Piercing the Darkness

I mean it. I will not be doing these every post. Especially not during calving season.

When Frankie disappeared on November 20, 2016, I honestly thought he’d be back. Maybe not immediately during the aftermath of Marianne’s crisis. But eventually. I thought Batiuk would lean on that old trope of the villain getting away with one crime, only for their inherent flaws to crush them later. Similar to Frankie’s Act II appearances, he’d show up in six months, maybe a year, arrested for petty larceny, fired and panhandling on the street, whatever. It would be like the end of that South Park episode “Cartmanland.” He’d be twice as miserable as before.

But no. We never see him again. I guess he could have died off panel from Zika virus, or attempting The Mannequin Challenge in the middle of the street, or some other 2016 related nonsense.

Y’all remember how big Pokemon GO was in 2016?

As Sorial Promise said in the comments.

I will never understand Batiuk’s writing. He sets up Frankie to be this jerk with Darrin. Then drops that storyline. Why include Frankie? Any anonymous sleezy journalist would do. Waste of a decent plot.

Sorial Promise, Feb 12, 2023.

Oh SP, I agree. bafflingly wasted potential is one of the Batiuk’s hallmarks. He’s like a toddler that would rather try to eat the paper baking cup than the actual cupcake.

It does seem like this final Frankie story wasn’t initially conceived as a Frankie tale at all. The climax of the arc is Marianne atop the ‘H’, all done in black and white. Maybe Frankie initially WAS an anonymous journalist, until Batiuk remembered that Frankie and Lenny worked in Hollywood?

Or maybe Batiuk always had a notion he would throw Frankie in on a Hollywood scheme? I half wonder if the aborted, ‘Lust for Lisa.’ arc was Tom realizing, after the story had already started, that he didn’t want to do the Oscar winning ‘Lisa’s Story’ movie just yet. So he writes that first movie getting canned and writes Les’ actor starring in a Starbuck Jones movie instead, then puts some of the plots he intended for the Lisa Movie into the Starbuck saga.

I mean, how do you explain this insanely flimsy excuse for said actor to come to Westview and stay with Les?

They’re burning a Christmas tree, fyi. Just incase you wondered if God was about to speak to them from the burning shrubbery.

Mayhaps in the first draft, this was Mason shadowing Les to prepare for ‘Lisa’s Story’?

Whatever the case, the Frankie in Hollywood bit was weird. If it had been setting up Frankie as a recurring antagonist, if it was just the first in a series of Frankie muckracking plots, then it would make sense. If Darin and Darin’s relationship with Frankie had actually played a role in the story, then it would make sense.

As it is, it’s too much for a one off cameo, and not enough for a satisfying tale. But at least Epicus got to see old hatchet mouth one more time.

This one was hard to make. I kept laughing so hard I cried.

Now what can we say about Frankie Pierce as a whole? After nearly a month dissecting his few appearances, what conclusions can we draw when we look at all these arcs together?

He might deny it, but Batiuk does not do character driven stories. A character driven story has, at it’s core, a solid and well-defined character. The wants, needs, flaws, strengths and weaknesses of that character drive and mold the plot around those traits.

Batiuk instead writes plots, and will bend his characters to fit the momentary goal of his arc. He might have a bit of an idea who and what these creations usually are, but he’s willing to chuck it for the plot he wants to tell. Les is a mopey coward, until he’s a brave optimist. Lisa is a paragon of truth and justice, until she rolls over and accepts gross medical malpractice.

And we see this in Frankie. Frankie is a tool. (yeah, that kind of tool too.) He is used in service of a point, and then he’s changed for the next point.

In the initial pregnancy arc, Frankie is just a dumb jock who got drunk along with Lisa. He’s a name, not a villain. Because Batiuk’s goal was to write a wry, humorous look at a girl who got teen-pregnant. In the moment, he wanted Lisa to be equally culpable, if completely sympathetic, so it would serve as a nice pamphlet to all teens. This could happen to you too!

