would be quite the assignment for Mark, trying to figure out a way to describe the events without criminally implicating himself or his “new friends”.

And this is Friday, folks! There is one more day to see if Mark suddenly transports back to Lost Forest to signal the end of this story, or we buckle down to view another week of Mark sorting things out in California. According to the Mark Trail Confidential page, Mark has been fired more than once in his career. I wonder if he once again gets a pink slip, getting Cherry upset and worried about their finances, since her business also looks like it is in bad shape. Just like old times!

Time to face the music?

I certainly don’t want to turn this podcast into a one-dimensional snarkfest, which is not only unfair, but unoriginal and boring. Besides there are other sites that handle that well enough! Nevertheless, this storyline is really pushing my buttons.

Panel 1: Mark’s face looks like he’s a daydreaming teen fantasizing and drooling over some Internet babe.

Panel 2: Mark’s head morphed into some kind of pushed-in face, with the wings of Mercury above his ears. Of course, those are his standard “older man” hair lines, but appearing as if they have their own independent identity. And making me wonder if Rivera has been watching reruns of the original “Twilight Zone”, the four Herp Hacienda Oddballs are once again pointlessly lined up against the fence, as if to ensure we haven’t forgotten them from yesterday’s strip. And to date, no explanation for the two goofiest characters on the extreme left and right. I’d certainly keep my kids away from them. Also troubling is that Mark has, for some reason, bonded with these nerds! After all of his discomfort, ineptness, and questionable activities, you’d think he would be satisfied to never come back.

Panels 3 and 4: Amy Lee brings up Cricket Bro, who has been spilling the beans to her about Mark and his new friends. Well, I suppose he might have discovered the connection with Amy Lee, based on Mark’s prior story she published about his family’s business. Nevertheless, she is definitely not looking like the hip, coffee mug-holding, exuberantly mouth-wide-open editor we’re used to seeing. No, indeed! She is clearly upset with what she’s heard. And it appears Mark is trying to downplay his guilt and embarrassment at being caught out once again. I’m betting he wished his gray hair lines really were the wings of Mercury at this point.

Well, Mark. What did you expect!? You got involved in something you had no knowledge of, something completely outside of your wheelhouse. You let personal fears of inadequacy lead you astray and got you to help complete strangers commit likely illegal acts. You never came across any of your traditional crime-busting situations, such as poachers, drug runners, abductions, animal or insect cruelty, or missing pets. You never really came across any criminal activity at all, except for what you participated in. You did not even get a chance to fully bring out your vaunted Fists O’ Justice™. And now, you actually want to come back to hang out with your new friends?! Worst of all, you didn’t get photographs of anything! Amy won’t like that!

Well, if the mission of Jules Rivera is to totally make a mockery of Mark the Pro-Nature Hero and his paternalistic value system, I think she’s done a bang-up job so far. But Mark seems too wrapped up in his sense of self to be too bothered by this. Always the optimist?

One of the pundits on the Comics Kingdom site proposed that the result of Cricket Bro’s phone call was that he buys up Amy’s magazine and gets his revenge by firing Mark. Plausible. I wish I had thought of that.  I think none of this nonsense would have happened had Mark taken the time to talk with his snake friend back at Lost Forest, before he flew out here. But as Gregory Peck told David Niven in “The Guns of Navarone”, “You’re in it now, up to your neck!

Let’s go with Option E: It’s Amy Lee on the line!

So, Mark’s last night on assignment? Looks like Amy Lee once again called “right on time”, at the wrap of Mark’s adventure (so we must assume). Apparently, Mark has gotten into Cosplay fun at the Herp Hacienda and is wearing a “Walking Dead” mask in panel 1. Or maybe it’s feral hog.

Hard not to notice that Amy Lee’s depiction in panel 3 is quite decently drawn in comparison with Mark’s two images. It’s not as if Rivera could not have drawn a half-length image of Mark in panel 1 instead of that sketchy and flat scene with the too-small figures. Perhaps this is one reason (other than laziness) that former Trail cartoonists liked to use head shots of Mark to fill panels as much as possible.

