“And in this corner, weighing in at 165 lbs, hailing from Lost Forest, is Mark ‘Fists of Fury’ Trail!”

Yes, as commentator Downpuppy pointed out, size isn’t everything, and whipcord-ripped Mark has no problem sparring with The Bee. In fact, it looks like Mark’s right cross carried a meaningful message of danger to the arrogant Bee-man. Frankly, Killer Bee looks more bully than boxer, and his technique frankly stinks. I would bet that, had this “fight” gone on, Bee would go down in the first round. But as Rivera, herself, pointed out, the fight got stopped by the local version of Andre the Giant, just as it got started.

And that brings up more questions, such as

a) What’s the point of the boxing match gimmick in the first place?

b) Why was it stopped:  Did Cricket Bro get disappointed that Mark can actually fight?

c) Where is Cricket Bro, anyway?

d) How are those two Herp Hacienda members getting on?

e) And where is this story going?

So far, we have Mark invited to fly to LA and participate in a still-unseen video with Reptilionnaire; also invited to stay at Herp Hacienda, a reptile retreat filled with assorted human oddballs; then invited to a party by the video’s “money man”, “Cricket Bro“, who happens to be Mark’s childhood nemesis, Rob Bettancourt. This turned out to be a party where Mark was systematically and deliberately insulted, ignored, and threatened. We learned of a revelation by Aparna, one of the Herp Hacienda staff, about Cricket Bro stealing her intellectual property. This subplot is added on by a plan hatched by Mark to infiltrate Cricket Bro’s offices to help steal it back; but the plan was weakened by an otherwise pointless interlude with Professor Bee and Diana Daggers stopping Mark and his “street posse” on the way to Cricket Bro’s office, ruining any chance of surprise. But then a discussion between Mark and the human mountain doorman enabled Rept and Aparna to somehow slink into the off-limits Developer’s Wing. And finally, we have this outrageous boxing match setup for another alleged video. This is truly some off-the-wall goofiness!

But, other than the so-called theft of an animal air sensor phone app, where is the Injustice against Nature that Mark normally works to resolve? It has to be more than the two videos or the simple thrill of humiliating Rob “Cricket Bro” Bettancourt. There has to be something more, something much bigger. Perhaps we’ll see it this week.

Before Cherry hogs the strip, we’re back to Mark!

I think a second week of Cherry’s story would have been better, but we did leave Mark in mid-punch, getting hammered by Killer Bee. We return to the action and its follow-up, which amounts to Mark still standing after that right jab and vowing to unleash the much talked-about “Two Fists of Justice!” Of course, it might be wise for Mark to put on some boxing gloves in order to minimize the chance of breaking a knuckle. But will Cricket Bro foil Mark’s justice and stop the fight before Trail returns the compliment to Killer Bee?

Artistically, I know people will complain (as they already have) about the sometimes spindly anatomy of various figures, whether it be Dirk’s legs or Mark’s body in panel 2. But it seems to be a stylistic feature of the strip in general, and here, it is used to effectively differentiate Mark’s appearance from Killer Bee’s partially-visible strongman physique. By the way, this feature was not apparent in Professor Bee’s initial introduction, where he looked a lot slimmer, more like a dancer. But he was wearing a full-length coat or duster. I suppose ‘clothes make the man’? Anyway, this difference helps set up a dramatic question of whether a person of slight build can overcome a person with a more aggressive and strong appearance. In the old days of this adventure strip, the outcome of this fight would be obvious. With Rivera, the outcome seems less certain.

Perhaps that sense of uncertainty we have seen in Mark’s character is a deliberate ploy created by Rivera, so that when Mark does send Bee to the mat, it will be a greater surprise to the onlookers and a more pleasing dramatic turn of events. This reminds me of watching a Popeye cartoon, where the much bigger Bluto always pounds Popeye mercilessly until he can consume his magical spinach and gain the strength of ten men. Then Popeye wipes the floor with Bluto and wins the day. But we’ll have to wait until Tuesday to see what happens next.

Now, Rivera has a good sense of design, and panel 1 is a good example. First, there is a similarity in angle of the two figures, which aids in the aggressiveness and movement from left to right. The curved bee antenna is mirrored in the curvature of the “stars” of Mark’s face as he gets punched. Nice touch!  The funnel-shape above Mark’s head, which I suppose represents part of the effect of Mark’s head getting walloped, is mirrored by the triangular shape of Mark’s torso, as it falls to the right.

Anyway, in spite of my academic noodling above, I think we are all ready for some good old-fashioned Mark Trail Payback at this point. And it’s about time we see Mark return to his “man of action” roots! There’s been enough of Mark The Clueless Wimp.

The Weekly Recap and the Sunday Nature Talk

Thanks, Dennis, for once again taking up the reigns while I drive through rain storms and sweltering heat from Virginia, back to Minnesota. Okay, I had the AC on the whole time, but still, three days of driving does wear on. And those thunderstorms dropped rain like it was a heavy fog. No fun when driving through mountainous terrain.