Then, in the soap opera, serious special of the week years of early Act II, he remolds Frankie into a controlling physically abusive date rapist. Why? Because he wasn’t willing to take Susan Smith all the way to that point. He only wanted to show the beginning of that journey, and then have someone else tell how dark it could get.

What he chose to show with Susan and Matt Miller was a few weeks of controlling behavior, a couple instances of physical violence, and then Matt’s tantrum when Susan broke up with him. It’s the Saturday morning special of the straight-laced honor student who smokes weed once and dents a fender while driving then meeting the street hobo raving about how years ago their shoddy home-grow operation caused and electrical fire that burned all their kids up.

When Frankie actually shows up for real in Act II, he’s now a rich narcissist. And it’s all to show how great average nice-guy Les is for not being a manipulative asshole. And how great Lisa is for appreciating him and their simple life and not being swayed by Frankie’s riches. And how noble Lisa was to let her baby son go to be adopted, even if it means she’ll never find him again. Barf.

Frankie shows up again to jeopardize Summer’s birth. And he is a belligerent drunk looking for the son he doesn’t realize is right in front of him. Now Frankie is in contrast to his kind, thoughtful, brave bio-son. Darin suddenly gets to fulfil the role his own father should have at his own birth, by defending and protecting his pregnant mother, and ushering her to the hospital. It frees both Lisa and Darin of the unnecessary complication that a decent or even neutral Frankie would be, so that Lisa’s connection to Darin can be pure.

In Act III, Frankie comes back to once more be molded into a contrast. This time, a contrast to Les. This mega arc shows a sleazy Frankie who never really cared about Lisa trying to reconnect with a son he barely remembers the name of just to co-op a bit of Lisa’s post-mortem fame. But our noble Les doesn’t try to claim Darin as a son, even though he opened his home to him as family, mentors and encourages him, and considers him a brother to his daughter. Wise, Lisa loving, Les, who will go on to purposely derail the first Lisa Movie because he will only profit off of her memory the right way.

And finally, it’s Mason who gets to stand on Frankie. He’s a good guy in Hollywood, not caring a bit about gossip or underhanded means to fame, and concerned about his coworkers and costars. Not like that Frankie and all the rest of the Hollywood sharks.

Despite all these different uses, all the different characters who have gotten to use Frankie to make themselves look better, I would say that from his first real appearance in 2000 to the end, there is some consistency there. Every time he showed up, Frankie had a goal. And in a Funkyverse full of dozens and dozens of bland, samey, mope muppets…that alone made him stand out. Every time he showed up, he wasn’t afraid to step on some toes. And the toes he stepped on were usually toes we wanted to see stomped. It’s easy to see why Epicus liked him. Too bad he wasn’t around more often.

If only, Frankie, if only.

Thus concludes the Frankie retrospective.

What did you guys think? Did you enjoy? Do you want to see more stuff like this?

Would you like to vote on what goes up next?

(Something stupid will go up this weekend. It might also include voting.)



Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

62 responses to “Piercing the Darkness

  1. Smirks’R Us

    Loved it CBH. Funny and insightful. Thank you and, yes, would love to see more deep dives into this shallow pool of BatHack’s work.

  2. Green Luthor

    Personally, I loved the Frankie Retrospective. (I’d say it was more entertaining than the actual comics, but that’s such a low bar to clear it might sound insulting.)

    More like this? Yes, please! (Voting honestly doesn’t matter; if you go that route, I’ll be sure to vote, but if you just want to choose whatever you feel like writing about, I’ll still read it. Whichever way you prefer, really.)

  3. Y. Knott

    I’m too new to FW to know which retrospective to demand about one of the two hundred and thirty-seven useless FW characters who disappeared into the ether, unmourned.

    But anything you want to put up in terms of a retrospective, I’ll be reading!