So, this is Day 3 of the Epilogue, tying up several loose ends. Critics less charitable than I might call this a week of padding the ending to accommodate the entire week, as if Rivera is getting paid by the word, like some 19th century writer. But do we deserve perfect closure? Do we always find out what happened to that person at the Motor Vehicles Office who rejected your vanity plate slogan? Do we know the fate of that lover we abandoned because she needs to read Tarot cards to decide what to wear for the day? What will those weirdos do after Mark leaves? Do we even care?

Life is full of dead-ends, unexplained absences, and detours. People come and go, many not even speaking of Michelangelo. Life is messy, but stories are expected to make sense and have a clear Beginning-Active Middle-Meaningful End. Yes, stories need to have Endings. You can’t just pull the plug on a story and cut to a scene of Mark leaning against a porch rail as Cherry extols his manliness and professes her undying love and devotion. Rivera seems to be bucking the standard Trail Story ending technique and I’m down with that.

But the biggest black holes are still the so-called antagonists. Where are they? What are they doing? Why did they bother with this entire farce? The entire story still seems like a con. What was the point? How is it that Mark’s childhood nemesis just happened to be the Sugar Daddy for Reptile Man and the Herp Hacienda crowd?

Somebody get these people a change of clothes!

Well, dear readers, looks like Rivera is content to continue this adventure by wrapping up some loose ends. While we might grimace at the less than stellar art that has lately been showing up in this strip, we can revel in the Herp Posse’s self-congratulatory post-game analysis as they awkwardly stand around. The “supporting cast” of Herp Hacienda Oddballs, having fulfilled their pointless and thankless task of being present at the celebration, have once again been relegated to that “Mark Trail Phantom Zone” of isolation previously inhabited by Mark’s family and other characters who might have had something more to offer, but were mysteriously sidelined (e.g. Dirty Dyer).

Reptile Man seems content with things, overlooking the fact that Cricket Bro has been bankrolling him. For that matter, I believe Cricket Bro has also been funding Herp Hacienda. Nobody seems to care about the consequences. Mark’s phone ringer underscores his obvious old-school sensitivity, while he tries to sound like a modern, sensitive hipster. As George Harrison once sang “It’s all too much…

Well now, to get to the main point:  Who is calling Mark? All kinds of interesting plot possibilities come to mind:

  1. Cricket Bro, who still wants to settle scores but may be content to simply offer more lame insults
  2. Professor Bee Sharp, who may want a rematch or at least force this crowd to detail his car
  3. Diana Dagger, who would like to introduce her foot to Mark’s gonads
  4. Cherry, who is brimming with sisterly love, having made up with Violet and forgotten that her company may now be bankrupt
  5. Amy Lee of “Teen Girl Sparkle”, who confesses that, yeah, she knew beforehand about Cricket Bro’s involvement and his past relationship with Mark, just like Mark was set up in his prior assignment!
  6. Bill Ellis of “Woods and Wildlife”, calling to see if Mark can get him out of the Phantom Zone and back into the strip
  7. The insurance company, calling to cancel Mark’s coverage, based on viewing the security video footage posted by Cricket Bro
  8. The Florida State Patrol, requesting he voluntarily return to the state for questioning

So many possibilities, indeed! Now, which one do you think it could be? Or do you have a different idea?

I know “The Great Escape” and this is no Great Escape!

Thanks again to Dennis for stepping back onto the Mark Trail Soapbox to wrap up the presumed ending of Cherry Trail’s latest storyline. I was away for the weekend attending (not participating in) a wedding. It was so hot and humid that the responsible people decided to hold the ceremony inside.  Unfortunately, my wife and I got accidentally stuck sitting at a table in front of the giant air conditioning units. No criticism of the families; it’s just how things worked out. But, it was a pretty nice wedding, all the same. Glad we could make it, too.

Speaking of working things out, what do we have here? Ladies and Gentlemen—and those claiming no allegiance to those categories—are we looking at the further emasculation of Mark Trail?  Once again, we have a typical Mark Trail Segque, jumping from hiding out in an all-night farmers’ market to standing in a lineup, er, cluster of weirdos at the Herp Hacienda (BTW, we never did learn why these people are dressed as if they just got back from some costume party or Cosplay convention). Aparna notes this is a couple days after the theft, meaning we have no idea what took place in the interim, or why they are only having their celebration now. Furthermore, where are the ersatz villains? They know where the Herp Hacienda is, after all.

