Saved by the Cave

It took all of a month, but at last the Point Dume Fire is finally out. And Jeff is alive. And Skppy is a real boy, and Murania really exists as a city thousands of feet below the earth’s crust. Thus winds up an arc that Batiuk teased last month (with Dan Davis’ much more competent artwork) in Crankshaft. You might also recall a Sunday four years ago when Batom Comics editor Brady Wentworth dragged his staff (retro Darin and Pete) to a Phantom Empire screening for some inspiration.

Today’s strip is likely the last we’ll see of Murania. Batiuk and Ayers could have spent a little time showing Jfff and his youthful alter ego Skppy exploring the fantastic underground city and interacting with the Queen and her subjects. But after all the buildup, the climax has Jeff meeting the queen on Friday and then waking up oustide the cave on Saturday. And as far as what we got to see of the underground city:

Banana Jr. 6000
August 26, 2020 at 8:08 am
Murania just looks like The Jetsons moved to Detroit.

If you want to see a place that looks even worse than Detroit, this week we get a look at what the fire did to Masone’s place in the hills!

70 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

70 responses to “Saved by the Cave

  1. Captain Gladys Stoatpamphlet

    Nice “fuck you” to the guy who carried you out yesterday.

  2. “Sheer Dumb Luck” should be Tom Batiuk’s slogan.

  3. Charles

    So Jfff suffered from smoke inhalation and asphyxiation so bad that he had to be carried out on a stretcher where he was secured with straps, but that’s nothing. Just a couple minutes later and he’s up, walking around and talking as if nothing happened.

    • Epicus Doomus

      And he’s the SECOND person in the last few weeks to be carried from a gigantic fire with no ill effects. Lisa played touch football and died, Bull played real football and died, Becky went to the prom and lost an arm, but huge wildfires? They just “blow through”.

      • SeaCountry

        To be fair, every breast cancer diagnosis starts with a “Wait, my boob shouldn’t feel like that!” moment. Batiuk had to write a weird one, though.

    • none

      Well, of course.

      Much like how Marianne can go from sunbathing with a woman – who doesn’t know or care that she hates Marianne for some reason – by spontaneously showing up at her place, then succumbing to smoke inhalation so severely that she is unable to make it to her car to leave, then needing to be carried from the burning house by a sixty year old who was depicted as being completely physically inept in his teens, then sitting with that old man in a yacht and drinking some hot chocolate while ten miles of Los Angeles burns in the immediate horizon.

      Realistic. Very realistic.

      • SeaCountry

        Marianne and Cindy having it out, with Marianne finally and emphatically telling Cindy that Mason is only a friend and mentor to her and she’s had enough of the jealousy crap, is also a decent potential storyline that got squandered.

      • ian'sdrunkenbeard

        Masone Jarre residence, kitchen
        Panel 1: There is an open silverware drawer opened behind Cindye. She thrusts a large butcher knife towards a cornered Marianne while making the “come closer” gesture with her free hand.
        Panel 2: Cindye: “You husband-stealing hussy! I’m going to cut you four ways – high, wide, deep, and frequent!”

        • SeaCountry

          A bit more melodramatic than I was thinking, but still a better story than we got. Seriously though, as a woman, I keep thinking, “They need to clear the air”. Which would have been a legit reason for Marianne to go there.

          • Albanyguy

            And maybe an acknowledgement that the reason Cindy is so jealous is because she is old enough to be Mason’s mother.

          • batgirl

            But that would mean women talking to each other. Granted, it would be talking about a man, but it wouldn’t be talking about Les, which is the Batiuk subset of the Bechdel Test.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            I would agree if Cindy’s jealousy was in any way reasonable. Actors have to do love scenes, and they have techniques to simulate things without actually doing them. Marianne would just think Cindy is a psycho, and no director would never let her on the set again after the “cut” incident.

          • Mela

            1. If anyone needs to initiate clearing the air, it’s Cindy (not Marianne) because she’s the one acting silly over Mason smooching his co-star. And she did allow Marianne into her home willingly so she must not have that much of a problem with her. The problem is her own insecurity.