  4. sorialpromise

    Thank you, CBH for the mention. That was kind. I always love reading you.
    Frankie, could have been a good villain. But Batiuk aimed too low. Frankie fought against weak opponents, like Darrin and Lisa. He could have been magnificent if he came back every year and humiliated Les. Then Les could have outfoxed him. (Wow! My estimates of TB’s writing skills are way off! It is a matter of what could have been.)
    Think of Fantastic 4 and Doctor Doom. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby always gave the villain motivation: disfiguring facial scar. Frankie has no motivation at all, except reuniting with his bio-son. Yet how does he go about his plan. Good plot. Horrible execution. Unbelievable storyline.
    By the way, CBH posted at the top, the strip that ends with Frankie makes good tacos. It took a while for me to find out that was not Batiuk’s work. Who did it and what was the original?
    Again, ComicBookHarriet, I always find you a good read and always a blessing.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      SP! You are such a ray of sunshine!

      In the parody strip at the top, the first four panels are pulled from the Frankie goes Hollywood storyline without much editing except the speech bubbles, though Pete’s face in panel 4 has been changed quite a bit. The fifth panel has Pete and Darin pasted in from a different panel.

      And the taco eating on the last panel was from this strip in 2018.

      This was during Burchett’s run, so that’s why they look a little derfy. If I had been especially ambitious, I guess I could have changed Pete’s shirt, but the cost/benefit ratio didn’t add up.

      • sorialpromise

        Thank you. I really believed it was Batiuk’s work. I almost stood up I was so mad at the taco panel. You had me good!

  5. Frankie disappeared on November 20.

    JFK was shot on November 23.

    I think the conclusion to be drawn is pretty obvious.

    • Bill the Splut

      (sweating profusely) “You got it man, you got it man–” BANG! “YEAH right in the mustache! Goodbye, ADOLPH–Ah shit. It was meant to be 19FORTYthree, not 1963, GOLDARN IT”
      Later or earlier: “OK OK OK, you’re good just wait until there’s the big laugh in ‘My American Cousin,’ pull the trigger, and Hitler is–
      GOD DAMMIT! What is WRONG with me?!”
      15BC, eating a pita: “More like et FIFTEEN, huh Caesar salad?” (counts stabbings)
      66 million years earlier or later, in the ruins of the asteroid: “COME ON! I WAS JUST GOING PEE!”
      Frankie will never find rest.
      All is Frankie now.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Well those dates differ by three days. 20 – 3 = 17 which was Lisa’s age when Frankie impregnated her. 3+23=26 which was Lisa’s age when she married that idiot Les and is Summer’s current age.

      It all makes sense!

    • Gerard Plourde

      JFK was shot on November 22. Using a combination of Banana Jr. 6000’s and Rusty Shackleford’s comments below, we can infer Frankie’s identity. 20+22=42. 42 is The Answer to the Ultimate Question. Therefore, Frankie IS Agrajag. One could argue that being reincarnated into FW is an even worse fate than being continually killed by Arthur Dent.

  6. Bill the Splut

    I loved this!
    However…is it truly the last? What about the recent one, where you think Frankie’s following Leslie in his car, so Lester runs at him all Flash style (123, duh!) like some hilarious stick figure? And it turns out that’s not Frankie! It’s really
    …the Beanie Boy? Somebody else? Toonces the Driving Cat? A frog, who learned from a talking chimp?
    Look, I’m not you guys with your encyclopedic knowledge. If you asked me what I had for dinner 2 days ago, I’d say “…Food? In mouth it went?”

    • Anonymous Sparrow

      I see it this way, with help from Jay Ward:

      Underdog: (in the air) Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog; it’s not even little old me, Underdog. (chuckles as a bear-head balloon passes by) It’s a balloon.

      Bark on, Sweet Polly. Chase Killi the Cat until you catch him!

  7. “Being nordic” is probably the most baffling turn of phrase in FW.

    Anyways, fantastic writeup. By far Batiuk’s biggest weakness is his complete inability to conclude a story, no matter how much buildup something gets it inevitably just fizzles out as he moves on to the next thing.

