“When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled.”

Okay, sometimes it’s really hard to not throw in with the snarkers. This is silly on so many fronts that it could take a page to get through. The fishing boats are just a nuisance. But maybe the ship’s crew were bored enough to make engaging their anti-pirate boarding system worth the time and effort for a good laugh. Still, this scene of “defense, sacrifice, and escape” just doesn’t live up to its moralistic aims.

  • Why did the other boat need to stay behind when they could have both just moved away? It’s not as if a cargo ship can turn on a dime and chase them.
  • Why are the two crew members of that other boat just standing around in panel 3 instead of trying to get away?
  • Exactly why are Mark and Diana worried? Nobody’s shooting at them.
  • When did Mark ever run away from danger? Oh, right. This is the less idealized Mark, who reacts to danger like many of us.
  • And what is Diana even doing in panel 4? Where did her bravado go?
  • So, was that boat’s “screening sacrifice” really an act of courage or just an act?

I mean, c’mon! Neither boat was in any real danger, except from the undertow of the cargo ship, itself. Those fire hose defense systems aren’t designed to pursue pirate ships moving away from the ship. However, perhaps Rivera thought it would make an exciting action scene to have fire hoses waving all around and spraying water everywhere. But the result reminds me more of the robot on the TV show, Lost in Space, which would ineffectually wave its arms whenever it sensed danger. On the other hand, I would feel very insulted if this entire sequence of “dangerous mission”, furtive pursuit, dangerous reprisals, and unknown sacrifice was all just some kind of parody. I’d be much happier if this were just Rivera’s attempts to construct a classic adventure story.

She has not had the opportunity to do so, until now. The first story was for introductions and more of a social commentary on the Mark Trail tradition of the idealized hero as much as it was a nod to environmentalism. The second adventure was less “adventure” and more mad-cap lunacy in a state (other than Florida) known for its quirky characters. So we are now into Mark’s third story, which is cast in a more traditional format of a Mark Trail adventure; only the premise is shaky (illicit zebra mussel importing). It’s still early in the story, though. But for all of you die-hard Trailheads who think this is not as good as the pre-Rivera Mark Trail stories, think back to the Bat Cave and the Hawaiian Island stories. Even the Himalayan Sasquatch adventure. These were all stories that mostly had no point to them, solved nothing, and suffered ridiculous escapades.

Another day of questions with few answers!

Crew of the cargo ship finally notice the action below and threaten to deploy “deterrents” if they don’t leave. Not sure what those deterrents are, but they probably do not include detergents.  And now, the crew of the pursuit boat appear to want to assist Mark and Diana’s departure, or escape. A minute ago, the crew of the pursuit boat were the problem. Now that’s the role of the cargo ship’s crew.

Why does the pursuit boat’s crew want to help Mark and Diana? Why do they even need to “distract” the crew of the cargo ship so Mark and Diana can escape when the ship’s crew can plainly see them from above and have already demanded that they leave?! It’s not as if Mark’s boat can go into stealth mode and slip away, sight unseen. What then—Is the pursuit boat going to start deploying smoke? Are they going to attempt to board the cargo ship? Or is this whole thing just an elaborate trap? There is certainly no end to mystery and suspense going on here.

Back to the artwork, how come the pursuit boat keeps gaining height (panel 2—that’s right, boys and girls. panel 2 is not one of the crew on the cargo ship!.) and losing it again (panel 3)? What’s the point to that? Finally, where did all of those black splotches in the water come from? They were not there before…maybe that cargo ship is leaking fuel?! Forget the stupid zebra mussels, call the EPA!

Why do I have the feeling that the goose (?) is laughing at us? Cheeky bird!

Maybe Mark can blame Diana for this crash!

Okay, everybody! Just settle down and let’s try to make some sense of this. Wait…none of this makes sense. First, I appreciate the topical pun in the initial message box. And an emerging Mark shouts “STOP!”, but it isn’t clear if he refers to the argument or the boats drifting around him. Marks looks to be swimming towards the other boat, which is named “Debait.” Of course, it’s a boating pun, not a pun for a collegiate discussion forum, one presumes.

Diana, far from being the in-your-face menace she has always been, now sounds more like the old Cherry, at least in panel 2. But she does get a little more testy by panel 3. And what’s with the argument over boat ownership? Diana says it’s Mark’s; the guy in the hat says they know it isn’t. But on Tuesday, these guys said it was Mark’s boat! Make up your minds! That man in the purple hat might be a marine police officer or an HVAC installer. I didn’t notice any police stickers or sirens on his boat. If it is really his boat, that is! As the two groups of people square off, they fail to notice that they are drifting into the wake of the passing cargo ship. Then again, the water looks as placid as a fishing lake at 5 AM. But the collision definitely puts a wrinkle into the story and may provide an excuse for moving Diana and Mark onto the cargo ship, if their boat falls apart and sinks. We know Mark’s history with boats, so it’s an odds-on favorite it will happen.