            2. As far as lost story lines, if they did have a “clear the air” moment it would almost have to involve Cindy bemoaning her getting old all over again. Now, if she tied that concern with being fired from her job due to her aging, or mentioned the lack of plum Hollywood roles for women over 50, or how older leading men keep aging but their female co-stars keep getting younger, then she would have made a valid point and perhaps justified some of that insecurity. Maybe it wouldn’t be the greatest story (and yes, I know Cindy was a reporter, not an actress so the comparison might not work well ), but I’d at least be in Cindy’s corner a bit more. I don’t think she’s that deep, though. She doesn’t appear to be looking for any work in Hollywood-she seems content to be living in Mason’s nice houses (and boat), picking up Les at the airport and worrying about her looks. Nothing wrong with that, but she’s not going to get sympathy over a few wrinkles either. Maybe Marianne could recommend someone who does Botox-now that might be interesting.

            3. Let’s not forget that real reason that Marianne was at Cindy’s house had really nothing to do with either one of them. She was only there so that Les could save her, have a revelation and give his blessing to her and the watching of the tapes.

  4. J.J. O'Malley

    Sadly, the family trapped in the cave next to this one survived the fire, but were all killed by Ro-Man and his Calcinator Death Ray.

  5. SeaCountry

    Good Lord, don’t trust Jfff with a secret!
    (Though it would have been kinda fun to see the Muranian guards drag him back down there over his betrayal.)
    Now we get to learn what happens to the Starbuck Jones movie premiere and the Lisa’s Story movie. Oh boy oh boy!

  6. Gerard Plourde

    And what are to make of the Murania guard’s statement about “the surface MEN”? As TF posits, it appears that Skippy has some kind of reality. This storyline is another excursion into St. Elsewhere finale territory.

  7. Rusty Shackleford

    Pmm is a killjoy.

  8. Y. Knott

    It’s truly awesome how this story can be so glacially-paced and simultaneously told way too quickly and off-handedly to make sense.

    And all the excellent background material you provided? Wow. He’s been honing this gift for years…..

    Pretty sure Skppy’s not real, though. More’s the pity … he’s probably the most interesting character here.

    • Y. Knott

      Which isn’t saying much, I realize.

    • SeaCountry

      Majors on the minors, minors on the majors. We got a full week of L*s yammering on a boat about old stories, at a woman who couldn’t possibly be remotely interested in any of it at the moment. He gave himself a chance to truly indulge a flight of fancy and share something he loved and…chickened out. And where is Mason and the Starbuck-mobile? Just absolutely sloppy.

      • Y. Knott

        You bring up an interesting point. “The Phantom Empire” clearly has deep meaning for Batiuk — it’s meant to be not just a beloved childhood memory, but an exemplar for what the very best storytelling should aspire to.

        But he can’t for the life of him explain why. Desperation comes to the fore as he tries to delineate the serial’s appeal: “It’s got singing cowboys … a secret underground empire…six guns … ray guns and robots!”

        I’m not sure he chickened out…it’s more as if he’s incapable of thinking of any other way to explain his obsession. He really thinks settings, props and cardboard characters are all you need to create great art. That’s all there is to it. Once you have those, just move everyone around like puppets — any old sequence of events will do.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          That’s a very astute observation. Not only can Batiuk not tell a story, he can’t even explain why a story he likes is good. Everything to him is just the process of creating characters, worlds, and #1 issue covers. He can’t even conceive stories to put them in. Claim jumpers on Callisto, we hardly knew ye.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          This is why all of his characters appear flat—like a cardboard cutout. No depth, no richness. But look, he gave them punny names! And look, they all smirk.

          And he wonders why his awards shelf is just filled with plastic superhero figures.

          • SeaCountry

            This was fine when it was a gag a day strip about high school students. The first few times Batiuk tried to go deeper, it kinda worked. Now it’s all deep (aka depressing), all the time, with adults, and it’s clear that Batiuk has been punching well above his weight class for some time.

        • SeaCountry

          I definitely see your point. I think of how I recall movies & shows I love. I’ve even written fanfic. That is not at all how I think of the stuff I love, the stuff that really got my attention.

    • SeaCountry

      At least Skppy is a reminder of someone who has actual talent: past and likely future NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick.

