Is this Rusty’s Pearl Harbor Day?

I’m not sure if Rusty sees this little vignette in an historical light, but he certainly has a deer-in-the-headlights look as he realizes that his downtime is about to be sunk by Mark’s surprise attack of agreeing to take him on that long sought-for fishing trip that no longer seems important.

At the same time, in spite of the fact that Mark Trail (the strip and Dad) has been dragged into the 21st century, Mark seems oblivious to the cynicism of contemporary youth, or that kids no longer accept empty promises. It’s the age-old story of a father being too busy to be around, and by the time he is, the family has grown up and grown past him. Still, we can hope for a better outcome.

Ralph the rat snake drops in

Mark is nice and chipper on his walk. And why not? He’s done with his assignment and it’s a nice day. But does Mark have “people”? Doesn’t he mean “family”? He didn’t get elected the mayor of Lost Forest, did he?

Anyway, today’s strip is a very nicely drawn sequence, similar to Rivera’s earliest submissions. There are none of the usual attenuated, “Etch-a-Sketch” figures that we too often see. Rivera is also once again providing interesting backgrounds. I think if Rivera would maintain this style, much of the disparagement against the strip would fade away.

The family peels off to their respective duties

Okay, this reads like some pretty reasonable interactions between real people in real situations. Very good! And the artwork is consistently fine, as well. Panel 1 offers us a picturesque landscape, while panel 2 offers an interesting foreground/background composition that was last used when the Trails were visiting Happy Trail down in Florida.

But good grief! Just what is the focus of Cherry’s storyline? Is it the pet rash or another go-round with the ambiguous Sunny Soleil Society? Of course, Rivera could be expanding the story threads and we will have concurrent storylines with Mark, Cherry, and Doc. That will be a good challenge for us readers, too.

But hasn’t Mark seen the data on the damage that flip-flops can cause to feet? And are you planning to wear flip-flops around the lions, Mark? They do leave your feet terribly vulnerable and are just lousy to try and run in! You might want to keep using them as fly swatters and go with a pair of running shoes.

Go ahead, you two. Drag it out until Saturday.

While we await the final decision by Cherry that decides what new story category to file this adventure under, I am taken by the interior of this part of the Trail house I do not think we’ve seen. Just how big is this house!? It seems to go on and on. Here we are in some kind of hallway filled with what is either a collection of badly hung pictures or possibly a bunch of gun ports to help defend the home against invading polluters.

Panel 4: Wow, not much gets by Cherry, does it? I mean, how many people explicitly know that elephant-caused injuries are not covered by their insurance? Without a special rider, that is. Just one more question, though: Is Mark wearing capris in panel 3 or some kind of fancy riding pants?

“Please tell me there is a Door #3, Bill!”

While Dumbo is hauling his tusks down to Waco (as on-site witness Downpuppy reported), Mark gets read-in on Ellis’s second assignment option . . . GOOD GAWD! New age animal healing?! Is Rivera deliberately trying to piss off even more Trailheads? I have to keep reminding myself that Rivera just likes to inject outrageous plot devices into the theater-of-the-absurd atmosphere that makes up this nouveau Mark Trail.

And Cherry’s expression looks a lot like my wife after I just told her that “Yes. I could do the dishes or I could retreat into my office and watch harpsichord videos on YouTube. What do you think, honey?”

Game Warden Mark!?

What kind of assignment is this, anyway? Is it even legal to own your own elephant? Apparently, some states do allow ownership of exotic animals if they are not endangered. But what is the story angle:  1) The dangers and liabilities of private ownership of exotic animals? 2) How long it takes the feds to track down and contain a rampaging elephant in the US? Maybe Mark would be tasked as a journalist ride-along for a group of game wardens.

Could this be one of the animals that broke out from that derailed circus train several years back (cf Feb 2018, during Allen’s tenure) but was never caught? Naw…!

Seems to me that, by the time Mark makes his way to wherever this elephant has been or is, the elephant will already have been caught or killed, and it would be on the evening news. Or Instagram. However, we have to wait and see what Bill Ellis has behind Door Number Two.