Now, to address some of the art; specifically, the issue of scale. It’s tough trying to make the case for small boats and big ships all in the same location, at the same time, when drawn in a set of small squared panels. You should try it. It isn’t easy. Nevertheless, in panel 1, Mark and Diana’s boat seems to be close in size and height to the pursuit boat. Yet in panel 2, it looks like the pursuit boat suddenly grew ten feet higher, as the man in the purple hat looks down at a smaller Diana. And in panel 3, they are both on the same plane once again. I’m getting dizzy!

Panel 4 is an interesting angle, showing us the passing cargo ship and the two smaller boats. We finally see two people on the upper deck of the vessel, looking down at the smaller boats. The observers seem pretty small compared with the people in the two boats. Since we are looking down, they should be larger to our eyes. Don’t you agree? In fact, the cargo ship (on its own) looks like it should be about twice the size it is drawn in. But I’m sure there are small cargo ships like this. Still, the variations in scale are jarring. It shows how difficult it is to consolidate objects of diverse size in one scene and make them look realistic. I don’t know if Jules Rivera uses an assistant or not. Many cartoonists do, as I’ve come to find out. Perhaps her assistant got to take up the pencil today, as compared to the strips from the prior three days.

Finally, Mark’s attempt to bluff their way out of this situation in panel 3 came to a crashing halt in panel 4. So we move into darker waters of suspense, ladies and gentlemen. What will happen? Who are the men in hats Are they professionally related to the ship or ship’s owners? Will Mark try to continue his bluff?

Clever zebra mussel smugglers: Hiding them in plain sight!

Amazing underwater acrobatics as Mark essentially leg-paddles along with the moving ship as he takes photos. The hull now seems to have sunk down several feet, based on the lower point of view in the first panel. But I’m unjustly quibbling and overlooking the bigger picture. Are t hose zebra mussels? Last I saw (when they were first brought up), they looked more like tiny clams, not barnacles.

Oh, I get it. Perhaps Mark is ignorant of what he is looking at; a potentially embarrassing moment for “Mr. Sunday Nature Encyclopedia” and another opportunity for Diana to insult Mark.

Panel 3 implies that Mark is vertically swimming to the surface. Well, water does tend to create distortions in angles and space, so perhaps the river really is deeper. So, is a snorkel the best thing to use here? It seems to depend too much on a person’s lung capacity and breath retention without blacking out from the exertion of underwater swimming and taking photos. Again, I’m quibbling. I apologize. Getting back to the plot…

The story unfolds simply and directly, as Mark finds his “evidence” and breaches the surface, only to discover that Diana has finally realized they are being followed by people with suspicious intent. According to the “Handbook of Heroic Actions” (as used in action movies), this should be where Diana throws a roped life ring to Mark as she speeds by to escape. Mark grabs the passing buoy, pull himself upright, and water skis to safety on his bare feet, leaving startled strangers behind in their slower craft.

I’m just not sure Jules has seen that reference book; or cares. More likely, she’ll just have Diana wave a fist at her pursuers and threaten to hurt them really bad. It’s a tactic that sure worked on Mark!

I’d like to comment on the color over the past few days, which is good, but again, we don’t know who is specifying it. I do know that the comics syndicate usually does it on their own, unless they have specific instructions from the cartoonists. The artwork, itself, continues to be fine, with interesting changes of view and without the scribbly, hurried look we sometime see.


Now, if this was a story about the illicit trade of coral, for example, it might have more weight. Not to take away from the menace of zebra mussels at all, in spite of Mark’s discovering what must be the mussels-under-investigation, and conveniently stuck to the bottom of a cargo ship’s hull that has a draft of no more than two feet. This must be a really small, empty ship to be sitting so high on the water. It does justify the snorkel, I suppose.

And Mark doesn’t really have to swim very deep, especially in a river that seems to have a depth of about…what, 10-15 feet?! So, we have a tiny cargo ship running in shallow waters—apparently really, really slow!—without any lookouts to notice Diana tailgating the cargo ship (and without being affected by the ship’s wake). Mark, being a modern day Johnny Weissmuller, has no trouble keeping up with this ship using only one hand to swim while he takes photos. Atta boy, Mark! With that kind of strength and stamina, we have to believe that Diana is already thinking about how her night is going to pan out.