  9. Jimmy

    The Phantom Empire seems absolutely awful. Why would anyone hold it up as a bastion of high art?

    • billytheskink

      Well, just look at the artistic merit of the work of the guy holding it up as a bastion of high art.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      And you wonder why there’s nothing else. Did Star Wars make no influence on this man? That’s a samurai story in space inspired by old-timey sci-fi serials. Predictably, he compares Last Jedi unfavorably to Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. And he spells Corbett wrong. Twice.

      • SeaCountry

        Right, I can think of a bunch of works that made an impact on me and the way I see the world, from Little House on the Prairie to Saturday Night Live to the Wizard of Oz all the way up to Schitt’s Creek. (I would say Little House is the first, as I was 6.) I can acknowledge their flaws (for example, Michael Landon’s feathered, sprayed, oh so 1970s hair with his old timey clothes on Little House) and still enjoy them. You’re not supposed to limit yourself to one story or let your brain and tastes calcify in childhood.

      • Margaret

        I think someone pointed it out in a previous discussion recently. He can’t reference things like Star Wars or Batman (the old one that he likes, definitely NOT Adam West) in his strip because of trademarks and copyrights. I don’t know much about how these things work, but surely it would cost money, probably a lot, and maybe require permission, which he might not get considering how bad the strip obviously is.

        I believe that Phantom Empire is public domain, so while, Batiuk clearly does love it, that may be why he chose it over more recent stories.

    • SeaCountry

      Or even something fun to watch unironically? Not everything has to be high art, but it shoulf make sense.

    • gleeb

      Because he’s the same kind of guy who thinks all those crap superhero komix are really great?

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      The Phantom Empire is okay for what it is. It’s not even bad, it’s just so out of date nobody can relate to it.

  10. Epicus Doomus

    Something blew here all right, it blew big-time. In fact it was like a vacuum cleaner…it both sucked and blew. That wasn’t even a story, as nothing happened. There was a beginning, there was an end, but in-between there was absolutely zilch.

  11. William Thompson

    If it weren’t for one thing, I would say that Skppy is an imaginary creature. After all he hasn’t been affected by the smoke and heat; he isn’t even as mussed-up as Jfff. Nobody but Jff seems aware of his presence; the firemen, or lumberjacks, or whatever they haven’t shown any interest in him, and might reasonably wonder why he’s urging Jfff to keep a secret.

    Of course that “one thing” is “Batiuk wrote this.” So for all I know the firefighters are a figment of Skppy’s imagination. Which would explain why they seem so unrealistic, wouldn’t it?

    • Gerard Plourde

      He did? Do you have a link?

      • William Thompson

        Good point. Maybe Jfff wrote this for Batiuk. That makes as much sense as anything else here.

    • Epicus Doomus

      Skppy is another fine example of BatYam’s total inability to tell even the simplest story without Batoming it all up. A simple sepia-toned flashback panel featuring young Jff watching his idiotic movie would have sufficed and made his point, but being the inept hack he is, he decided to “flesh out” young imaginary Jff for reasons only understood by himself. And the result was confusing and stupid to everyone but him.

      Jff was already hallucinating BEFORE his near-death experience and upon surviving it he immediately resumed hallucinating again. In BatHam’s warped mind this is “cute” and “silly”. To everyone else it’s incomprehensibly dumb.

      And on top of all that, Jff’s interaction with the magic robots and their queen (apparently the culmination of his fondest childhood dreams) consisted of “we are the magic robots, I am the queen of the robots, this is our hideout, don’t tell anyone”. Even the character’s wildest fantasies are duller than watching comic strip ink dry. Just like with the drunken talking murder chimp and the gay prom couple who vanished (and thousands more), he establishes a premise then proceeds to totally strip it of any possible entertainment value, as if making it “fun” or “interesting” would simply be to much for readers to follow. It’s demented.

      • William Thompson

        What’s really disgusting is that Skppy could be a symptom of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, or split personality). It would fit in with the little we know about Jfff’s childhood, which was that he had a violently abusive mother. But mental illness isn’t cancer, so Batiuk doesn’t care.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          Did Jeff really have a difficult childhood, or did his mother just not put up with endless comic book bullshit? I realize that’s the greatest possible form of abuse in the Funkyverse, but is there any real reason for Jeff to be so needy about his childhood?

