Cherry works her defense, but faces a tricky objection from the Other Side

The story moves on. Cherry abandons her original suggestion to move the bees and finally starts making the proper case for their continued existence here. But the two Association honeys have made the a priori decision for extermination. Can Cherry overcome their wall of social privilege? Caroline attempts to put Cherry in an ethical dilemma by comparing Cherry’s struggling landscape business with her husband’s alleged new business struggles. Of course, Caroline sidesteps the corrupt transaction, itself. For all we know, Caroline and her husband are already part of the economic upper crust, and this business is just a side concern. But we don’t know that, so judgment reserved. Still, as a pest controller, he should know that honey bees are not proper subjects for extermination. So, we might assume that Violet reported these are destructive killer bees, instead. We’ll have to wait to learn more, but it doesn’t put Caroline’s husband in a good light. The more we learn about Caroline, the more it is clear she is cut from the same cloth as Violet. With one day to go (I presume), will Cherry be able to make her case?

Visually, today’s strip is well-designed and nicely illustrated, showing little of the “I-have-a-deadline!” sketchiness we have seen other times. By well-designed, I mean that the composition in each panel nicely highlights and supports each panel’s dialog: Panel 1 focuses on Cherry as she states her position, with nothing extraneous to distract us. Panel 2 brings in the statue and bees, along with the three women, as Cherry’s argument moves from a global view of bees to their importance to their local garden. And panel 3 provides a dramatic “oh, by the way” objection by the Sunny Soleil Society to Cherry’s argument. Thus, the two Association women take prominence, as Cherry (and her position) is “pushed” towards the background. I like panel 3, as Rivera’s drawing of the Sunny So-Ladies, as they give us a visual window into their souls (or attitudes). 

Another Forlorn Hope?

“…until she heard of the bee statue.” I thought Cherry was the co-discoverer of the bee statue! Well, it’s clear my powers of prediction leave much to be desired, because the story has a new wrinkle. And sure looks like Caroline is not going to be Cherry’s BFF. She also turns out to be married to an exterminator, which explains her appearance in the strip. We see more reinforcement that it helps to be connected when trying to land jobs. I’m sure that the SSS did not bother to follow standard practices by putting out the job for bids, and doing a blind analysis of the bids before they just happened to pick the firm that was run by the husband of a board member. “Nothing dramatic to see here, folks. Just normal, everyday corruption. Move along, move along.And close your mouth before flies (or bees) get in your mouth, Cherry!

I can’t be too tough on those two purile paragons of privilege (Hey! How is that for a Spiro Agnew-style insult?!). For one thing, it is clear that Rivera means to mock their status. Furthermore, they may want to destroy the bees, but Cherry’s first reaction was to move them some place else, rather than integrate them into the garden. I mean, I can’t believe that was really a hive of so-called killer bees. Not even Cherry confirmed Violet’s rush to judgment. Now, is Cherry going to hurry up and make the pollinator case for the bees? She has two days left to do it before Sunday and then the return of two weeks of Mark and Diana.

Well, I appreciate the fact that Jules is juggling two concurrent story lines in the strip, something we did not see in the former Mark Trail (as I recall).  We might quibble with specifics (as we like to do), but Rivera is still in her first year of the strip. Unlike when Allen took over, Rivera’s job is not to simply keep driving the same car down the same country road, stopping at the same diners for the same meals. There’s a lot of things to work out in any reboot. I think (or hope) several of the clichés Rivera relies upon, such as the ongoing jabs at the former version of the strip (especially to Mark’s earlier role as the Idealized Man of Action and Nobility) will eventually disappear.

It’s just good bees-ness!

I was just having a chat with my wife about my bad habit of second-guessing myself. Never mind what the specific incident was; but this is another example. I took yesterday’s drawings too literally and discounted the idea that Caroline was another SSS member. She seemed from her pose and expression that she was much younger. Well, with the closer images today, that would have been more obvious. She’s just childlike, I reckon. Boy, that Sunny Soleil Society must be one big collection of self-indulgent pretenders.

