Mark realizes that paying bills beats playing vet detective!

The “new” Mark Trail is definitely more family-oriented, compared to his predecessor. Ironically, this might not sit that well with long-term Trailheads who used to scoff at Mark for never spending more than a few days at home before running off to a new assignment. I plead guilty to serving up some of those rude comments, but I’m not against this new wrinkle in Mark’s psyche. It isn’t just the usual “I had a great 48 hours at home, Cherry, but now I’m off to another adventure!” I even like how Rivera represented the well-drawn panel 3 as a gray, monochromatic symbol of Mark’s unenthusiastic acceptance, only to quickly bring up a polychromatic façade of enthusiasm in panel 4 as he talks with Bill. After all, you gotta keep those assignments coming in to pay the vet bills!

Okay, so it’s not as if Mark is getting sent to the Middle East for an eighteen-month deployment. But it’s something most of us can identify with:  The requirement of having to go back to work after taking time off.  The fantasy of happy independence gets kicked back in line.

A post-vacation combo

The Trails are not the only people just back from a vacation! I fear Thursday’s strip will go down as either another Ghost-Artist Fiasco or a Deadline Disaster. Either way, the art looks slapdash. On the positive side, Rivera has decided (wisely, I think) to put Mark back into one of his own adventures and—hopefully—let Cherry and Doc Davis take command of their own mystery. But as we’ve seen before, the walls separating one story from another don’t always hold. Instead, Mark and Cherry have routinely interacted in each other’s business.

Does Rivera think our memories are so bad that we need a summary of the prior day’s strip? As for expensive medicine, sez who?!? Has Doc already determined the proper treatment?

What is more interesting is that Mark is willing to walk away from a paying assignment. However, realist Cherry will have none of it!

Look outside, Mark!

Okay, if Honest Ernest is not behind this, it has to be “some ugly, impersonal chemical factory”, unless the Lost Forest community has reinstated using “the mosquito man” to drive his truck around town, pumping out clouds of DDT to kill mosquitos and bugs. Being the stupid, ignorant clods that we were as kids, we used to run behind that truck, trying to run catch up to the lethal haze, as if it was just some kind of cool, gray cloud.

So, what is that logo on the book?

Mark beats Doc Davis at his own game!

Is this taking place in the 1960s? So the Trails are only now discovering that lawn chemicals can hurt animals?! Yet, Mark apparently has a fully-stocked library of scientific research materials in the cabin that prove lawn chemicals are the culprit. Without testing? Why doesn’t Doc Davis have access to this material? He could have just looked it up, rather than waste time with bothersome tests and microscopic analyses.

Where do we go from here? Will Mark and/or Doc call in the proper authorities to take over the investigation? Not yet of course. The Trails will investigate on their own, I think, to get more evidence. At that point, they would call in the authorities. Somehow, I don’t think it will play out that way.

Meanwhile, back at the Lincoln Log Ranch…

Even if we ignore the coloring, it’s hard to see how that pile of stuff Mark was holding in Saturday’s strip turned into this white puppy today. Well, Rivera is consistent in her changeups. That is, she doesn’t mind altering things to suit the occasion or whim. The very style of the strip has changed since Rivera began back in October 2020. Even the Trail House has varied over time.

On the left is the cabin from October 2020.

On the right is the cabin from August 2021.

Then we have the cabin, today.

Also, notice how the “dramatic” cliffhanger at Doc’s office on Saturday has suddenly shifted back to the Trail cabin, where it is obviously later, since Cherry sits with Rusty and Sassy. Cherry is wearing the same clothes, so it’s possible this is later in the day. What happened in between Saturday’s strip and today? Rivera is pushing the story along. Is that a good thing? Perhaps Rivera is playing with varying the story pacing and we’ll get a shorter, faster-paced adventure this time. Sometimes you like a two-plus hour blockbuster movie and sometimes you are fine with a one-hour TV episode.

Wait your turn, Mark!

As usual, Mr. Important must claim center stage and insist upon jumping to the front of the line, to say nothing of jumping again into a storyline that is none of his business. Such is Mark’s insecurity.

Doc is still suck on paperwork. Cherry should be interviewing the pet owners, but I’ve already covered that. Apparently, that might result in a conclusion found too soon and ruin the drama. So, we continue with the mystery. Will Mark also get involved? I hope he beats a retreat and finds his own adventure.  

Maybe Rivera is not sure that Doc (and Cherry) can carry the story alone. The same thing happened with Rusty. His Big Cryptid Adventure went nowhere, except for some comic (strip) relief. I wish that Rivera had more faith in the characters. After all, she is modeling their personalities as she sees fit.

Speaking of modeling, I notice some shading on the back of Doc and the lower areas in panel 1. Rivera rarely employs shading (or modeling). Seeing her employ a shading technique reminiscent of old-school Ben-Day dots is noteworthy. Is she experimenting? Could be a positive enhancement.

All pets sick and small

Well, Doc Davis might get an idea if he talked with all of the pet owners to find a common thread. Hmmm, I wonder if this is leading us back to that “kill-’em-all” pest remover, “Honest Ernest”, and his truck of lethal poisons? Recall that he is the husband of Caroline, a board member on the Sunny Soleil Society. Those two were stopped from poisoning a statue-based beehive in the SSS garden. But that doesn’t mean Ernest is out of work. Maybe he expanded his business to lawn care. If Mark keeps running into his former antagonists, why can’t Cherry?

Rash decisions?

What kind of office, vet or physician, doesn’t have a secretary of some sort? If Doc’s practice is so small, why is the office so large?

Sometimes it seems as if there is a ghost artist filling in for Rivera. I’d compare Monday’s strip to these, for example. I could every well be wrong. It’s hard to believe that the image of the man in the lab coat in the 4th panel of the July 6 strip is really Doc Davis. Sorry, just thinking out loud.

Okay, we seem to be off and running with Doc and Cherry’s adventure:  It would be great to see Cherry and Doc handle this on their own, while Mark gets sucked into another assignment, somewhere else. Like South America.