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OK, kids, as a penance for my long, lame absence, here’s a very detailed dissertation of what’s been happening in the serial strips so far this week. There’s quite a lot to cover, so let’s get started. (I think I actually used the previous sentence in my aforementioned printer Webcast script, by the way. Oh, the shame.)

Panels from Apartment 3-G, 6/27-29/05

We’ll start simple. Who can’t get enough of Tommie’s new sunglasses? Me! I can’t get enough of Tommie’s new sunglasses!

Your headband is nice too, Lu Ann, but … it’s no Tommie’s new sunglasses. Sorry.

Gil Thorp, 6/28-29/05

You know, I’m not ashamed to admit that I really … well, “like Gil Thorp” might not quite be the sentiment I’m looking for. Let’s say I’m really glad it exists. The WDIG Polka Parade may make up for any number of past Thorpian sins, and it confirms my suspicion that it is alone among the serial strips in having an actual sense of humor about its own existence.

One of the strip’s trademark features is that it actually keeps up with the seasons and matches the pointless high school athletic contests it portrays to the pointless high school athletic contests that would be going on in real life. But, this being my first summer as a Thorp follower, it never occurred to me that, like real high school coaches everywhere, Coach Thorp will be spending his summer gardening and presumably avoiding teenagers at all costs. Will there be any nail-biting contests of skill or strength to amuse us until football starts up in August? Or are the boys going to have nothing better to do than to lounge casually and homoerotically around on the beach?

Panels from The Phantom and Judge Parker, 6/28-29/05

What with all the media consolidation going around these days, I’m guessing both of these features are trying to build “synergy” in advance of the upcoming Indiana Jones sequel, creating anticipation in the public mind for red-hot tomb-exploring action. On the theologico-philosophical tip, though, I thought these two comics offered an insight into how wussy religion has become. I mean, props to the Old Kingdom: your civilization has to be pretty bad-ass if you have a god specifically dedicated to abject violence. Meanwhile, David’s proposed ancient-artifact-switcheroo illustrates what a soft touch Jesus is. Do you think Babi would let someone get away with trying to pass off a lesser Babi-related trinket as some priceless icon? I think not.

By the way, if I were Sam, and I found out that I had been dragged through the jungle with the snakes and the tarantulas and the hey hey to find some stupid old cross when a perfectly acceptable stupid old cross was just sitting in a box back in the air-conditioned mission, I might be ready to perpetrate some abject violence myself.

Mary Worth, 6/29/05

Ah, saving the best for last. Jeff’s head-swivel in panel one and look of total panic in panel two are priceless. Why are you looking to Mary for help, Dr. Cory? She got you into this, after all. Meanwhile, Mary’s suddenly caterpillar-like eyebrows are ratcheting tighter and tighter with each passing moment. I think tomorrow we’re going to be treated an explosion of Marian rage the likes of which the comics have never seen, a diatribe that even Smitty Smedlap couldn’t break loose. Use your aggressive feelings, Mary. Let the hate flow through you!

Here’s a conundrum for you to consider: Is Rita the greatest Mary Worth character ever? I know, when we’re talking about a strip that produced Tommy the Tweaker, that might sound like heresy. But tattooed, long-haired meth dealers are easy targets for mockery. In this storyline, Mary Worth has taken a member of what I am assuming is the strip’s target demographics — a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman — made her bereaved by the death of her daughter to boot, and then had the guts to make her an incredibly unsympathetic foul-mouthed drunken sponge. Rita Begler: we salute you. Below I present a montage of Rita’s obscenity-laden outbursts, which I dearly hope to be able to add to in time.