Anyway, Violet’s no-nonsense pose in panel 1 suggests to me that she knows how Cherry’s conversation with Caroline is already going to go, and that Cherry will not find an ally. Perhaps Cherry, in her desire to be open and friendly towards Caroline, missed Violet’s body language. Cherry is an optimist, however; maybe she read the signals fine, but still thinks she can bring Caroline over to her side. Based on Caroline’s reaction and expression, Cherry may have do an end-run around Violet’s influence and appeal to Caroline’s better instincts. If they exist.

Of course, Cherry is just the hired help; she can suggest, but she cannot insist, unless she wants to return to unemployed status and lose out on the business. But Cherry has principles, too. If she walks away, the bees still get terminated. Is feeling righteous about your high moral standards an acceptable substitute for saving the bees? Okay, Cherry. The pressure is on you to convince these precious debutantes that bees actually help gardens thrive and should not be killed. Cherry could suggest the SSS hire a beekeeper to maintain the bees and help the garden thrive. The beehives could even become an educational attraction for the garden and the Sunny Soleil Society. A good PR Coup for the SSS and Cherry becomes a hero and respected hired hand.

But let’s see how things really pan out this week.

A Comedy of Manners?

Okay, this story sure took a hard turn to the Land of Weird. Motivations here? Is Cherry really that concerned for her business that she has to act servile? Sure, Cherry is the hired help; it’s her business. The social separation of these people is also inescapable, as seen both by the clothing and the artwork, where we see Tara—er, Caroline—and Violet from a groveling servant’s viewpoint in panel 2.

But, is Cherry patronizing Caroline and Violet by apologizing about the little toads, or is she just genuinely embarrassed by them scampering about and making her look careless? It’s not as if you never see creatures crawling, hopping, and flitting about in gardens, even for two rarified ladies such as these.  Yes, we know that Violet is really a poseur, while Caroline comes across as…charmingly passive-aggressive. She hides her put-down (“wild streak”) within an oh-so-charming sense of familiarity and manners. She also looks and dresses younger than Violet, so maybe she is Violet’s niece. Or maybe she is just naïve.

I think Cherry is also putting on an act, as we can see by the contrast with her “inner self” emoting in panel 3. What is Cherry’s aim here, then? If Jules Rivera is not pulling our leg, I’m intrigued by what’s going to happen next.  At worst, we should hope that Cherry gets all of Caroline’s home landscape business for this performance.

 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! 🙂

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

From the story point of view, we saw the actual start of Mark and Diana’s assignment, begun in typical Mark Trail style:  Skip preliminary events (such as meeting up, renting the boat, going over the assignment, etc.) and just jump into “action.” Mark and Diana began their undercover assignment by pretending to be on a fishing outing, while Diana queried Mark about local zebra mussel sightings. They come upon a cargo ship, under power, in a river in the vicinity of Lost Forest, much to the ballyhoo of old-time Mark Trail fans. Diana ascertains that this particular vessel belongs to a company suspected of being involved in the so-called importation and spread of zebra mussels, also revealing she’s likely been on the assignment before Mark came on board. Diana declared that she was going to do underwater research around the moving ship, a statement supported by her progressive disrobing to reveal what looks like a bathing suit. However, Mark, who up until now, had been acting like clueless land lubber, decided it was time to “man up” and insist he would take the dive; never mind that the entire idea of swimming around a moving cargo ship was inherently a stupid idea.

Curiously, this pair came with no underwater gear, save for a snorkel. Mark didn’t even have a pair of swimming fins to at least give him a fighting chance to avoid getting trapped in the cargo ship’s undertow. Meanwhile, there have been no lookouts on the ship to watch for dangers, such as this.

Technical faults aside, the story moved along at a fairly brisk pace, considering they are supposed to be searching for target vessels while acting like a couple out for a day of fishing. Other than a few possibly sincere cautionary remarks from Diana, readers got to read more snide remarks between the two investigators. Some might call this a kind of combative flirting, as if this was a 1930’s rom-com; however, if this was combative flirting it was certainly only coming from Diana.

Speaking of old times, Jules Rivera could do a lot worse than consult adventure comic strips of the 1930s and 1940s (when they were in their prime) and study how they put together dramatic storylines. Terry and the Pirates, Capt. Easy, Little Orphan Annie, and even Dick Tracy still have a lot to offer. But I get Rivera’s conundrum: How to update a male-dominated adventure strip to be more in line with modern concerns about equality, sexism, and stereotypes.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this week’s dailies to see how Mark’s underwater research goes, and whether he drops Diana’s supposedly expensive camera. Let’s hope so.

