What feeling can possibly arise upon reading the last volume of THE COMPLETE E.C. SEGAR POPEYE, other than genuine sadness and dismay that Segar was taken from his loyal coterie of readers far too quickly? I'd hesitate to pass definitive judgment on what a Segar THIMBLE THEATER of the 1940s and beyond (as distinct from the war years, which would almost certainly have tempted Segar to make the hard-punching sailor man serve his country in some "official" capacity, much as the animated Popeye in fact did) would have looked like, but we may have gotten a hint in my favorite of this volume's continuities, "A Sock for Susan's Sake." By 1937, Popeye had been domesticated to a certain extent, and Segar had brought the incorrigible Poopdeck Pappy into the THIMBLE THEATER cast and given the latter some of the more anti-social aspects of Popeye's earlier, rougher persona. But it's hard to imagine that Segar would have completely drawn out Popeye's eye-teeth and turned him into the less complicated character of the later Famous Studios shorts. The picaresque "Sock," in which Popeye brusquely assumes the role of protector of and unofficial mentor to a lovely (by Segar's artistic standards, anyway) young female vagabond with a mysterious past, points the way towards what a future Segar Popeye might have looked like. Popeye is every bit as proactive, arbitrary, and abrupt as he was during his early career, but also evinces compassion, self-sacrifice, and a sense of higher moral good. Fittingly, after Popeye discovers that Susan's wealthy father had thrown her out into the street, he literally drags her back to a confrontation with him, leading to the obligatory "startling revelations" and, of course, the restoration of Susan to her proper place. It's much like the tale of Cinderella, that is, if you can imagine the Fairy Godmother employing the occasional "righteous right cross" in place of the waving of a magic wand.
The last batch of Sunday pages continue to give Wimpy multiple chances to shine (he really could have carried his own strip) and feature the last explosion of creativity in the companion strip SAPPO, as John and Myrtle S. accompany Professor O. G. Wottasnozzle and a couple of other long-bearded deep thinkers (including, oddly enough, Wottasnozzle's arch-enemy Professor Finklesnop -- does the phrase "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" come to mind?) on an epic space journey to the worlds "beyond Neptune." I wish I knew why Segar suddenly switched back to continuities in SAPPO after ditching them for an extended period of time in favor of drawing lessons and the like. It's almost as if he knew that he had very little time left for active creativity and wanted to expel as many crazy ideas as he could from his cranium before the end. Short-lived it may have been, but the whole Segar POPEYE oeuvre is now between handsome hard covers, and fans of great comics will be forever grateful.