And she must really be preoccupied to not notice another boat just behind and closing. This reminds me of those cop shows where the good guys follow a suspect only one or two cars directly behind for 10-15 blocks, and never get made. Maybe there’s a case for that:  Many of us live our lives, oblivious to daily routine. If prompted, we probably could not describe any cars we drove alongside or passed on the road, unless it was something notable, such as a Ford Model-A or that cyclist we just missed, as it blew through a red light.

In spite of the rather “small potatoes” scope of this zebra mussel investigation, somehow the purpose of Mark and Diana’s boat excursion has been leaked to one or more of those dangerous companies that Rafael mentioned, in passing. Who are they and why are they dangerous? We don’t know yet. Will we ever? And does the crime of having zebra mussels on a ship’s hull require a boatload of thugs to follow, and deal with anybody who got too curious?

Or is this really not about zebra mussels? These unknown bad guys might be surprised, if not astounded, to realize that Mark and Diana are not looking for illegal drugs stored in the ship’s hold, nor abducted and imprisoned young girls destined for a slave market somewhere in Southeast Asia. Just zebra mussels.

Otherwise, we are left with a premise, something like this:

OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY: “Okay, yous guys. Get inna da boat and follow behind our ship. Look out for anybody that getsa too close to it and startsa snooping!”
BAD GUY #1: “What do we do if we spot somebody, boss?”
OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY: “Unless they actually sees-a the zeebra mussels we are smugglin’ in, just-a scare them off, Benny. Otherwise, give ’em cement goulashes. Got it?”
BAD GUY: #2 “Sure, boss, we get it! But what’sa the big deal with these mussels, anyways? Dey’re all over the country already, and nobody wants ’em!”
OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY:Stupido! We don’ta get paid to aska the questions. This is just the story Rivera stuck us into, hokay? Now get outta here!”

Well, now that Comics Kingdom is back online, there is a good supply of jokes and snarks to read!

Sunday Follow-up and the Monday Post

(revised) On Sunday, I remarked on the unusual (to me, at least) choice of the Shiba inu (Japanese for “Brushwood dog”, I believe) for a size comparison with the coyote, while more people would have likely better understood a comparison with a more common dog, such as a retriever or poodle. But reader jalindrine (welcome!) made an interesting observation and noted that there was more involved than Rivera just making an esoteric comparison. Turns out the Shiba inu became a popular Internet meme almost ten years ago, when pictures of the dog appeared with mangled (mongrelized?) English phrases (e.g. “So scare”, “Much noble”, etc.). Jalindrine challenged me that I should be aware of this connection in order to understand the art. I may not be up to it, but…
I don’t see any broken English in the Sunday strip, so it is not an out-and-out meme, itself; but it is likely Rivera is at least trotting out the concept, in what I am calling a meme echo; that is, a reference to the actual meme. We already know that Rivera is a popular Internet artist and social media regular. From a more commercial point of view, this meme echo could be a way for Rivera to attract younger viewers to the comic strip. Otherwise, I cannot detect additional meme significance to that dog’s appearance. Please feel free to append or correct me!

Moving on to Monday and Mark’s storyline, Rivera has thoughtfully caught up the readers, as the plot now ventures into fantasy land (or Fantasy River), where it’s perfectly fine for somebody using only a snorkel to go swimming around the hull of a cargo ship under weigh. So how is a snorkel useful under water (aside from the face mask)?

I’m not going to rehash (you’re welcome) the recklessness of this decision, nor the suggestion that the zebra mussels are best found in ballast; nor the reason why they think that a specific shipping company is a more likely suspect than any other shipping company. I suppose the story will sink or swim, depending on how much we’re willing to ignore real world physics. That shouldn’t be too hard. We watch “Mission Impossible” without having conniptions, right?

One thing I am curious about is the slender gray object in the background of panel 3, between the ship’s hull and the comment box (“No big deal, right”). It appears to me that it’s an approaching ship. So, the danger will soon increase, as Mark must not only avoid getting turned into sausage from the propellers of this ship, but avoid getting sucked under the approaching vessel.  Especially if he does not notice it in time! And I don’t believe ship hulls have handgrips under the water line, either.

 Float me some pot, Cherry!

I was off on my tracking, as the two week segment with Mark included the prior week when Mark picked up Diana and spent the rest of the week getting consoled by Cherry.