    • Anonymous Sparrow

      I guess we’re supposed to think of Ingmar Bergman, forgetting that he made at least one splendid comedy (“Smiles of a Summer Night,” which became the musical *A Little Night Music*).

      Anyone up for a weekend in the country?

  8. William Thompson

    Over in Crankshaft I hope that Cranky immolates himself so someone can declare “The stupid! It burns!”

  9. Paul Jones

    We might as well be reading Archie Conics from the twelve cent era. Those aren’t especially consistent either.

    • billytheskink

      Head over to the 65 cent era and you can get both Archie and Mason Jarr!

      • Bill the Splut

        I read like several years worth of that recently–Life With Archie, I think? And Lodge would fall for the dumbest, most obvious con men. They were all drawn like Frankie, in the sense that there’s no suspense, because they just “look” evil. Archie would save the day, maybe even lives, and Lodge would fall all over him with praise.
        Next issue, return to the mean, Lodge’s forgotten how Arch has saved his life monthly for a decade, new con man, falls for it…
        Just saying: Very similar to Frankie.

  10. Perfect Tommy

    A Christmas tree? Whew!
    I thought they were re-enacting the tree shooting scene from “Rollerball”.

    • Green Luthor

      It’s actually books. Les has decided to burn every copy of every book he didn’t write. This is the start of The Burnings. That… wasn’t as big of a deal as it was made out to be in the epilogue, but that really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Burnings were mentioned by Les’ granddaughter, and she has a genetic predisposition for being a complete drama queen.

  11. billytheskink

    The best part of the last Frankie story arc, for me, was how TB put Masone up on the hero’s pedestal. Meanwhile…

    Who was the first person to worry about how the DMZ story would affect Marianne?

    Who was a good wingman to Mason when it came to Cindy’s reaction to the story?

    Who made sure the studio had a response to DMZ’s shenanigans?

    Who was the one who actually tried to contact Marianne to let her know they were concerned about her?

    Who brought in the authorities when Marianne was out of contact and considered to be under threat of harm from the internet mob and/or herself?

    TB made Mr. Director/Martin Johns the actual hero of the story… unintentionally, by all appearances. It would have been a rather clever bit of writing had he not been 110% blind to what he was actually portraying.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      Good catch BTS! Martin Johns does also get to be one of the good ones. And I guess he’s rewarded by directing Marianne to an Oscar win on Lisa’s Story.

      How many real life directors go from big Sci Fi blockbuster to arthouse cancer?

    • Epicus Doomus

      Man, that was such a ghoulish arc. Marianne’s sudden transformation from sexy Hollywood sex vixen to haplessly naive and fragile waif was forever cemented, right there. From that point forward, Marianne became one of FW’s most poorly-written female characters, which is saying plenty. Becoming Lisa for that movie, Les rescuing her from a fire, getting breast cancer, winning an Oscar and giving it to Les…find me a more warped, regressive and sorry character arc than that one.

  12. Hannibal’s Lectern

    So Frankie gets away with… whatever minor annoyances he perpetrated. Or not. Perhaps the director TP’d his food truck or something. Or perhaps having to operate a food truck on the “Starsuck Jones” set is considered punishment enough. Or maybe BatYam is trying to emulate Frank Capra—remember that in “It’s a Wonderful Life” the evil banker Mr. Potter gets away with stealing $8000 from George Bailey’s building & loan business.

    Hmm… Batty and Frank Capra in the same sentence? That’s disturbing.

  13. Banana Jr. 6000

    Batiuk is hardly the only writer who does this, but I hate it all the same… he’s trying to make a massive story out of a 5-minute problem.

    If Durwood (or Mason – I can barely tell them apart) knew who Frankie was and that he worked for a gossip TV show, all he had to do was tell security not to let him on the studio lot. Or have the director do it. Directors have a lot of power, and if you piss them off, you don’t get on the lot ever again. Which should have happened to Cindy over the “CUT!” incident.