Aparna continues her tunneled focus on how popular her uploaded app is. Mark looks sheepish over his narrow escape from the possibilities of: a) having to fight Diana Daggers; b) getting arrested for theft and fraud; and c) having to face Cricket Bro and admit that he has no #(@)! idea why he took part in this ridiculous invasion, much less fly to California to appear in some still unknown and possibly bogus video shoot. And to really build up his fan base, Mark confesses that the online forums of “Woods and Wildlife” magazine make him have to sit down and fan himself to avoid getting the vapors. “Steady on, Mark! You were the perfect patsy. Now you have even more people who hate you!” And what is he going to tell Rusty when he returns with no autograph of Professor Bee? Should make for an interesting homecoming.

Hey, at least Jules Rivera is catching on to the standard trick for ending Mark Trail stories:  Ignore details and just cut to the reunion (or home) shot. After this, we’ll likely see Mark back home, with a soon-to-be-disappointed Rusty.

On another topic, I, too, have noticed a simplification in the daily strips over time. The extreme flatness and lack of volume in figures and surroundings stands out to me. So do the somewhat clumsy compositions in a few panels, above, especially compared with many of Rivera’s earlier panels. Not that all is lost: The second panel is actually nicely composed. Still, the overall figures look cramped; and that right arm of Mark in panel 1 is painful to look at! I know some critics on other sites have mused whether Rivera is using a ghost-artist now and then to help explain these artistic variations. It seems early in the game for Rivera to do that, and I don’t believe she has any history of using such people.

Still, this can’t be the end of the story, can it!? It’s just Monday! Perhaps this just a red herring Jules is throwing at us. We have five more days of the week to fill. Maybe Rivera will just teleport Mark back to Lost Forest for the rest of the week, where everybody can trade anecdotes of their adventures. Except for Rusty, who still doesn’t have much of a comic strip life. He needs his own version of the Mexican vacation!

The Weekly Recap and the Sunday Nature Talk

Prof Bee Sharp and Diana Daggers continue their incompetent chase-down in their Mustang, somehow always allowing Mark and “his friends” in their Prius a means for escaping. It might be different if their near-catches were actually deliberate and designed to mislead Mark into making a big enough mistake to ensure they were trapped and properly captured on video for an eventual police arrest.

However, it is hard to believe that Bee and Daggers are really “law and order” types, only doing their civic duty to bring the alleged criminals to justice. Diana’s irrational hatred for Mark and Bee’s juvenile fixation on bettering Mark seem more aligned to personal satisfaction than community safety. And what about the supposed master mind, Cricket Bro? I have already pondered his role in this and whether he is the king or the pawn in this off-the-board chess game. Common consensus seems to be that this story makes little sense, that it does little to highlight Mark’s morality, his job, or his self-appointed purpose.  The story is disjointed and does not seem to follow any logical development. The obvious response to this is “That’s how Life is!” Unlike a TV drama or adventure story, our lives do not run in convenient time intervals that have a visible structure. Most of us are reactive to what goes on around us. Life may be habitual, but we have unexpected delays, diversions, short-cuts, and dead-ends throughout our lives.

But that is not what makes a good adventure story or adventure comic strip. As most of us know, so-called “Reality TV” is anything but real, with its manufactured crises, contrived events, and shockingly over-the-top participants. Yet, these shows are popular, though maybe not as popular as they have been. Still, people watch. Perhaps that is what we have here: Mark naively getting involved in a kind of “reality show” filled with odd characters, outrageous scenarios, and melodramatic acting. Perhaps a take on “The Truman Show”, the movie where Jim Carrey’s character ultimately learns that his life is really just part of some big hoax, a world-wide reality show in which he is an unwitting and unwilling participant.

Or not. It could just be Rivera is trying out a storyline with Mark to see how the character can work in an environment for which he is totally unprepared. And the answer would be “Not very well!” So, on with Sunday!

