Running Up the Score

Link to a story Maddie’s probably heard before, and we definitely have!

One of my main problems with Donna’s ‘The Eliminator is a Girl!’ story is that Donna states she HAD to dress as a boy to play video games with the boys. This is regressive even within Batiuk’s own work. It’s the worst excuse for the reveal possible, because it’s either insulting to the world he had created or insulting to the intelligence of the characters.

The very first years of Funky Winkerbean are populated with many girl characters with traditionally ‘boy’ interests. And I’m not just talking about tone deaf jokes like Wanda playing fullback. Livina learns chess, enjoys watching golf, happily munches popcorn through violent movies, and is willing to wade through polluted mud to clean up the environment.

Junebug offers specific basketball advice, showing knowledge and interest in the game.

Vicki, who dated Funky for a few months, seems pleased at the prospect of watching performative car maintenance.

Also first mention of Big Walnut Tech, I think.

During the second and third summer breaks of the strip, Funky gets a job as a neighborhood playground supervisor. A job that also involves coaching the playground’s baseball team, which appears to be co-ed.

And his rival playground’s supervisor is someone I WISH Batiuk had spent more time on. She might just be one of my favorite characters of Act I so far.

Is this a shameless bit of virtue signaling? Yes.

But is Mary Ellen the joke? No.

Or, at least, the idea of a girl coaching baseball isn’t the joke.

The joke is, girl plays to win and GIRL PLAYS DIRTY!

Mary Ellen is AMAZING. Just bask in the glow of this.

Notice how, in all of these, Funky is treating her with respect as equals and coworkers. And never questions her obvious love of baseball, or even calls it unfeminine.

In a world where Mary Ellen exists and Funky doesn’t bat an eye, why would Donna need to disguise herself to play video games? Video games are even less gendered than sports, because in the world of ones and zeros physical limitations or advantages are nullified.

As a woman who is both a baseball fan AND a massive nerd, one of my major frustrations with Act III is Batiuk’s failure to build any of his females with the sort of fun obsessions that have flavored my entire life. Even Donna, from the moment she ripped off her biker helmet in 2002, has just been another bland woman, never allowed to geek out again. The closest we got was Holly’s Starbuck Jones comic book hunt, but she was only doing that for her son. It’s like he’s forgotten that girls are just as capable of salivating over ERA’s and MISB’s and CGC VF/NM’s as their male counterparts.

So. To Mary Ellen. Proof that Batiuk could do it right when he tried.

Proof that he could never sustain it.

This girl gets it. This is the dream.

34 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

34 responses to “Running Up the Score

  1. Epicus Doomus

    Funky and Crazy, at Montoni’s. Les walks in alone.

    “Hey Les! Where’s Lisa?”

    “Lisa is dead.”

    “NO! What happened?”

    “Well….it’s quite a…story! (Turns to reader, winks sickeningly)

    I mean come on, there’s no way this is the first time Maddie is hearing this story. He’s already rehashed this at least half a dozen times, at a minimum. And it was “Defender”, not “Defenders”. Fun game.

    So what do you think Maddie’s been doing since she graduated ten years ago? My guess is assistant manager at the local vape shop. It’s so weird how seldom-seen FW characters exist in a form of suspended animation, where they never age or, you know, do anything. Like when Summer suddenly reemerged a few months back, seemingly exactly as she was when she last popped up, or when Boy Lisa and Jessica returned from a thirteen year (strip time) hiatus and were still a young couple just starting out.

    • billytheskink

      You thought The Eliminator was good at “Defenders”… you should have seen her scores on Asteroid and Yar Revenge’s!

  2. William Thompson

    Are we sure that’s Donna in the strip today? It could be Holly, and it’s possible she’s never had to endure this story before.

  3. billytheskink

    Oh, did it read “The Eliminator” on Twin Galaxies’ national scoreboard?

    Those old Mary Ellen strips are pretty solid work, probably because most are ripped straight from Peanuts

  4. Sourbelly

    Video games. I know even less about them than comic books. Really don’t mind if I sit this one out.