So, catching up, Cherry and Violet Cheshire have an uneasy alliance to restore and upgrade the Sunny Soleil Society’s gardens. That alliance was sorely tested when they were surprised by a swarm of bees hidden under a tarp covering a memorial statue in the garden area. Violet lost her cool. So we’ve caught up.

Yesterday, Jules was nice enough to go over the frog-toad issue, at least enough to ensure that we’ll never be 100% positive one way or the other; so whatever Cherry wants to call these amphibians, is okay by me.  Anyway, I’ll be the first to admit that I was flummoxed by the ceramic pots that seemed to be floating on top of the pond beside Cherry. My gardening wife said that this was just a fashion in upscale gardens:  bricks or stones are placed underneath to give the illusion that the pots are floating. Flummox solved.

Moving on to the plot, Cherry seems unduly sensitive about her reaction to, or the appearance of, these toads/frogs in the presence of the two Sunny Soleil ladies. Well, I suppose the “EEK!” exclamation accounts for some of it? Perhaps Cherry’s anxiety is driven by trying to stay on their good side for business reasons. And once again, Rivera continues to do a good job of linking the Sunday animals to the daily strips in a more active way then used to be the case.

Well, if one pretentious person wasn’t enough, Violet shows up with a companion who is equally decked out in Kentucky Derby finery. Okay, that’s possibly a non-sequitur, as conventional wisdom says they are in Georgia. These ladies must live in some time-warped gated community where people dress like that; or it’s Easter. Or maybe the other woman is also an SSS employee and these are just their uniforms.

As for the dialog, I don’t fully understand Cherry’s concerns over the amphibians (aside from the “Eek”) running around (over what I wrote earlier); they are normally found around ponds and lakes, including garden ponds. Also, this is the humid, semi-tropical South. So, why is Cherry upset over what must be a common sight? Hmmm, I’d be more upset over Violet Cheshire’s lame pun in panel 3.

The art is fine, today, and the varying points of view add interest to an otherwise unremarkable sequence. And I can’t help but think of Gulliver when I see panel 2. Then there are the runway model poses of the two fashionistas in panel 3. I think Jules Rivera gets her stereotype ridiculing in again with these ladies’ poses. Miss Blue’s is portrayed in a “precious-refined lady-overreacts-to-actual-wildlife-outside-of-a-zoo” pose, while Violet’s pose has “I-anchor-myself-importance-with-sarcasm” written all over it.

Based on what I’ve seen and read elsewhere, I believe some people missed the actually clever pun Rivera slipped into panel 2. Cherry says “Not in front of the Sunny So-Ladies!!” The pun is the phrase Sunny So-Ladies, which is an elision of the words Sunny Soleil and Ladies. The So-Ladies phrase sounds similar to the French Soleil.

What’s that you say? You already figured it out earlier, and I’m just trying to show off!? Well, it’s easy for you to say that now, since this is already written and you didn’t tell me ahead of time! 🙂

Calling Mike Nelson!

Okay, my hoped-for solution did not follow. Diana did not have a full SCUBA setup hidden away for Mark to use. Instead, we are to believe Mark is going to snorkel his way around a cargo ship under way, using his own power. As for the implied value of that camera, it’s hard to judge it based on the drawing; but it certainly didn’t look like anything special. If that camera is designed to work underwater, why isn’t there a lanyard attached to it? Or at least a hand strap?

So, as Diana encourages Mark (panel 4) to start his investigatory swim, we are left with…what, exactly? The carping (excuse the fishing pun) continues, unabaited (no excuse for this forced fishing pun!). Other dialog seems clueless:  “Once we’re close enough…”? Mark, if you were any closer, you could paint that ship’s hull without leaving your own boat!

A few visual points: When I first spotted Mark in panel 1, he reminded me of the ancient Greek swift-footed messenger god, Hermes (i.e. Mercury), with his winged helmet and buff physique. “Oh! Mark is wearing a snorkel,” I realized. That was also when I realized there would be no SCUBA gear and propulsion assistance.

And I was a bit disappointed at the stop-action technique in panel 4, showing Mark cascading into the water after getting pushed. The two “before and after” images, alone, are not enough to create the illusion. A person not aware of what Rivera was intending might suppose there is another person already diving.

Anyway, we should also admit that this whole premise seems screwy. If there are mussels attached to the ship’s hull, it’s not as if the DDG company put them there for some nefarious purpose. And it seems ludicrous to suppose that the ships of other companies do not suffer the same infestation. And let’s not overlook the ballast issue, which is really where these two hapless investigative reporters should be looking. But, this is the story, so we’ll follow it to its watery end.