    • Epicus Doomus

      Boy Lisa knew his bio-dad was there, he knew he was there to cause trouble, he even spoke to him briefly. Then he did nothing, at which point the Hollywood gossip part of the story began. Then the villain of the story vanished completely, with no explanation. Another sterling example of how BatYam is one of the worst storytellers who has ever lived.

      • William Thompson

        Batiuk missed a sort-of story with Durrhurl and Frankie. Downward knew his father was spying on the production, yet did nothing to expose or stop him. That makes it look like he was cooperating with biodad. That should have had consequences, like getting fired by the studio. Dullard could have been blacklisted by every production company on Earth and found himself reduced to working with biodad at DMZ. That wouldn’t have been much of a story but at least we could have seen him suffer.

  14. be ware of eve hill

    I enjoyed the Frankie retrospective. So much wasted potential in a character. It’s like two alleged rival factions who were barely aware of one another.

    TB’s writing is sooooooooo frustrating. He comes up with a premise that seems interesting, goes nowhere with it, then ends it abruptly in the most confusing manner possible.

    Quite a few cartoonists have left the comic section to write books for children. Could you imagine the result if Batiuk followed suit? Kids would be so confused and ask so many questions, the parents would never be able to settle them down for bed.
    Child #1: But… but… but… the bad guy is not supposed to get away with it.
    Child #2: Why is that guy the hero? What is so great about him? I don’t like him at all. I like the monkey.
    Child #3: I’m confused. How do these people know the president?
    Child #4: What’s cancer?

    OTOH, could you imagine TB reading a bedtime story? He’d start the story, get bored with it, and end it in his own inimitable way. Cinderella doesn’t meet with the prince at the ball. She finds a valuable comic book and gives it to the prince instead.

    I vote for a Kevin Brown retrospective. (I’m kidding)

  15. be ware of eve hill

    Why do I keep seeing this banner? I see it almost every day. It’s freaking me out.

    Isn’t he potty-trained? It’s like he made a doody on the newspaper, and he’s proud of himself.

    Who’s a good boy, Tommy? You are! Oh, yes, you are! Have a treat!

  16. Jeff M.

    A) This essay (let’s call it what it truly is) would be a terrific text for the first day of Fiction Writing A01 in any undergraduate class. Many truths here about characters and plot that I wish I had been taught. B) I find TB’s blog posts about OMEA deeply and profoundly sad. C) He has promised on his blog that a deep dive into the last weeks of FW is coming soon. I suspect it will make me sad, once again. When does punching up become punching down?

    • Epicus Doomus

      You know, I found that OMEA blog post rather sad too. It was a brief post, and I’m probably just reading way too much into it, but it just seemed kind of depressing to me. Just pictures of tables and books, nary a happy face to be seen. And the big OMEA convention is something he really enjoys, too. Imagine if he was doing something he didn’t like.

      • Bill the Splut

        “Doing something he didn’t like”? You mean Crankshaft?

        Today’s: WHAT, how is this funny, I’m supposed to remember who is “Phyllis the Forecaster” by MYSELF?
        (gets in car, runs over mailboxes, sets fire to children, somehow gets arrested, gets away 9 minutes later because this is a quarter inch from what the fuck, screams at clouds about MY PRIZEYS!)

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Maybe the band directors told him he is not invited next year, the event is strictly for music teachers.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        I’ve never seen anyone so desperate to be a celebrity. His three big appearances a year are Comic-Con, the Kent State bookstore, and the OMEA. He never goes to anything comic strip-specific, because he knows full well he’d be ignored. Batiuk must create a world where he’s the Big Shot at all times.

        So he invites himself to these barely related events that probably don’t even want him there. He talked for months about his role in the Rose Parade entry, which turned out to be almost non-existent. (They’re going back without him this year.) He’d been an OMEA speaker in the past. Which is fine; he’s a cute little sideshow you might bring in once for a workplace convention. But he shows up Every. Single. Year. And he drew it into Funky Winkerbean Every. Single. Year. And now he’s drawing it into Crankshaft. He’s a small fish desperately clinging to small ponds that don’t need or want him, but are too earnest to tell him to go away.