    • none

      You can trust that there are others here who will have as much knowledge about video games as other topics. As I said here yesterday, I go to Round1 weekly. I visit Galloping Ghost somewhat often. I still have a Neo Geo AES and several games (which I honestly should probably sell, seeing as how it’s been years since I fired that up). I still have a few boxes of Gamest magazines (which I still don’t see being fully cited for the arcade high scores which the Japanese players have attained, that completely trounce practically everyone else on the planet) – all this and I still only currently engage in a tiny fraction of the games which make up the current landscape of the medium.

      I have been and can be ten times more insufferable about video game opinions than TB can be about comics. Don’t ask me what I think about Minecraft or Nier Automata. Spending 10 minutes with Bloodborne has convinced me to never try Elden Ring. Hell, don’t ask me to discuss whether video games are art (despite Supreme Court opinion to the contrary, I insist that they’re not).

      Assuming that this will be the subject for the week, I will not seek to turn every post into a novel. But I probably could.

      • ComicBookHarriet

        If you don’t think that video games are art, you’ve obviously never played Ride to Hell: Retribution.

        (I would argue that if movies and tv shows can be art, then video games can be art. Some tv shows are Wheel of Fortune, not art. And some TV shows are Beast Wars, ART. Same with video games. Bioshock is art, change my mind)

        • billytheskink

          I would argue that White Men Can’t Jump for the Atari Jaguar is art. I mean, it has to be something and it dang sure isn’t a video game…

  5. spacemanspiff85

    I think Batiuk does this kind of thing so he can continue to portray himself as a trailblazer. “I killed a character with cancer!” “I killed a character with CTE!” “I dared to show a girl playing arcade games!”
    It’s been bugging me more and more since the way he depicts the female employees of Atomik Komix just makes it seem like women in comics, both as readers and creators, are an extremely rare thing and nobody but he pays attention to them (I can’t remember the exact Sunday comic cover strip, but it did annoy me how he spent a week of Ruby Lith complaining about how hard it is for a woman working in comics and then had a male artist do the cover that week).

  6. Gerard Plourde

    I refuse to believe that Crazy Harry and Donna “The Eliminator” didn’t have multiple gaming systems in their house while the Klinghorn kids were growing up. The house would have been brimming with PlayStations, XBoxes, Game Boys, Wiis (probably even an old Atari 2600). Harry and Donna would have been playing as much as the kids.

    • none

      Montoni’s was depicted as having an arcade cabinet in the basement a few years ago. I think it was only Tony himself who was ever shown to play it.

  7. sorialpromise

    I just do not understand Mr. Batiuk. Is he 75 years old? I am 68, retired January 2020. Every day I want to learn, read good books (like the Mabinogion 👎🏻, or it’s modern retelling, the Owl Service 👍) write and edit, learn to get better on my bowed psaltery. I have a sense of humor that has to be constantly worked on, but never with Will Smith. I never thought of myself as a nit picker on a site for nit pickers run by nit pickers, but I guess I am. I guess this is my point: WHY WON’T BATIUK EVEN TRY? Why don’t his artists or publishers push him to exceed expectations?
    He has to come up with new ideas every day, why not make them good ones. We all could support that. None of us hate him or his work. If you don’t believe me, read and compare the comments on CK. We are light years ahead of those folks.
    I don’t know how to paste a comic, but if any of you can post April 14, 1999 from Peanuts. Look at the difference and sports insight Mr. Schultz expresses in a faceless character he probably never used again. AND HE IS A FEW MONTHS FROM DYING! Which Mr. Batiuk is not. (Well, I guess I feel better.)
    Semper Funk!

  8. Katy

    So many echoes of “Peanuts” in those early strips, with Funky as Charlie Brown and Mary Ellen as Lucy Van Pelt. Early Funky is the naive idealist and Mary Ellen is the cynical realist.

  9. none

    Since it is the subject of the strip. For those not aware, a current all time high score for Defender is 33644725, as referenced here: https://recordsetter.com/world-record/highest-score-defender-arcade/33873 . When tournaments were held for the game back in the 80s, the best players would have their single game run for more than 24 hours straight. They had to get enough lives to be able to walk away from the game to use the bathroom and come back.