Well, well, well. Is Cherry calling in the bovine cavalry? Seems a bit of a stretch for her to set a sounder of wild hogs loose on some garden patches. So this week’s strips somewhat slowly unroll the character of one Dirk Davis, a hitherto unknown sibling of Cherry’s, whose appearance belies any family resemblance. And let’s face it:  Either Rivera does not have a lot of experience drawing beards, or there is something else going on here. As has been pointed out, this has got to be one of the phoniest looking beards on any cartoon character.

In any event, not much action, nor much in the way of explanation at this point. While we might complain about the slow pace here, I do think there is a valid explanation, and that is there must be something important about Dirk’s backstory and his particular set of skills that makes him vital to Cherry’s success. But there are concerns:

  1. Why doesn’t Cherry tell Dirk the whole story? She is clearly shading the truth here.
  2. How will getting hogs to run wild through flower beds resolve the larger issue here of the clearly arbitrary and negative rules of Sunny Soleil, much less its arrogant staff?
  3. Why did Cherry think she had time on her hands when she took the day off to visit the rose garden that got turned into the butterfly bushes? I suppose that was to set up a reason for getting Dirk.
  4. And what about the palmettos?
  5. And how is any of this going to make the Home Owners Association change its rules?

This seems like the wrong time to switch back to hapless Mark. We need to see more of the story before it goes to the back burner.

So the subject of today did not appear in any of the panels this past week. The Title panel shows one of the ducks grabbing the “K” in the name formed of sea grass. It is another cleverly designed panel and makes sense when you view and read panel 4, explaining the Moscovy Duck’s feeding habits. Why can’t these invasive ducks be legally removed? Rivera does not say why, but they (at least the feral version) are classed as invasive in the US. Rivera lacks space for really detailed discussions, but I learned that this duck has been around for a very long time, especially in Central and South America. Its feathers were used by Aztec rulers for cloaks. According to Wikipedia, they are considered indigenous (not invasive) in a few Texas counties.

I’m wondering if Rivera draws up these Sunday panels in groups, as she assigns herself the time; then arbitrarily selects which ones get published in what order. Somehow, this reminds me of some of her earlier Mark Trail work, but that might just be my imagination at work.

While Hogs run wild…

As we continue to unravel Cherry’s motivation to look up her Brother…

Give us a break, Cherry, you know exactly how to take a stand… You just playin’ with Dirk…

And wait a gosh-darn minute- is that Salvia in the foreground of the second panel? Would that be a tip-off to a more native species of perennial? Or am I getting ahead of our story line here? Looks like Dirk’s beard has been given a touch more relief in the last frame… we can even distinguish the mustache from the rest of it!

Between Bug Bro and the Bearded Lady…

I think I prefer the Bearded Lady… and the threat of Hogs running wild all over Violet’s Gardens!

The only question I have is Transportation! How do Feral Hogs get penned and toted? I am supposing that Dirk the Hog Whisperer has an answer for that one…

And apparently, Extradition! What do we suppose Dirk went IN for? UP the River, so to speak? Prepositions are funny things… One would be IN Jail, but (if IN a canoe) one is ON the river… But then why does one go UP River to go to jail? Does all the Crime-ing and prosecuting happen DOWN-RIVER?

I will say this much about Dirk- He’s a big fella! Check out the difference in stature in panel 3, while panel 4 reminds us once again of the most unnatural and unholy of all beards- looking like one of the beards worn by Ulysses Everett McGill in Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

Is it me, or does Dirk look like a lady himself?

As we make the acquaintance of Cherry <Davis> Trail’s “Big Brother” Dirk, we all have to wonder what on earth did Doc do to create such a large family, only to drive them all (save for the good daughter Cherry) away? How many more of them are there? How is Rusty ever going to draw a family tree when there is a literal Diaspora of Davises?

But I call your attention to the third panel… Dirk really does look like a lady with a fake beard… Maybe that’s just me. Or Maybe what forced “Dirk” to live off the grid is that his only other option was to star in a circus sideshow?

Guessing we will see an exposé on Feral Hogs this Sunday (That is if we already haven’t covered that territory… have we?)

Thanks George for keeping the flame lit, and safe travels back to the hot (and finally steamy) North Country. I swear the only thing that recommends this region is the fact that it will remain arable and livable long after sea levels rise!

Another family reunion?

Mysterious cabin in the woods? Is this some kind of primordial Lost Forest cabin?! “Dirk Davis” sounds like the name of a typical Mark Trail villain (e.g. “Sting” Ray, “Dirty” Dyer, Black John, Rocky Rivers), but belongs to another one of Cherry’s throwback siblings. Not much action here, other than another family get-together. This time, instead of Cherry helping out her Mom and sisters, she’s getting Big Brother to help out with her own problem. Well, seems a bit early to me that Cherry would be out ammunition so early in her confrontation with Violet Cheshire, but maybe that’s looking at things too narrowly. Dirk is just another resource, another tool, for Cherry to pull out of her toolbox. But to what end?

Perhaps there is more than meets the stereotypic eye here. Sure, Dirk looks like a participant in a wilderness Reality TV show. What possible function can somebody like this perform that could help Cherry overcome the machinations of the elitist and nefarious Sunny Soleil Society? It doesn’t look like Dirk is even that big a fan of the Sun!

