EARLIER THIS MONTH, three “Beetle Bailey” strips rewritten to comment satirically on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal were posted anonymously to the electronic-music website DoubtfulPalace.com. Maybe they were the work of the site’s creator, musician Tim Walters, or maybe not.
The series, collectively titled “Beetle Ghraib,” wasn’t ham-fisted and jeering, as comic-strip parodies so frequently are. Instead, “Beetle Ghraib” was mordant, intelligent, and — in the best tradition of black humor — as sobering as a joke can get before it turns unfunny. For a brief moment, Mort Walker’s faceless Beetle became a truly sympathetic figure, like the jaded but outraged bombardier Yossarian of “Catch-22,” or Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H surgeons. The hapless Sarge, meanwhile, was transformed into a joking, menacing bully — think Ernest Borgnine as Sgt. Fatso Judson in “From Here to Eternity,” or Lee Marvin as The Sergeant in “The Big Red One.”
Too bad, then, that last week “Beetle Ghraib” vanished from the Web as mysteriously as it had appeared. In its place, as of this writing, are the words “Never mind” in large black letters. What happened? Did John Ashcroft have something to do with this? Ideas doesn’t know for sure. E-mails to DoubtfulPalace.com went unanswered.