        Notice he never goes to any other state’s Music Educators Association Convention. Even though he’s 200 miles away from Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Buffalo, and Dinkle isn’t any less relevant to band directors from those states. Nor does he do any signings at the University of Akron, even though he actually taught there. No, it must be Kent State, the institution that strokes his ego.

        The woman in The 16-Millimeter Shrine wasn’t this desperate to be a star again, And she actually WAS a star once. It’s all very, very pathetic.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          And today’s band directors have no connection to Dinkle. Maybe they would if Batty hadn’t aged everyone into an insufferable old fool.

        • be ware of eve hill

          Batiuk taught at the University of Akron? Please tell me it was something like a continuing education class for or painting or comic book collecting. God help those poor souls if it was a class on writing.

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            It was an art class, from his brief pre-FW career, A poster mentioned it on the Prince Valiant forum that week.

        • Epicus Doomus

          And remember, the original joke re: Dinkle was that marching band was horrible, inhumane torture. It’s not like Dinkle ever furthered the cause of “music education”. In fact, most of his students seemed to actively dislike and fear him. On top of that, Dinkle mostly appeared to be well aware of this, and thought it was funny. It’s all so warped.

  17. Gerard Plourde

    The Thursday Crankshaft in its attempt to be funny goes to a weirdly dark place. As expected, in the process of melting the snow Ed’s flamethrower destroys the blue ribbon winning ice sculpture as well. How could he not know that his action would bring that result? Are we supposed to find Ed’s stupidity amusing?

  18. Rusty Shackleford

    Ok, I’m just going to say it: We really do need retrospective look back on Lisa.

    I dread it too. But Batty is going to read it so let’s have fun with his favorite character.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Lisa’s like every other character in the strip: a complete zero who played whatever part Batiuk needed in whatever self-serving story he wanted to tell.

      The only noteworthy thing about her is how consistent her role was. It was just victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim dead. Then 15 years of boo hoo Lisa’s dead despite it having no real impact on anyone. Batiuk never spent any time making Lisa into a character anybody would value, or even gave her any friends or a personality. All we had was her and Les’ “sexy” talk, which sounds like it was written by a 7-year-old boy.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Ok, well that is a great look back at a Pulitzer nominated character. But Batty still feels he was cheated.

      • Gerard Plourde

        All that said, I still think that an examination of the various Lisa strips could still be illuminating. There are decades of material and the possibility of using those for a starting point for this crew offers possibilities.

        • Bill the Splut

          Even a short retrospective on The Lisa I would appreciate. I stopped getting the paper in the 90s, began reading comics again at the time “The Series of Tubes” began (gourd, remember that senator? “It’s not a dump truck!”) like 2000. I’m not sure where the strip was then, but it had definitely turned from “I’m a cartoonist, here be a joke!” to (raises hand dramatically to forehead while wearing a beret and smoking a clove cigarette) “an ARTISTE!” after the unwed teen mother storyline. That was a topic that needed positive attention in media–my 2 BFFs were the son of one, another was one. But, crimeny, he acted like no one in the US of all the A’s besides himself had noticed.
          Why do you say “Saint Lisa” here? Tom sainted himself.
          Actually, what was the whole Pulitzer thing? And something about Berke Breathed, the penguin guy? A quick recap would work for me. Yes, I could read Wiki, but I’ll bet Bats rewrites that daily. “And then–there never was racism again! Just so much arson”
          Yes, I do say things like “crimeny.” I have recently retired as a gold rush era prospector, due to getting too grizzled. Ain’t that right, Bessie my mule? Dagnabbit!

          • Banana Jr. 6000

            I think it was Ted Stevens of Alaska. And to be fair, “series of tubes” wasn’t the worst analogy out there.

  19. We should look back on Wally Winkerbean

  20. Hitorque

    Krankenschaaften: Why are the stupid allowed to own such tools of wanton destruction again?