Where is Detective Bullitt when you need him? Better yet, where is his car?

Okay, guess we’re staying with Mark for a second week.

In a cinematic or literary car chase, the participants are usually in fairly comparable vehicles, though there are exceptions. Yet there is little doubt about the results of a flat-out race between a muscle car and low-powered hybrid. In the remake of The Italian Job, the crooks changed those odds by getting the engines of their fleet of humble Mini Coopers seriously upgraded to affect their getaway from the surprised cops. So, how does Rivera give the boys a chance in this one-sided chase? Turn left and kill the lights! If they were downtown (wherever “downtown” is), they could employ that trick driving down narrow alleys, making more quick turns, and losing the Mustang in a parking ramp, like they do in action movies. This would be a plausible way to take advantage of the car’s size and nimbleness. But there are no major downtowns available.

I suppose this is where foolishness passes from one side to the other. Having foolishly thought they bamboozled the muscle car, Mark’s next decision is to “Drive out the other end of this alley.” Really!? If that doesn’t sound like a setup, I don’t know what does.

Apparently, “Mark and his friends” did not bother to think that Bee and Diana would` figure out the amazing trick of making a quick left and turning off the car lights. Or to put it in a more positive light (!), it’s good to see that Rivera is not going to let us believe Bee and Diana are total blockheads. To make sure we get that, she added that clever caption in panel 4! And so, the story does not go completely off the rails.

Yes, Sharp and Daggers may be narcissistic sociopaths, but they are not blockheads. No, I think the inhabitants of our little green car have the margin in that department. But to be fair, “Mark and his friends” only had a 50-50 chance of going out the right way; not that it would have mattered much in the end.

But speaking of blockheads, where is Aparna, the instigator of this whole travesty? She is presumably in the back seat, unless she got left behind when the boys peeled out of the parking lot. Otherwise, she has been pretty dang quiet the entire drive. Maybe she decided to take a quick nap on the way back to the safety of the Herp Hacienda (still a catchy name!). Nothing like having a warm, self-righteous moral plane when you want to catch forty winks, I say.

In any event, we may now finally find out what all this hoorah is about with the dash cams, the hidden agenda, and Diana’s dream of turning Mark into kindling wood. But I still want to know: Is Cricket Bro the actual mastermind of whatever the hell is going on or is Bee Sharp the real puppet master here? Looking back, Cricket Bro has been a pretty ineffective villain, at least compared to Sharp and Daggers.

After all this messing about, I’m looking for some kind of surprise ending to this story, Jules Rivera! Don’t let it end in a snooze, as your predecessors liked to do.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Chat

Do I want to rehash this past week? I’ll try to do it quickly:  Mark and Friends, having been discovered with their hands in Cricket Bro’s cookie jar (i.e laptop), escaped from the corporate HQ in their hybrid, only to be chased, once again, by Professor Bee Sharp and his hired muscle, Diana Daggers. Daggers has an unexplained, psychotic reaction to Mark, whereas we are left still trying to determine exactly what this whole storyline is about, except for the actual theft of private property by Mark and Company. Racing (if you can call it that) in their Prius along the highway at night, the intrepid band of naïve justice warriors figured out how to get away by simply turning off their car lights and making a left turn…in the dark. Though chasing directly behind the hybrid, Sharp and Daggers somehow lost them. Blogger Joseph Nebus offered a possible scenario on how this could have occurred if the roads were arranged in a certain way; only that Rivera did not have the room or a way to show this, thus making it look downright silly. And Sharp and Daggers looked plain stupid. I’m still open to having this entire story turn out to be a drawn-out bad dream Mark is having. But, moving on….

One thing these Sunday strips do show is how decent an illustrator Rivera can be. She continues to be inventive with her title panels, today’s being composed of bear prints. Sunday panels have a larger format than dailies, so it is easier for Rivera to add detail and colors. As most Sunday strips are printed in color, readers get to see how Rivera uses color, rather than ink, to suggest volume and light. In fact, her Sunday panels are more “painterly” than many other Sunday strips, though there are others, such as Prince Valiant. People who only see the dailies in newspaper black and white may be more disappointed in the art, given that there is visually little evidence of shading, save for black areas.

Otherwise, an interesting subject today:  An “extinct” sub-specie of brown bear. Well, good for raising the public awareness, anyway. Attempts to “re-introduce” this bear into California appear to be centered on so-called back-breeding, cloning, and genetic engineering. After all, if the sub-species is extinct, you can’t simply just drop in any brown (grizzy) bear and call it good. Or Californian.