          • William Thompson

            Having psycho-mommy get violent over comic books would be a terrific indicator of other problems in Jfff’s childhood. And “endless comic book bullshit” isn’t a justification for a violent rage; the woman was supposed to be the adult in the room. In a reality-based situation that would have been just one example of what was wrong in that family. The problem is that Batiuk doesn’t realize what sort of a situation he created here. Maybe it’s just as well, or he’d try to wring another Pulitzer nomination from it.

          • batgirl

            When Jfff’s mother was selling off her stuff in a garage sale preparatory to moving in with him, she wanted to keep her old metal spatula for sentimental reasons – because she used to spank him with it. Which is a) TB’s idea of a punchline; b) sick and scary.
            After she died, Jfff was in therapy talking about her buying him a Starbuck Jones colouring book (rare mention of non-comic book in strip) and later her slicing it up with a knife in front of him. Not so sick, but still scary.

            On the other hand, when Jfff went to his old home, I think as part of moving his mother out, he sat in the attic reading his box of old comic books – which means (dramatic chord!) his mother didn’t throw them out!!! even though if you typed ‘mothers’ into TB’s brain it would autocomplete as ‘throw out your comic book collection’.

            Naturally I can’t find any of these strips online to verify my memory, and can only wonder why in heck I can remember old Crankshaft strips.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            @William Thompson @batgirl Thank you for the explanations. I see now that such behavior would indicate an abusive childhood home. But from a narrative standpoint, it loses its impact in a world where everything is about comic books. I wonder if this supposed to be Batiuk’s “no wire hangers” moment.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        But Batty has to waste two comic strips worth of space to tell this stupid story.

      • gleeb

        That’s good character writing, because Jeff Murdoch is really, really dull. Batiuk kept him that way when moving from one strip to the other.

    • SeaCountry

      This also looks like, as people mentioned a few weeks ago, Jeff might have full-time, full-on dissociated. Which would be disturbing, sad, and in the hands of a capable writer, much more compelling than this BS.

  12. The Nelson Puppet

    Glad to see William Conrad get a cameo appearance as the Muranian guard.

  13. William Thompson

    One of the many things not explained here is how Murania, which in the serial was located in Texas, is now in California. And how it can still exist, when it was destroyed at the end of the serial.

    • batgirl

      Murania exists because it is treasured in an innocent little boy’s heart!!

      Cue up the Robert Bloch line: “I have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

  14. J.J. O'Malley

    So, is Jeff still imagining panels one through three in his smoke-addled brain, or are…oh, who cares, at least the dumbest part of this whole “Lisa’s Story: The Movie: Take 2” arc thus far may finally be over. Unless, of course, tomorrow’s strip shows Jeff reuniting with Mindy, who asks him, “Dad, who’s this strange little boy you have with you?”

  15. Banana Jr. 6000

    Oh, NOW he uses a dotted line. Skippy’s whispering gets a dotted line around his word balloon, but his existence never got a visual clue. Because it’s important to establish that an imaginary is whispering when they’re cupping their words into someone’s ear, and they’re talking about something they hallucinated.

  16. Professor Harlan Grankle

    See Dick run. See Jane in the hospital. See a journalist tell us Dick is in jail. See Jane in Monte Carlo throwing money into the air.

    Written by Tom Batiuk. All rights reserved.

  17. Olive McSweeney

    For the love of Zeus! What has been the point of this entire mess of a story? It’s been like watching 35 hours of ice fishing while strapped to a dental chair.

  18. DreadedCandiru2

    Batiuk thinks that he’s protecting childhood innocence and wonder here. What’ he’s doing is less than nothing. We all know that if Jeff had spilled the beans, all people would think is “Poor bastard. Smoke inhalation musta made him loopy!”; the idea of hunting for any sort of phantom empire isn’t going to occur to anyome past the mental age of six.

  19. Count of Tower Grove

    Is Skippy real? Jiff seems to be the only one who knows he’s there.