What a surprise: The Roadrunner. I’m a bit surprised that there are no “coyote” jokes here. But Rivera still manages a bit of humor and inventiveness in the title panel, with “Mark Trail” composed of snakes that the roadrunners are preparing to eat. I also noticed that the “sun” shape with the concentric circles in panel 3 are repeated behind Mark in the penultimate panel. Is this just some compositional inventiveness going on? I don’t think there is any symbolism of Mark being some kind of target.

It’s too bad Rivera could not find room to discuss some of the spiritual significance of roadrunners for indigenous tribes in the Southwest and Mexico, or even to mention how their “X” shaped footprints confuse predators (such as the faster coyote) and also provide a sacred symbol to ward off evil spirits. But, there is only so much space here.

So, while Rivera can be accused of stretching Mark’s daily strips into new geometric shapes, she can and does respect the traditional format and purpose of the Sunday panels.

“Wait – What’s my ECO Savings Record today?”

It’s interesting to see these vintage Mark Trail strips being published on Comics Kingdom. A kid Mark gets to know thinks his sister’s boyfriend is involved in poaching and asks Mark for help and advice. Apparently, Mark’s concern with animals must have been at an all-time low, as he only offers non-committal, “don’t-bother-me-kid” words. Mark does not seem willing to get involved and will not even tell the kid if turning the poaching boyfriend in is the right thing to do. I reckon Mark feels this is one of those life lessons the kid must work through on his own. How different that Mark is from our current Mark Trail, ready to jump into somebody (anybody) else’s problems at the drop of a hat, even if it has nothing really to do with animals or Mark. Let’s get to it!

Okay, lots to “unpack here”, as one of the trendy phrases states it. So, the incompetent driving of Diana Daggers allows Mark and “his friends” to once again slip through their net and escape. She finally makes her way to the Farmer’s Market, so she could not have been that far behind; just far enough to not notice which car drove in and parked. I reckon everybody either ducked or bailed out of the Prius in time?

Now, Diana is pissed because the Prius she tried to block with her car somehow scraped her front end? Heavens to Betsy, those cads!! Well, what the hell did she expect, anyway? This reminds me of some writing from the late Jimmie Breslin, writing about New York Mafiosi chasing down a target who gets away, because the Mafiosi kept dodging rain puddles to avoid messing up their imported hand-made Italian shoes.

So here they are, at last in the Market, full of green Priuses (see yesterday’s post for a discussion on the plural form of “Prius”!)! And this is just too much information for Bee and Diana, while Professor Bee shows that he is just as juvenile as Cricket Bro. In fact, they all are. This is like one of those summer high school movies with the wimpy good guys trying to avoid the rich bully and his pals in his expensive car. And how many other dreadful movies or episodes of the 1960s “Batman” TV show did Professor Bee have to watch in order to come up with that really “menacing” threat in panel 4? Perhaps he was in “drama class” in his college days.

Well, now what, Diana? By your own standards (such as they are), if you cannot record the Herp Hacienda Gang in the Prius, or coming out of it, then you have zilch. At this point, those three could simply saunter around, even stand in plain sight in the parking lot; but you would have nothing, Daggers. No direct chain of evidence. Time to cut bait and call it a night.

As a villain, Professor Bee Sharp should stick to his academic pursuits. He’s no Professor Moriarty. And neither is Cricket Bro, for that matter. Mark needs a real flesh-and-blood villain to bring to justice; not a bunch of arrogant California weirdos.

I trust, this time, that we are heading back to Lost Forest to learn more about Cherry Trail and her fight for botanical justice! At least Cherry has a legitimate motivation for her actions!

For God’s sake, Mark. Get it together!

I mean, could a person look any more desperate and ready to cave!? I think Mark needs another slap upside the head from Killer Bee. Or a Valium. Another thing I noticed is that the interior of that Prius is looking a lot roomier. Wish my Prius could do that. The three “friends” look especially tiny in that Prius in panel 3. Or is this actually a Prius V, Toyota’s SUV version? Still looks too big.