Still, I’m not sure what the link is between the California Grizzly and, presumably, climate change; or what kind of hope and change Mark refers to. But I’m just a dumb guy from Viginia and open to the suggestions!

You had me then you lost me

Well, I should have glommed on to Daggers’ shades the other day. I mean, who the hell drives at night with sun glasses, anyway!? But, I cannot fathom that Rivera would actually resort to this silly escape trope. “Unbelievable” is right. And I don’t think that the roadrunner is much of a distraction. But, really now. I’ve enjoyed most of the weird story twists and the outrageous characters. But, I bit my tongue at the inept laptop heist; I waited patiently to find out what the hell Cricket Bro’s game plan was; and I sat through another ridiculous video production that never got off the ground. Throughout this story, we experienced one dead-end plot device after another. There’s enough loose strings here to overhaul a tennis racquet.

Meanwhile “Mad Dog” Daggers blathers on about her car dash-cam recording the chase, which is supposed to “catch Mark Trail in the act of his little high-tech heist.” All it will show is a chase, of course. I mean, the heist is already done, so there is no “gonna catch” to do. If they don’t already have a recording of the laptop room and the escape in the hallway, they have bupkis. And is that what this whole charade at the Cricket Bro office was about?

I see no reason to spend much time pointing out all of the obvious holes and weaknesses in today’s installment. I will say this:  Diana’s losing Mark would be more believable if Professor Bee was not also in the chase car. This is like one of those jokes from the 1980 “Police Squad” TV series with Leslie Nielson. Except Mark Trail is not a sitcom, I think. (By the way, if you have not seen Police Squad, go out of your way to watch it. Try your public library. It’s far funnier than the movies they later made.)

As I have noted several times, I give a lot of credit to Rivera for taking chances and investing the characters in more complex and sometimes outrageous stories. There is, indeed, humor to go around, but normally the kind that Rivera deliberately constructs. Unless, of course, this current sequence with Mark is meant to be some kind of parody, perhaps of movie car chases? Are we to take this “escape in the dark” as a serious plot device or a symbol of the absurd? Are we supposed to laugh in a smug, cynical way at the ineptness of Bee Sharp and Diana Daggers for losing a car that was not more than 10 yards in front of them? Or do we chuckle at a satirical take on car chases?

It may very well be that Rivera has revised a serious adventure strip filled with serious protagonists and melodramatic villains into a satirical adventure strip, filled with protagonists who bumble and stumble their way to victory (like Inspector Clouseau) against nefarious, if comical, villains. I’m okay with that. But please, Jules, let’s at least have some reasonable guidelines in the stories.

And, to think:  We leave Mark’s story suspended for a week while we return to the continuing adventure of Cherry Trail: One Woman’s Fight for Botanical Justice.

Now, somebody please tell me what that white bit of something is, coming out from under the chase car in panel 4. Doesn’t look like a rock or even a deployed airbag, losing its air. Perhaps it’s the roadrunner zipping under the car.

Eh, what’s up, Doc?

There is are several contradictions or, perhaps, inconsistencies, in today’s strip. As far as the story goes, it isn’t going very far or very fast. The cars in the first panel look more like they are parked than involved in any kind of chase. Even the jackrabbit is looking at us, as if to say…well, you know what. He doesn’t seem to be worried about his safety!

Now panel 2 shows Reptile Man and Mark clearly under stress driving their pickup; I mean , the hybrid. I reckon Aparna decided to take a nap or just lie down to avoid getting hit by any stray bullets.  In any event, panels 3 and 4 look more like two dudes taking a Sunday drive, not fleeing for their lives. I mean, Reptilionnaire isn’t exactly acting like he is about to be run off the road, much less keeping his eyes on the road. And with being chased, how does he have the time or ability to engage in clever “Buddy Comedy” banter with Mark? Oh, that’s right: Comic strip!

Now, what kind of plan is that, Mark: Take a quiet side street and cut the lights!? That is what you do when you have a big enough lead on the pursuer that they lose sight of you for a few moments. From here, it looks like the Mustang is about 5 yards behind the Prius! I don’t think your deception would work, even if you turn your car lights off first, before making your turn. Maybe you can just drive until you see a train happening to approach a street crossing, whereupon you can time your driving to just beat the lead engine without giving the Mustang enough time or room to continue. Of course, that dux ex machina stuff works in movies. No reason it can’t happen here, ya think? And remember, folks,, this is the Land of Absurdities (“LA”).