Some like him hot, some like him cold

Well, they stopped, and now they’re moving again. And apparently, so is that cargo vessel, where we can see the full company name on the side, as we would expect (as I discussed two days ago). Like the cargo ship, the plot crawls along as we learn that Diana, indeed, was going to do the diving and shooting, until Mark finally exerted some control over the situation. And we finish with some kind of beefcake pose of Markey Mark disrobing for his swim, while Daggers has a hitherto undisclosed secondary agenda. In an early interview on Comics Kingdom, Jules Rivera said that she deliberately draws Mark as “ridiculously hot, and I do have a talent for drawing hot guys.” That much is obvious.

Okay, some questions, once again:

  1. How is Mark going to keep up, under water, with a vessel under way? They do not appear to have any underwater propulsion devices (but see below).
  2. Even if Mark could keep up, how would he look for mussels along the hull—and take pictures—without getting caught in the ship’s undertow and drowned, or mangled in the propellers?
  3. Is Diana making another non-literal sarcastic remark about following the vessel all the way to “the Great Lakes”, in the same way she made her “Welcome to California” crack after she landed at Mark’s airport near Lost Forest? That is, “I’m not gonna follow it forever!

But if we take her literally (which I think is always a dangerous proposition), then either Daggers has no understanding of geography, or Lost Forest is really far up the Atlantic Coast, since there is no way to get a cargo ship up there from the South. That also means Cherry sure drives a far distance to her Floridian customers. So, no. Diana’s Great Lakes remark is just sarcastic hyperbole.  And there is no reason to assume Rivera also has no grasp of basic geography. Besides, in the interview I cited, Rivera makes the point that Mark is a real “Florida Man”, whatever that entails.

Nevertheless, one must question the overall validity of this scenario. It’s one thing to investigate an anchored cargo ship. I don’t care how ripped Mark is, he cannot realistically swim underwater alongside a moving vessel while simultaneously looking for zebra mussels and photographing them; all, without getting killed by the ship. Even Mike Nelson (i.e. Sea Hunt) would not have attempted that on his own.

Okay, Rivera threw us a small misdirect about who was going to do the underwater research. Is today’s situation another misdirection for readers? As it appears Diana rented the boat (which is why she is the driver, as Mark declared), did she deliberately maneuver Mark into his “it’s a Man’s job to do the dangerous work” decision? So, while filming Mark getting ready for his gutsy and possibly fatal task, she tells Mark just before he dives to stop and not to be such a macho idiot. Then she reveals an underwater propulsion jet and some scuba gear that she happened to have stowed away in the boat. Thus, this particular setup is a way for Diana to get some of her unexplained need for vengeance against Mark by making him look foolish on video, which not only will wind up in her social media, but find its way into the zebra mussel documentary. Brilliant practical joke!

Okay, am I overthinking this?

“Mark, you watch the boat and pretend to fish. I’ll take care of the rest.”

So, another fishing boat finally appears. I reckon that cargo ships make good fishing spots. Why, I see fishing boats all the time, hanging around the container ships in Duluth Harbor.

Not really.

Okay, so we finally learn a bit more about this assignment, such as that Diana is clearly far ahead of Mark with regard to background information on this assignment.  Diana dribbles out the details to Mark as if were “need to know” covert information. And perhaps we’ll eventually discover that the issue is not zebra mussels in general, but zebra mussel infestation in this unnamed body of water, somewhere near Lost Forest.

But try as I might, I cannot resist:  It’s one thing to fashion the new Mark Trail as a less idealized naturalist hero who has doubts, whose hair is no longer immaculate, and talks to animals. But it’s another thing, entirely, to make Mark appear ignorant, stupid, and incompetent.

  1. Mark seems curious that mussels (like other mollusks) could attach themselves to ship hulls. Then again, The USGS web site reports that mussels are commonly spready when ships dump ballast water .
  2. Why does Mark only now realize one of them has to go underwater to get photographs?
  3. And why doesn’t Mark realize it is Diana who is going underwater, not him? After all, she is the one wearing a bathing suit and carrying a (presumably waterproof) camera.

Mark really is becoming the second-banana in this story, the loose change in your pocket you don’t mind losing. His job is apparently to be the main distraction, while Diana does the real work.

The only thing that can save this wreck as a Mark Trail story is for Diana to get trapped or captured, requiring Mark to don his hero costume and come to her rescue. Or something along those lines.

Well, may Jules will rename the strip to Mark Trevail.