Anyway, against all odds, the “little hybrid that could” once again loses the Mustang and glides into a Farmer’s Market that actually keeps evening hours. That’s another new one on me. Apparently, “cool cats in hybrids” prefer to shop for organic eggplants and homemade tofu at night, after the hoi polloi have left for the day in their American gas guzzlers. Come Midnight, the Prius owners will have left and soon be replaced by members of the Confirmed Cyclists Club who will bike 30 miles to get there and fill their pannier bags.

Apparently that roadrunner is excited enough to take to the air and try to fly, something it is not well-designed to do. Is it trying to avoid an approaching Mustang or just hoping to flee from this story? That is a bit of snark, of course, but I’m sticking with it. Personally, I think they should have driven on until they found one of those Toyota dealerships I mentioned several days ago.

I was going to write a sentence or two about all of the conveniently green cars here, but ran into a question about the plural form of Prius. When we talk, we would simply say “Priuses”, right? But that’s just talk. According to a 2011 article from cars.com (https://www.cars.com/articles/plural-of-prius-prii-not-according-to-latin-experts-1420663174060/), Toyota settled on the faux Latin word Prii. A Latin instructor thought the plural should be either Priora or Priores, based on the fact that Latin nouns have “genders” and different written forms based on grammatical case. Most of you over 40 might remember some of these terms from your English grammar classes, along with possibly the most damaging pedagogical device ever inflicted upon students in order to destroy any appreciation for writing and reading: Diagraming sentences. Anyway, as Latin is no longer the official language of the Western World, we can stick with the plural “English” form Priuses. Sorry, Toyota. Sorry, Caesar!

Okay, Roadrunner, which car is the Coyote?

Do people barely scraping by to pay for food and housing feel like they have freedom? I wonder….So, why should Mark “and his friends” feel any different, since they have not yet been able to shake the Mustang off their tail, in spite of their escape attempts.

I’m sure many of you (to use that phrase somewhat loosely) have watched movies like The French Connection, Jason Bourne, John Wick, and even Fast & Furious XIX, with the white-knuckle car chases that create more mayhem and destruction than driving on the first snow day. Outlandish maneuvers, exploding vehicles, and improbably escapes are ramped up through close-ups, quick editing cuts, and lots of real or artificial speed. Well, folks, this ain’t one of those!

Instead, we have a lot of desultory driving and nudging. No driving onto sidewalks sending pedestrians into the street; no crashing through large windows and conveniently landing in the middle of a shopping mall where customers just don’t happen to be strolling. And still being able to drive on. Then again, this appears to be late night, and everybody with any sense is home watching the chase scenes in Mission Impossible.

I’m wondering if this is meant to be some kind of parody of “Hollywood” car chases. The whole idea of a muscle car (Mustang) pursuing a pokey Prius across highways and through alleys seems preposterous in the sense that it wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes before the Prius was run off the road or pushed into a lamp post. Yet, the Mustang simply cannot close the deal. The Prius keeps slipping through, as if it was actually nimble and had sufficient pickup in its 4-cylinder motor. Maybe Daggers is afraid to cross a solid yellow line. Mark, whose face seems to keep getting worse each time we see him, looks to  his right (though the Mustang is to his left) to warn Reptilionnaire. Somehow and somewhere Reptilionnaire must have graduated from the Advanced Defensive Driving School run by the FBI (or something like that). How does he do it!?

This storyline began back in late March, so we’re just about at the four month milepost. Now, I’m not at all against long stories, as long as they remain interesting. By my quick mental estimate (that is, being too lazy to review all of the dailies), I’m thinking that this adventure has taken up only about 5 or 6 days in the Trailverse. Where do we go from here? Again, I think Mark and “his friends” have to return to the lab and have a showdown with Cricket Bro to bring closure. But I’m also still trying to figure out where the crime or even the dangerous practices are. The programmers got paid for their work. We’ve seen no evidence of “slave labor” or illicit drugs. No phone or Internet scams. No extortion, blackmail, kidnappings, or animal cruelty. Nobody making fur coats. Just Aparna stealing software she doesn’t own.

In any event, this car chase has run its course.  Parody only works for so long before it gets weary. I’m for switching back to Cherry’s storyline now. Either that, or let’s get on with it. Please? And I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to ponder the significance of that calligraphic swish drawn over top of the bushes in panel 1.