In spite of all that, the drawing is pretty good, overall, given the characteristics of Rivera’s style. However, I cannot give her much credit for drawing a foreshortened face from the lower side this time (see Tuesday’s strip featuring Aparna’s face). Mark’s stressed face in panel 4, including his “winter mitten” left hand, is just whack. Yeah, it’s easy to criticize. But I recognize how tough it is to produce a daily comic strip, especially one that must carry a continuing story line.  I reckon the point is that comic strips are digestible, meant to be quickly consumed before moving on. Still, that panel 4 just doesn’t make the grade.

And I still miss Mark’s animal conversations. With all of the fauna we’ve observed, you’d think a few words would have crossed back and forth. For example, Mark might have convinced one of the hares to attract a coyote to pursue it across the road, directly in front of the Mustang, forcing it to stop or run off the road. Well, I put it to you: Is that idea any more goofy than what we’ve already seen?

The Plot Sickens…

Sorry for the cliché, but I’m in a hurry this morning.

Well, even a bird’s eye view (which appears to be some kind of a parrot drawn in some weird perspective) cannot save us from the dreaded déjà vu of another car chase. But I don’t follow. If the concern here is “catching Trail on camera”, why the chase? Perhaps the answer—such as it is—lies in panel 4, where Daggers illogically, and without reason, threatens to make good on her earlier threat to pound Trail if he so much as touches Professor Bee Sharp. The lady has some issues. I mean, this would make some sense if she was angry at another woman she perceived as a threat to her relationship with the Professor.

Now, this is a rather ridiculous position to take, given the earlier session in the boxing ring. And as I recall, Diana was a fairly quiet and reserved observer. She certainly didn’t blow her top in homicidal rage when Trail got in a few licks of his own. And why wouldn’t she have gotten mad at the very idea of a boxing match?

Perhaps we have some unrealized and unsolvable story conflicts here that Rivera is going to have to resolve by having an enraged Daggers make one too many power turns and overshoot a dangerous hairpin turn on the equivalent of Deadman’s Curve. If we include that earlier image of a rat (presumably more) eating network cables and somehow ruining the security cameras, then an unfortunate crash saves Mark from likely jail time and helps Rivera find a convenient ending to this story.

But, if they do catch up with Mark, would he hit a woman, even in self defense? Would he have done so in his former incarnation? I could not find an example, but it certainly goes against the old-fashioned morals of Mark and our mythic heroes of stage, screen, and print. Yet, our neo-Mark Trail is a deliberate 180, a kind of anti-hero more in the “Man with No Name” mold. Speaking of which, John Wick did not shy from fighting women; but it might be poor optics in a family comic strip for Mark to cross that line. Better that the muscle car cross a warning line on the highway and meet a tragic, if romantic, end.

The Not-So-Fast and Furious?

Looks like we have hares a-plenty (or are they jack rabbits?) out here in Californian desert country. I’m wondering what that video is Diana Daggers was talking about and how it has anything to do with catching the Prius while it drives down the only accessible road out there in the middle of nowhere. It’s not as if they can suddenly take the second left onto La Brea Avenue, a hard right onto Olympic, and the first right on South Detroit. At least the hares were wise enough to remain up and out of the way of these maniacs.

Looks like they’re home free”, the caption brings up? Really? When was that ever a possibility, given they were caught red-handed, probably captured on security video, and certainly left enough fingerprints to satisfy even a pre-teen wannabe-detective. Yes, folks, that was me when I was around ten, walking around the house with my tube of talcum powder and my mom’s mascara brush, trying to dust for prints on every surface I could find. How successful was I? Let’s just say police work did not become part of my adult life, except for watching cop shows.

Well, are we going to have a repeat of the earlier chase-down? Or is there going to be a surprise inside this time? Perhaps we’ll see Cricket Bro behind the wheel or riding shotgun. Anything is possible, and I sure hope so!

I’ve yet to determine what illegal or anti-Nature action has taken place here, much less where Professor Bee and Diana Daggers fit into this scene. It all seems so out of Mark’s normal wheelhouse!  Why is he even involved in a plot for which he has no real knowledge, likely has illegalities attached to it, and offers him no significant outcome? All this just to get even with Cricket Bro!? Or does he think the readers of Teen Girl Sparkle will eat it up? Hope he got some pics, this time, but it looks like he has retained the prior Mark Trail’s propensity for not bothering with his Leica. Hell, even Spiderman used to set up his own camera to take pictures of his fights for publication!