    If you’ve ever played Defender on an actual original cabinet, you would know that this is no easy task.

    Isn’t it interesting how extraordinary the cast is in certain ways, when you think of it. Two of the greatest players in the world for an arcade game in the same town. A woman who never ages past 30. Pete Reynolds-Roberts being the highest paid comic writer ever. Pete’s paycheck coming from someone who seems to have infinite money. Les and Holly were able to have their literature published without facing any failure or rejection. As long as cancer doesn’t kill you, death itself might not even do the job, as Phil can attest.

    • Charles

      I remember that Defender had 5 buttons and a joystick, when other arcade games rarely had more than 2, and probably never had more than 4. The five buttons were too much for my 9 year-old ass to handle. I also remember Defender’s sequel, Stargate, which had SIX buttons!

      Every quarter I spent on those games was a quarter wasted.

      • Ray

        I spent many wasted quarters on Defender also. Indeed a tough game to master. I did get good enough to have a 7 hour run on a single quarter though.
        Stargate never really captivated me like Defender did. And I don’t think it was the addition of the “Inviso” button. Something about it just never scratched me where I itched.
        I do enjoy a good game now and then. Luckily I have to go no further than my man cave where my OG arcade version resides.

        • Banana Jr. 6000

          Stargate was no Ms. Pac Man or Millipede, which were actually better than the originals. Those games needed more complexity; Defender already had enough. The better follow-up was Robotron: 2084, which kept the vicious difficulty but had a simple, intuitive control scheme. Or Joust, which was unique and challenging at a time when clones ran wild.

          Ah, good old video arcades full of dusty old cabinet games. Good times. Gooood times.

  10. Charles

    C’mon Maddie, being The Eliminator is literally the ONLY thing your mom’s done in her life. How could you not know this?

    Also, where are the rest of Crazy and Donna’s children? I refuse to believe this trio of dumbasses would go to a movie that was too sophisticated for children so they were left at home.

    • billytheskink

      I don’t think Crazy and Donna’s other children (Tyler and Little Abbey) have been since since George W. Bush was president. Maybe they are still reading their individual copies of Pete’s “popular” graphic novel Dream Warrior

  11. Rusty Shackleford

    Batty is at his worst when he gins up controversy where none exists. I grew up playing video games at our local Montoni’s and it wasn’t unusual to have girls play too. In fact we liked it when the girls would join in.

    It was the same way at the local arcade. We would often go in groups and on dates as we were too young to go to bars.

    I forgot about Mary Ellen, great character.

  12. Banana Jr. 6000

    This is one of Tom Batiuk’s most obnoxious tropes: everybody in Westview is the world’s greatest something. Despite putting zero effort into it.

    No, Harry, you and your wife were not the “reigning champions” of Defender, the great-granddaddy of difficult video games. There were recorded scores over 70 million as early as 1982. Which would have taken 12 hours to achieve. You had the local high score maybe, but nobody’s going to be impressed with that.

    • If they were all high school kids at the time, I could definitely see the local high score as being good for some geek clout. The disguise and all of the associated drama is what doesn’t make sense.

    • Charles

      I think Batiuk just doesn’t feel that something’s any good unless it’s validated by awards, or perhaps his idea is that if something were any good, it’d have to win awards. So it’s not enough for a character to watch the Lisa’s Story movie and tell Les that they thought it was really good, and that Marianne’s performance was extraordinary. No, it has to win an Oscar. It’s as if he thinks his fictional things/people have clout by giving them fictional analogs to real life awards in a way they wouldn’t have simply by having someone say they were good. Or, you know, showing the actual thing/person as good, but that’s beyond his capabilities.

      Of course, he’s hurt by the fact that he often portrays his characters as idiots, so their validation doesn’t mean anything. Yeah, sure, you could show Mason complimenting Cindy’s documentaries, in lieu of having them ridiculously win Emmys, but Mason’s an idiot, so what the hell does he know?