However, looks are not everything, as we learn. I suspect that Dirk has unexpected talents that belie his mountain man appearance. Perhaps he is some kind of former federal agent, unexplainably still equipped with a full computer suite he can use to investigate, probe, and snoop, as needed. That seems to be the kind of help she needs:  Somebody to dig up background dirt that Cherry can use to bury her antagonist.

On the artistic side, this is a great series of panels, with interesting angle changes. The first panel is an especially well-done composition in terms of viewpoint, color, and contrast; to say nothing of the luna moth in the foreground providing a light contrast. Note the subtle variations in light and color in the woods behind the cabin. There is something to like in each panel, such as the smudged shading in panel 4. It’s almost an abrupt change of style. It’s a shame that a lot of this will likely not be apparent in the black and white version that appears in most newspapers. And that’s where the strip can get hurt, as it depends on color for a lot of its depth and texture.

However, I’m not sure why Cherry’s mouth drops open in panel 3, as if she is shocked. Surely, she’s been here before? Or has it been so long since she saw Dirk that she doesn’t recognize him right away? But then, why does she go on to refer to Dirk with his full name, since it is already made clear in panel 3 that they are siblings? Just for the sake of alliteration?

Cue the “Duelling Banjos” music

Well, I’m going to be driving through the mountains myself in a few days! And I can relate to Cherry’s consternation over missing road signs, too. I once got lost in a section of southwestern Wisconsin, with its identical rolling hills and valleys and meandering roads without street signs. Every hill seemed to have either a farm or a church with a shade tree. It was night, it was starting to snow, and I was on a honeymoon trip with my wife, looking for our B&B. We wound up driving 5 mph behind an Amish wagon for a mile or so, until it pulled into a farm. But I digress. . . .

Anyway, a pun-filled adventure for Cherry continues as she climbs further into “feral” territory in search for…what? Or whom? What secret weapon would be available up here for Cherry to employ against the Sunny Soleil Society?

Traveling into backwoods country, let’s hope that Cherry does not run into any hostile mountain men, like the Atlanta “city boys” in Deliverance; or a county mounty who could pull her over for holding her smartphone while driving! Put that phone in a caddy, Cherry! Anyway, as she is using a smartphone, who cares if there are road signs, when you can just turn where and when your mapping program tells you to. Unless the phone is suddenly out of range.

Well, Cherry has apparently dropped her phone as she panic-stopped in front of that wild boar. Will she discover that the phone has broken when it was dropped, leaving her really lost without it or any road signs?

Clearing the deck for action!

We are finally back to the Cherry v Violet Grudge Match.  Not sure that a school night sleepover is such a great idea for Rusty, based on his grammar. I suppose that’s elitist thinking on my part? But Cherry must have a reason for wanting to dump Rusty off some place, especially given the fact that her Dad is still presumably at home and capable enough of watching over the kid. Unless, he is part of the plan Cherry has in mind, that is.

Business in the mountains? What—or who— is up there? Perhaps some “backwoods” person she knows or is related to, who will assist in her mission of vengeance? Or maybe she has a hidden stash of drugs in a cabin that she will secrete in the Sunny Soleil Society’s office before making an anonymous call to the police.

I suppose the “stick figures” in the background of panel 4 are meant to suggest the effect of distance on objects. And in the size comic strip are published, it is probably a necessity to avoid problems when newspapers downsize the original comic strip to fit its limited, allotted space. Nevertheless, Rivera can still fit in a remarkable amount of imagery, when necessary (e.g. panel 1). Well, I am intrigued by Cherry’s closing remarks. This should be a very interesting week!

Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Chat

As another D-Day Remembrance commences and becomes ever more distant to people born several generations after that event in 1944, we arrive at the end of another week of “Mark Trail, Clueless Adventurer.” It seems, jus when Mark gets his head straight, somebody knocks it off its axis again. Poor Markey! Well, this past week has been spent getting Mark, Reptilionnaire, and Aparna, the naive programmer, into Cricket Bro’s offices, so they can reclaim/steal back a program (or a laptop, or both) held by Cricket Bro. Not so much a car race as simply an eco-friendly car getting run off the road by a fossil-fuel injesting muscle car, the three conspirators are hassled by Prof. Bee Sharp and his assistant, Diana “Kato” Daggers before being allowed to continue on. Thereupon, the two nerds are somehow able to waltz into off-limit offices while Mark gets hoodwinked, once again, into taking part in some kind of dubious video (which is what got him into this mess in the first place) involving a boxing match against Professor “Killer” Bee Sharp. But it maintains the “absurdist” ambiance which often characterizes life in California, at least to those of us who do not live there.

No surprise that today’s Sunday panel focuses on the puma we saw a few days ago. And note that the title panel pays homage to the famous “Hollywood” sign, which is also shown here. Puma “P-22” is, in fact, the designated name for an actual puma that haunts the Griffith Park area in Los Angeles where the Hollywood sign stands. I was not familiar with the term “Ghost Cat”, so that is some new information for me to file away.