Well, if Mark has any brain cells left, he’ll just have his ersatz friends convey him directly to the airport so he can catch the first flight back to Lost Forest, whereupon he can gape at Cherry’s equally crazy solutions to her problem. They can laugh at each other’s silly decisions. Maybe an eavesdropping Rusty will think “Dang! My parents are real blockheads!”

Okay, we get it, already!

Day 2 of the “Wha’ happened!?”explanation. I’m going to take a stab at it and propose that Aparna’s two-day “seminar” is a sequence that got left out of the original escape sequence shown two weeks ago. And Rivera is now “backing up” the time to catch us up. Maybe. Still, Aparna might find it easier to push that hood all the way back to make sure she can be heard clearly, especially as we have two days of panels essentially saying the same thing. Sort of.

However, we have a bit of an information flub. Data aggregators are concerned with managing large amounts of raw data and producing quantified summaries. Handling binary programming code in not their function. They are basically large-scale data warehouses on steroids. So: Uploading Aparna’s programming code to a “coding forum” is reasonable. Then it would be considered “open source” for any programmer to compile or even modify. At that point, the compiled program could be made available to the public for the purpose Aparna wanted.

Data aggregators, on the other hand, would be used to store data recorded by Aparna’s program as it would be uploaded by users. The summary data could then be used for further study. Maybe Rivera has Aparna is simplifying the explanation for Mark, if we want to give this flub a positive spin. Or, maybe she wants to make Aparna not as smart as she thinks she is. maybe somebody gave her some bum data. To be fair, maybe I am all wet.

The third panel showing Aparna’s face from slightly below is nicely depicted, something that Rivera’s predecessors tended to avoid trying, as I recall. However, Rivera seems to still be working out the details for drawing animals. That hare in panel 4 could be a yard statue.

When we last left Mark Trail, it wasn’t like this!

As Quick Draw McGraw used to exclaim during a crisis, “Now hold on there!” What do we have here, if not some kind of chronological and textual revisionism? This is one reason why more time should be spent on each of the two story lines, before switching between them. If we go back a week, we should recall that the Herp Hacienda Heisters had taken the laptop and set off a security alarm. They were intercepted in a hall by Cricket Bro, only to have himself intercepted and restrained by Mark. By the magic of The Cartoon Universe, Aparna suddenly uploaded her app to the Internet before handing the laptop back to Cricket Bro. Mark and his two companions then ran out of the building while Professor Bee and Diana Daggers consulted some kind of tracking program as a substitute for physically chasing them down. Or so it seemed, based on the actual published strips.

However, today’s strip must be a parallel universe redo that altered the time and sequence of events. Mark seems to have forgotten that hallway scene with Cricket Bro. And Mark’s exclamation of potential failure in panel 4 seems to suggest he wasn’t paying attention as Aparna uploaded her app while berating Cricket Bro, who was still being held by Mark! So, where the hell was Mark’s mind during all this? Was he still thinking that he should get back and thrash Killer Bee some more?

And why do we see rats in panel 1 gnawing on what appear to be network patch cables? Is this supposed to create a spark that starts a fire and totally engulfs the building in flames? Does this mean that a fleeing Mark Trail will spot the fire and force the gang to turn around and run back into the building to save whoever manages to get stuck inside before they are potentially asphyxiated or turned into charcoal briquettes? Maybe these cables link to the building’s security system? Mystery abounds!

The art seems a bit uneven. The first panel appears to depict our protagonists as stick figures in clothes, whereas the other three panels are filled with more conventionally decent Rivera drawing. Lest anybody be unsure, I generally like her drawing. However, I am not so comfortable with the first panel. I have proposed a theory in the past that suggested certain elongations or distortions might be deliberate stylistic choices to represent high energy, action, speed, or other dramatic events. And in truth, it is only Mark—who is running—who looks rather stick-like. But I may be reading too much into this. That comes from my unfortunate academic background, I think.

Anyway, I’m okay with a bit of a recap, but not if it is going to alter the chronology and events.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Chat

So we made it through another installment of Cherry’s Trail of Vengeance. Frankly, I’d like to see Rivera commit to story lines alternating every two weeks for Cherry and Mark. With the additional, continuous time, I think better continuity and pacing could be established. As it is, we moved through the execution of Cherry’s plan to stick it to the HOA by getting her reclusive, anti-government brother and his “feral” hogs to destroy the Butterfly bushes put in by the Sunny Soleil Society. Those of you coming in late should know that the SSS secretly and possibly illegally replaced Cherry’s original installation of indigenous plants at that faux roundabout. So this was tit for tat. Maybe. No doubt, there is some visceral satisfaction to seeing the work of your nemesis wantonly destroyed. But as in Mark’s case, we have moral and legal complexity here, as Cherry decided to take a vigilante approach to problem solving. Of course, this is an adventure strip, right?