  13. Captain Peabody

    So as someone who’s been following esports & competitive gaming stuff for a few decades, I don’t think it’s quite true that competitive gaming is less gendered than sports, though I suppose it depends on what that means exactly.

    While things have definitely evened out, competitive gaming is still way more male-dominated than traditional sports both in terms of player base and in terms of fandom. The main reason for that I think is because with sports you have way more separate women’s leagues, supporting way more female athletes, while that’s still relatively unusual for esports.

    In most competitive games it’s exceptionally rare to have female progamers who can compete with the top male players–though it’s very debatable (and debated) how much this has to do with physical factors (with most competitive video games there are actually significant physical elements involved) or cognitive differences versus social and personality factors leading to a smaller player population. While women play video games in just as high numbers as men at this point, they tend to play different games on average, with multiplayer, competitive gaming being much less popular. Also most competitive gaming scenes are still fairly male-dominated and some have been rather toxic (though this has changed significantly in the time I’ve been following, and virtually all now have significant numbers of female fans, media personalities, & players). The games that currently have the most significant and known female progamer populations are those like CS-GO that have followed traditional sports in creating separate female leagues.

    So I mean, I think it’s fair to say that a woman being *the* top-scorer at Defender or competing at the very highest level of any competitive video game would be very unusual and notable then or now. Definitely something that would have gained a lot of notoriety at the time, and something to be proud of and to remember even decades later.

    Now that being said, we’re talking about the very highest levels; the competition *is* generally more even than with traditional sports for normal people, and there are absolutely women who could beat me and most men at every competitive game known to man. And the point of the Eliminator thing, as you say, seems to have been to *disguise* the fact that the top-scorer was a woman at all. Which is quite a bit weirder. I can see wanting to avoid attention or notoriety, but I can’t imagine it being the case that she would have been prevented from competing merely for being a woman. And the justifications about being the lone human half-mutant half-man fighting the mutant male hordes in disguise are downright bizarre.

    • bad wolf

      For some reason the Eliminator reveal reminds me of Samus Aran from Metroid (not my game but a well-known one), although that was from 1986 which seems much later than the Donna/Eliminator reveal?

  14. Maxine of Arc

    And yet he never writes about boys having stereotypical “girl” interests. Hmm.
    The whole Eliminator thing, meanwhile, reminds me of an old Kids in the Hall sketch where a guy dresses up in a mask and calls himself Eradicator to dominate his gym’s racketball rankings.

  15. Why is Maddy back in town?

    A) She’s lying low after a series of dispensary fires in Cleveland.
    B) She’s making pilgrimage to the Grotto of Saints Les and Lisa (now with a Best Actress Award!)
    C) She works as a private detective, and Twin Galaxies has hired her to find some patsies to take the heat for Billy Mitchell’s latest scandal.
    D) CANCER!!!!
    E) All of the above.

    • Charles

      F) Her parents needed some meat sock present to tell their Remember When story, and she fit the bill.

  16. I grew up in the age of pinball. My roommate at college had a PONG game that he hooked up to our TV, which we had fun with. Then Space Invaders showed up in our student union arcade. I tried it a few times, but could never get good enough at it to have fun playing. I preferred pinball. It obeys real world physical laws (for the most part) and I could actually feel like I was part of the game. I also enjoyed playing Defender. The controls were very intuitive, and I could have fun playing it even though I really wasn’t very good at it. Of all the “modern” video games, that was my favorite.

    I’ve enjoyed the information on the early days of FW. That is some extraordinary work that you’ve done, CBH. I didn’t really become aware of the strip until 1978 or so (when I started subscribing to a newspaper that carried it), and even then I kind of glossed over it. It wasn’t until I started reading the Comic Curmudgeon that I learned of the drastic dark turns. Eventually, I was led to this site (it was linked from TV Tropes, where I was reading the FW page after being pushed over the edge by the “Lisa phones in a bomb thread from beyond the grave” arc.

  17. Bad wolf

    Holy cow, i almost thought CBH had created this Mary Ellen through the advanced photoshoppery skills she displayed on Sunday’s ersatz anniversary arc.

    What a surprisingly deft characterization! TB really had it in him some days.