Mark displays his talent for compartmentalizing

Well, sure. Mark has to go back to work. Is that any reason for Mark to look like he just got caught staring at Ellis’s teenage daughter? Be warned, readers, I have a few more questionable observations! 

Isn’t it time for Rivera to stop with the animal-stares-at-reader parody? Sure, it was a cute take for a while on the traditional Mark Trail habit of putting animals in the foreground of its panels. But the parody has worn itself out and now it just seems trite. Rivera: Please return to the tradition or try something new.

Second, I do like the way Rivera portrayed Ellis as a tilted and flattened image underscoring its smartphone source.

Finally, I think we might be seeing some story padding (mattress stuffing) already. It adds next to nothing to the story, itself, other than to keep reiterating Mark’s already-depicted feelings and conflicts. Sure, it’s okay to have a bit of polite catch-up, but it’s time to move on.

The Doc is In!

We are hardly back from the disaster of Portland, when we are off to another adventure, this one featuring Cherry and her pop, Doc Davis. Well, we (that is to say, I) have been wondering when Rivera would get around to giving Doc more story time, and this might be that time. In vintage Mark Trail I believe Doc was retired, which suggests that this strip might represent a timeframe earlier than its previous incarnation. That would bolster the idea that Mark, himself, is still a less-than-internationally known nature journalist. I’m not sure what a whacky day is at a vet’s office, but let’s hope there is more to it than just craziness.

Form follows disfunction

Rivera seems to have taken up the standard Mark Trail story tradition of ending an adventure by simply calling “CUT!” and, presto-change-o, we’re back in Lost Forest. I hope they got their romance satisfactorily concluded, since the batphone just rang, and they are hardly back from their vacation. Mark has not even had time to change. Oh, wait. He never changes clothes.

But this time, the call to action seems to be on Cherry’s phone, leaving Mark to once again ponder his relevance and lack of fame and fortune. And thanks for the patriotism reminder, Cherry, but Mark beat you to it in the Sunday strip.

We’re finally getting to the point

Well, part of my wish comes true:  Mark gets to work for another editor of another magazine. Glad to see Rivera taking advantage of the publishing empire she has envisioned. So, Rafael Suave? Clearly, a poser, but the jury is out on his other bona fides. I’m not sure if the magazine is called “Fish Magazine” or “Fish Magazine Hot Catch”; otherwise, what the hell does “Hot Catch” mean? Shouldn’t it be more like Catch Hot Fish Magazine? I don’t get it. Anybody? Anybody?

Well, I don’t think I need to go too far out on a limb and suggest that, based on Mark’s over-reactive response in panel 4, Mark might be getting set up once again for some oddball assignment. But, hey…this time it is a fishing magazine…I think. And maybe Rafael is an actual angler. No reason to presume not, even if he’s not wearing a hat covered in trout lures and sitting in a boat.  As with Amy Lee, I’m thinking “editor” means “Editor in Chief”, so Mark is getting his assignment straight from the top, not some feature editor.

Back in October 2021, Mark’s appearance when he got his first assignment from Amy Lee of Teen Girl Sparkle was fresh and positive. The drawing was more refined in its treatment of line, contours and color. Compare it with panel 4 today, and Mark looks like he is forcing himself to be positive. The face looks frazzled; the expression looks happy and positive, but the eyes appear worn out, as if he’s just rolling with the conversation. Okay, maybe I’m reading too much into a single panel here. And maybe it’s just because the more refined drawing of Mark from last year makes the current version of Mark look sketchier and flatter.

And check out the image of Mark in panel 1. It has that simplistic, heavy black line and shape that reminds me of discount animated cartoons; maybe even something like Clutch Cargo, minus the super-imposed human lips. Ah, it would be great to see Rivera return to the earlier version of drawing Mark we see here.

In any event, looks like we’re heading into story number three. I’m hoping this will be an assignment truly in Mark’s wheelhouse, where he can make use of his well-honed skills. Mark deserves a break, don’t you think? And yeah, maybe Mark will get some time to actually use his two fists of justice, in addition to whatever other skills he needs to employ. Maybe even take some pictures, once in awhile?