(Original Publication Date, 15 October 1990)
Panel 1: It’s dark out on a school night and Michael is going out. The implication is that if Elly had not seen him leaving, she would not know he was leaving and she would not know the “who, what, where and why” of it.
Elly has known about Mike going out with Martha since May in this comic strip.
This is the first time she is raising a protest about it. My guess is that there are few in Lynn’s readership who would think this is normal. Their son would not be going out at night without their knowing the “who, what, when and where” and if they caught their son going out at night without their knowing back in May, they would have addressed that right then and there in May and not 5 months later.
Panel 2: Looking at Elly’s incredibly long arm, I realize Lynn is very consistent with this. Elly’s arms are very long in every panel where they are drawn. What’s up with that? Is she more authoritative with long arms?
Elly’s argument against Michael going out so many times with Martha is because they are seeing too much of each other. This is her reasoning. How about: You can’t go out because it is a school night and you should be doing your homework and getting rest so you can go to school the next day and stay awake?
Panel 3: Elly argues using the one hand gesture she is allowed to have in this comic strip, that it’s time for Michael to cool off the relationship because things can get out of hand. Yes, Michael. Your mother believes that dangerous impregnating intercourse only occurs when the teenage couple has been spending so much time with each other that they lose control. The more time you spend, the more control you lose. That’s how teenage couples work. Michael has a slight glare in this panel, but it’s appropriate.
Panel 4: Typically when Michael has a comment like this which is deeply critical of his mother, her reaction is shock and anger and maybe an indication that she is about to smack him one. That is not the case this time. Elly looks dumbfounded that her son has actually made a good point.
Summary: Back in my high school days, I remember relationships changing between couples on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. No one was dating anyone for very long. The few couples that did date for longer than 3-4 months and had started acting like a couple were, in my high school mind, probably active in some form of physical intimacy. My son, who never had a girlfriend for more than a short period of time in high school, often protested that people would see TV or movies about teenagers that were sexually active all the time and assumed this was reality. His opinion was that very few high school kids were and he did not like it when people implied he was.
Given that, Michael’s answer to Elly is interesting. Michael does not protest to his mother that things are not going to get out of hand. Michael does not protest that his relationship with Martha is not too hot or that they are not seeing too much of each other. Michael seems to be saying, “Yes, I am sexually active with Martha, but Martha is smarter than my mother is with birth control. I am too. I am not worried about Martha getting pregnant because we are both smarter than my mother. Someday I will marry a woman just as dumb about birth control as my mother, but that is in the future and is clearly not Martha.”
I am not sure this was Lynn Johnston’s intent. She may simply be going for another “rude Michael” moment. Nevertheless, Lynn Johnston, notoriously likes to leave things undefined when it comes to her Patterson kid characters’ physical intimacy. The most obvious one of these was Elizabeth moving in with Eric Chamberlain, which Lynn has compared to a Spanish telenovela where they imply but never show the activity. Elizabeth has her own bed when she moves in with Eric. Eric implies they are sleeping together, but Elizabeth protests. The bed is something for readers who want to believe Elizabeth is chaste.
Likewise, April and Gerald Delaney/Forsythe almost get caught doing something which looks like kissing with clothes on.
Yet April still calls it a “score” which she wouldn’t do if they were just kissing.
After all, April has been kissing Gerald since she was 11 years old.
Today’s comic strip could go either way with Michael and Martha. Michael’s response to Elly is as close as I can see his admitting that he and Martha have been doing more than just kissing and marching together while holding hands.