It’s Frog Sunday, with one of Rivera’s more inventive title panels. I like how the toad sits up to represent a capital ‘A’, while the frog sits lower, imitating the lower case ‘a’. I think it’s a clever panel. And her drawings of these amphibians is also very good.

Several scribblers on Comics Kingdom have pointed out that Rivera’s terminology (or understanding) is incorrect. At first blush, this appears to be correct. If you looked online at various scientific sites, it appears that frogs and toads are different Families of the same higher-level Order, Anura. Then again, it depends. Note the following description, variants of which can be found on several scientifically-oriented sites:

Let’s dive into their similarities and differences, starting with this fun but confusing fact: All toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads, according to Penn State University. Basically, toad is a classification of frog. And here’s another fun fact: There’s no scientific distinction between a toad and a frog, according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web.

“Frog” and “Toad” are not scientific names or labels, but informal and inexact ways we describe these creatures, based on their looks. It gets complicated, as even the differences in skin are not always a clear distinction. So, Rivera’s Venn diagram is as accurate a statement as any for our inexact labels. As for another non-scientific approach, I recommend the charming Frog and Toad stories of Arthur Lobel.

Rivera’s last point about the frog and toad’s greatest commonality is argumentative. Is their sensitivity to pollution really that important? If so, how is it observed and how can we benefit from that knowledge? I think that would have been more interesting for Rivera to illustrate. Personally, I think their consumption of pesky insects rates pretty high on the human benefits scale.

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.

Loony Times?

Other fishing boats? Where? Surely, you jest. And are we to believe that a cargo ship just happened to be anchored along a forest shoreline? And is this shoreline that deep?! Hard to believe.Maybe that is the problem:  It lost its anchor(s) and drifted aground. And all of the crew have abandoned the vessel, except for the crusty old sea captain.

But where the hell are they, anyway!? I reckon that the “Lost Forest” location of the comic strip—if it is in Georgia—must be off the Gulf Coast by one of Georgia’s two main gulf rivers:  the Altamaha or the Savannah. But so much here seems just weird. I’ll summarize:

  • In panel 1, the cargo ship is described as “wild.” Why? Wild for showing up in this situation, or maybe because it hosts illicit hip-hop dances on the foredeck at sundown?
  • DDG” is the name on the bow of the ship, which turns out to be the company’s name. This is not standard. Normally, the ship’s name is on the bow and the company’s name is on the side(s).
  • In panel 2, Mark prepares to go fishing and acts as if there is nothing of interest, including the cargo ship directly in front of them. And does Diana need to get a pair of shades that work?
  • It’s either getting warm, or maybe Diana is already planning to put the moves on Mark.
  • In panel 3, nobody on the ship has waved them off yet, even though there are supposed to be crew manning watches to prevent such incidents.
  • There are enough double-entendres here to satisfy a Friends fan.
  • If Diana is a producer and videographer, where is all of the equipment: Video camera, microphone, sound mixer, clapper-board, Director’s beret, etc? You can’t make a documentary or gather evidence with only a small photo camera. If Diana has no equipment to speak of, why is she needed? Rafael sold Diana to Mark as an up-and-coming documentary star. I suppose this will be like props on Gilligan’s Island. When the castaways needed something, POOF! Like a dux ex machina, the needed things would appear (except for working transmitters and boats).

So, now what? Does Diana don scuba gear (not so far seen) and investigate the keel? Does she try to catch the attention of somebody on the deck and ask if they want to star in a new documentary about cargo ships illegally bringing zebra mussels into the country?

Okay, okay. Maybe I’m getting too far into the trees, here. That’s what the Loon seems to be telling me. This is just a comic strip, after all. It isn’t a documentary, nor a graphic history. And it’s not as if the prior versions of the Mark Trail dailies (not Sundays) were noted for their factual accuracy, either. Movies always play fast and loose with reality, so I don’t think it is fair to expect much more from comic strips. I didn’t intend to simply issue snarky comments and catch every questionable item or act. I’ll leave that to you readers in your comments (as you’ve been doing, thank you). I’m going to try and stick to the high road and deal more with the storyline, the art, and…and…a bit of snark, here and there.