But such an action is not what the old Mark Trail stood for, much less practiced. We are in a new (or parallel) Mark Trailverse, where those old sharply defined lines are more blurry. That blurriness stands in contrast to Rivera’s drawing style, which happens to feature sharply defined lines.  Not sure if there is a connection there. Still, we must wait at least another week before we see the fallout from Cherry’s adventure. Meanwhile, brother Dirk (who served as Cherry’s convenient dux ex machina), like other characters and subplots in the original Mark Trail, will likely disappear from the strip without further fanfare or attention.

And now for something completely different:  Sunday’s strip.

Well, the animal of the week was actually the animal star of the week this time. And no, I didn’t recall that feral hogs were such a threat, so thanks for the info, Mark! In spite of the subject, Mark delivers the info chat, rather than Cherry. Is this because Rivera is sticking to the tradition that Mark always delivered the nature chats in the past? Wikipedia says that these animals can host at least 34 pathogens dangerous to animals and people. That, alone is reason enough to carry a rifle, even though I don’t think we’ve seen Mark actually hunting for quite some time! And Mark might want to warn Cherry to check her vaccination records.

Mark’s remark about the 1980s is interesting, given that he would have been a small kid at that time (accepting his apparent age now). And what about that hot pink bathroom tile with the small, colorful shapes stuck on the wall. Where did that wall come from out there, in the wild? Is this some kind of nod to the 1986 movie, Pretty in Pink? There is a bathroom scene with similar tiles, where the character Duckie is pushed into the “Girl’s Bathroom.” Not sure those tiles were exactly this color, but the reference might work.

ADDENDUM: While doing some research on prior Mark Trail strips, I had forgotten and overlooked the fact that Rivera already covered feral hogs on a Sunday strip! “ThyTrailBeDone” creator Dennis Williams posted that Sunday strip here on March 2, 2021. A repeat so soon?

Also, I wonder if Rivera’s use of the term “vaccine” is incorrect. since vaccines are designed to protect against disease. I’ll let better researchers in that field find the correct term she alludes to.

A bit of advice to Mom: Say Nothing!

Well, it certainly looks like they were able to stop the hogs before they consumed everything. And it certainly looks like a disaster! Not sure if any of the people standing by are part of the Sunny Soleil Society. At least I don’t see anybody wearing a flamboyant “Easter” hat.

However, I don’t get today’s moral. What is the “hard lesson” Cherry learned today: Crime does not pay? You reap what you sow? Don’t leave tire tracks at the scene of the crime? From the state of the road, I’m guessing that all of those black dots on the road represent bush residue, falling away from the swine as they are driven away in Dirk’s truck. It certainly cannot be a new drawing technique by Rivera to suggest shading.

As any reader of the strip knows by now, Rivera is not given to suggesting volume or darkness using hatching, dots, or other such drawing techniques. Instead, she tends towards defining flat planes and shapes, using color to suggest light and volume. This is one reason why the black & white publications of her strips sometime look harsh or incomplete.  But Rivera is used to working and publishing on the Internet, which has no publishing limitations. And maybe it’s part of Rivera’s breaking from the older artistic conventions used in the prior incarnation of the strip.

Getting back to the story, I’m still left puzzled by what I’m reading. Once again, Rivera seems to be paraphrasing a popular quote in the text box of the last panel (“Never lay shrubs before a swine”). Cast like a moral from Aesop, it almost surely comes from that famous piece of Biblical advice (Matthew 7:6): “… neither cast ye your pearls before swine….” But I was wrong before, so enlighten me, dear readers, if my recollection is faulty or completely ignorant. Still, I’m willing to bet this is not a Pokémon reference!

Finally, let’s talk about roads. Now, perhaps they don’t have many roundabouts where Jules Rivera lives. However, a roundabout is meant to incorporate roads that cross each other to facilitate safer driving and resolve problem intersections. In this case, the roundabout borders a crossing road. If this is a traffic roundabout, it has to be the most ineptly and worthless roundabout I’ve ever seen. If this is a pedestrian roundabout, then why? And why does it lay open to that road?

Okay, this completes a week back with Cherry. If Rivera keeps to form, we are bound to return to Crazy Land and Mark’s outrageous activities.