    • Gerard Plourde

      Skippy appears to be Jfff’s inner child/younger self. But the inconsistency of the writing i.e. the guard’s comment about “men” confuses the issue. Inadvertently, TomBa’s writing has led to speculation upthread that Jfff’s abusive childhood could have triggered Dissociative Identity Disorder, which would make an interesting storyline for a diligent author.

  20. batgirl

    The underlying frustration and stupidity of TB’s Phantom Empire fixation for me is that – inept as the original serial was – it could have really taught him several things about writing that he has consistently refused to employ.
    – have a ticking clock (Banana pointed this out, I think) like the 2pm deadline where Gene has to sing or else they lose the ranch
    – have villains with a plan, like the Vicious Research Scientists (I will never stop giggling at that) who want the radium.
    – have cliffhangers, which work fine in comic strips as in serials (but the letdown reveal coming instantly in the film is a big factor in why it doesn’t work as well).
    – show don’t tell, even if you have to show sets built of cardboard and tinfoil, a budget restraint that comic strips never have to face.
    – have setup and payoff, like the Odious Comic Relief guys in robot suits showing up to save Gene later.
    – explain what the heck is going on, even if it’s characters telling each other for the umpteenth time that they’ll lose the ranch or that no one must find the entrance to Murania (think of that whole sequence where Funky flies to a medical centre(?) and gets test results(?) and we never learn why).
    – have characters, whether villains or heroes, who have intent and agency, who have problems and take action to solve them.
    – have female characters who take action instead of watching the menfolk and being objects to rescue or explain things to (granted, Phantom Empire was kind of an outlier in handling this well, with both Tika and Betsy).
    – have child characters who have agency and competence, like Betsy and Frankie Baxter, instead of background moppets who don’t even rate a picture on a milk carton when they vanish. It really says something about the Funkyverse that the most fully realized child character in several years is a hallucination.
    – have cool settings and props and actually do something with them, like the matter-destroyer (or civilisation-destroyer or world-destroyer) weapon that eventually does destroy Murania. That list of wonders that Pete and Darrin rattle off don’t even show up in Jfff’s visit, except for the robots. I don’t understand why TB can lovingly detail bricks, but not a secret underground empire.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Just think how this arc would be if Watterson drew it. Today would be a marvelous one panel shot of the secret underground empire, brilliant colors with Calvin and Hobbes excitedly looking over the scene.

      • William Thompson

        I think that’s why Batiuk dragged Skppy into this scenario. Batiuk doesn’t know how to show an adult being happy or excited about having a lifelong dream made real, so he had to use an imaginary little boy as an emoticon.

  21. Professor Fate

    This is the arch ends, this is the way the arch ends, not with a bang but a hug. It’s amazing (and not in good way) that he did absolutely NOTHING with Murania. Nothing. And now we have a second ending to my untrained eye seems to contradict what we saw yesterday. There he was already rescued and on a stretcher and now he’s walking out. You know serials very often showed different versions of the same scene – the cliffhanger ending was shown next week to be very different from the version shown the before – The bomb missed or they jumped out of the plane before they crashed. But that was a necessity of the form because the hero had to survive this, this is just sloppy – I understand in the old days sunday strips had to be sent to the syndicate much earlier than the daily strips so some confusion was possible but a) I’m not sure that is the case anymore and b) there is only one guy writing and one guesses sketching out the roughs for the sunday strip. It reeks of the Author’s trademark laziness.
    Still this current strip features a imaginary character telling someone not to talk about his hallucination. Wheels within wheels yes?
    And again i’m so puzzled by TB’s weird obsession with 1930’s junk culture – or that he makes them his characters obsessions (with out showing just how or why they are so important to said characters). which makes it even weirder – Jff is one presumes is at least in his 60’s yes? Fair enough but a few days ago it was Joe Strummer’s birthday – he would have been 68. Again pointing out how amazing out of step Jff’s obsessions are.
    Argh. Well at least now we go back to watching Les give acting lessons – dear lord what am i saying?

  22. Westview Radiology

    Principal Nate suggests sendIng out a missing persons 911 concerning Mr. Moore. Cayla responds by singing “Do that to me one more time”!!!