What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? August – November 2017


Thanks for asking! If you read Dick Tracy, by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis, with (I think) art support from Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher on Sundays, you know how often events happen these days. This is an attempt to keep track of what’s been going on. If it’s much later than early November 2017 when you read this, events might have gotten much more progressed. This essay might be too out of date to be useful. If that’s happened then please try out this link. If I’ve written a later story summary, it should be at or near the top of that page.

And if you’re intersted in comic strips generally please try out my mathematics blog. I talk some about the mathematically-themed comics of the week, each week, and this week was one of them.

Dick Tracy.

14 August – 4 November 2017.

Crime had promised to pay last time I checked in on Dick Tracy. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) Movie-forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were sprung from jail by the quite ellipsoidal Public Domain. Domain’s hired them to forge a recording that legend says Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made on his experimental phonautograph of Abraham Lincoln. The work goes well: Silver discovers a new thrill that he wasn’t getting from film fraud anymore and hopes to do more work with Domain. Sprocket thought this was their last scam before getting out of the business. Domain thought this was a good way to get money from the matronly Bea Thorndike before leaving the Nitrates to take the rap. Bea Thorndike thought she was paying basically-good-but-emotionally-cowardly money for a recording of Abraham Lincoln asking “Is this on?” and reciting the Gettysburg Address. And Tracy thought that Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were relatives, what with their being siblings.

Thorndike Mansion. Bea Thorndike: 'Hello, Mr Domain, Mr Femstock [Silver Nitrate]. It's a pleasure to meet you.' Domain: 'Likewise, Ms Thorndike. We thank you for agreeing to help us.' Thorndike: 'Mr Femstock, I've seen the images of your phonautogram and all its documentation. Can you tell me more?' Nitrate, as Femstock: 'I have some great news from the university. They were able to PLAY OUR PHONAUTOGRAM! I have the recording right here. Would you like to hear it?' Thorndike: 'YES, PLEASE!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of September, 2017. Yeah, I know, I’m being mean on Bea Thorndike for falling for this scam. It’s easy for me, when I got to see the scam from plan to completion. If all you had was the artefact and the evidence of a provenance that would explain how this legendary thing might come to be at this place at this time? Harder, especially if the fraud’s done by someone like the Nitrates who have a good history of creating fake antique recordings.

Then came a revelation whose significance I still don’t quite grasp. Lizz discovered that Silver and Sprocket were adopted, separately, by their film-production-scammer parents. I think the point of that revelation was to explain the Nitrates’ history. And that they grew up moving from town to town, camping out in the local theater of each mark. I guess that explains Silver knowing where to find a hidey-hole in a city theater. But I admit when I list crime-detection plot points I need justified, “villain knows a secret place to hide out a couple days” isn’t usually among them. So I don’t get why Lizz figures it’s a big revelation that they’re “merely” siblings by adoption. Or any of the backstory, really. Team Tracy understands the Nitrates’ scam pretty well, and the reader does too. The extra background is nice and interesting and humanizing. But it seems of marginal relevance to the investigation. Maybe she figured it might be something to get inside either Nitrate’s head during an interrogation. I don’t know.

Domain’s doing a good enough job getting in Sprocket Nitrate’s head anyway. He insists on her staying behind when they close the scam with Bea Thorndike. His argument: Sprocket’s hippie-ish Mother Earth stylings are too ridiculous to show to real money. These are meetings in which real grown-up people with names like “Public Domain” who look like Moai statues do serious deals. Silver Sprocket at least looks normal. He means normal for a Dick Tracy universe character. That means he could be slipped into the backglass for the 1991 Williams pinball machine The Party Zone without drawing attention. But Sprocket? Why, she goes barefoot. Silver sticks with Domain, and the promise of money. And shatters Sprocket, who spends a whole Sunday strip singing the Carpenters’ “Another Song”.

But Silver does have his skills. He talks Thorndike into paying a half-million for the recording, when Domain had been hoping for only $50,000. And I’m surprised Domain went to so much trouble when he was figuring to net at most $50,000. You know, you always hear about people leaving money on the table in business negotiations. I should see if he’ll represent me when I pick up some freelance work, in case I ever get some freelance work. (Does anyone need a lance freed? Send me a note.) And yet he only wants $20,000 of that extra, he says. He tells Sprocket how they’ll use that money to vanish.

Silver and Sprocket make plans. Silver: 'And then I added $20,000 to the price Domain asked for!' Sprocket: 'Hmmph! Was Domain pleased?' Silver: 'Cheer up, sister dear, THAT'S OUR BONUS! As I see it, Domain won't need either one of us much longer. If you can find us a car, Sprocket, WE'LL GO VISIT MS THORNDIKE, collect our 20 grand and vanish. I've done all the work. Domain can finish the deal himself.' Sprocket: 'I'll get started right now, Silver! I think you'll need me to go out for cigarettes right?' Silver: 'Heh, heh!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 24th of September, 2017. I’m hoping someone asked McMansion Hell about that Olympic-class ski slope of a roof that Domain’s lair has in the middle tier there. Also I don’t know whether it’s architecturally sound to have one of those little arched doorway things on top of another little arched doorway thing but my gut says no, really, no.

Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out who the Nitrates are trying to scam and how they’re doing it when his granddaughter comes in and tells him who they’re scamming and how they’re doing it. With that tip he heads to Bea Thorndike’s. So does Silver Nitrate, who’s shaken his Domain bodyguard with a phony tale of emergency dental needs. (I so expected the dentist would be the guy from Little Shop of Horrors, either version, but no. He’s just a dentist.) Silver offers Thorndike a “genuine 1857 phonautograph machine” for a mere quarter-million. She’s thrilled at the chance to fall for this, and the Nitrates get out just ahead of Dick Tracy’s arrival. Fearing they were spotted, the Nitrates make for the Lyric (movie) Theater. Silver’s got a hideout under the seats somewhere.

Tracy, having had enough of this, arrests Domain and refers to Silver Nitrate as a bunko artist, just like he was on an old-time radio detective program. I mean, he was, but it’s still delightful. Domain takes three panels to go from “I’ll never talk” to “I talked”. Tracy is soon hanging around waiting for someone to come in and tell him where the Nitrates are.

Silver Nitrate hides out, looking for some way to pass the time waiting for the new movie to start its run. The movie is Midnite Mirror. It’s based on a fictional series-within-the-strip based on Dick Tracy that isn’t Fearless Fosdick. Silver takes up “making the theater staff think the place is haunted”. It’s a fun pastime, but carries a high risk of attracting meddling kids. But he fools some human-form cameos from Mike Curtis’s longrunning Shanda the Panda comic book.

On a coffee run, Sprocket Nitrate cute-meets Adam Austin. He’s the renowned author of the Midnite Mirror book. And he’s what might happen if Funky Winkerbean‘s Les Moore were ever to deserve not getting that smirk knocked off his silly face. She is full-on smitten. They make a date to the premiere of Midnite Mirror: The Motion Picture. She agrees to wear shoes for the event. The most open shoes ever, basically a couple of straps looped around each other, but still, shoes. Silver is aghast.

Having a cup at The Coffee Pot. Austin: 'Susan, I truly enjoy these meetings with you. I wonder ... might I escort you to the Halloween premiere of MIDNITE MIRROR?' Sprocket ['Susan']: 'I'd LOVE to go, Adam. Could I meet you here before the movie?' Austin: 'Certainly! The premiere begins at 7. Shall we meet here at 6?' Sprocket: 'Sounds perfect!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 29th of October, 2017. Hey, in the background of the first panel, center row there: it’s the guy who runs the pinball league! Ask him what he thinks of the new Stern Star Wars. (He thinks it’s got some neat shots and the art and sound packages are fantastic but the ruleset is just too crazy complicated to follow.)

Tracy takes a moment to reassure Bea Thorndike that many people have fallen for even dumber scams than this one. Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out where Silver Nitrate is hiding, when the guy Silver Nitrate contacted for help fleeing the country tells Tracy where Silver Nitrate is hiding. The squad closes in on the Lyric Theater and makes ready to nab the bunko artist. And that takes us to this week’s action.

As you see, it’s been a straightforward plot. There’s no baffling motivations or deeply confusing networks of double-crossing to turn the story to chaos. Well, Silver Nitrate keeps changing his story about what he’s doing. But it makes sense he’d tell whoever he’s talking to what they were hoping to hear. Note how he told Sprocket he planned to do more scams with Domain and, after she didn’t want to do that, how he was going to take the $20,000 and vanish.

Tracy hasn’t really done much detecting on-screen. I suppose there’s something to having a good net of informants and identifying relevant gossip quickly. But that does mean the two big driving revelations were things he learned by not covering his ears and shouting “LA LA LA LA I CAN NOT HEAR YOU” is all.

There have been threads of other stories. Let me see if I’ve got all the major ones.

  1. Blackjack asked Dick Tracy to make sure the Tracy collectibles he got Sparkle Plenty to sign last story are safe while he’s in jail. (the 28th and 29th of August)
  2. Undercover detective Lee Emory, as “T-Bolt”, has met Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Tracy. (the 4th through 9th of September)
  3. Speaking of Mister Bribery, the crime boss has checked in on his niece Ugly Crystal at finishing school. She’s learned much. She can cover her eyes so as to make her nostrils and lips look like a very tiny face, and she can blow out multiple precisely-aligned candles using a slug from a slingshot. So she’s ready for a life of super-crime. (the 4th and 5th of October).
  4. And most intriguingly: the person you get by making Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop share a transporter pod has landed a Space Coupe in a derelict farm outside the city. He’s taken out a box of “old currency” and hopes to find “our errant moonling”. (the 18th through 20th of October)

Also there was a strange moment where Sam Catchem got the giggles about an ancient bag of shredded cheese cleaned out of the staff fridge. I don’t know what that was all about. It seems to have been playfulness and/or hijinkery.

Nothing’s been said about the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty residence. Crime Boss Posie Ermine hasn’t apparently done anything about recovering his daughter, brainwashed into the Second Moon Maid. I will count the appearance of Buster Oop as an update on the Lunarian who visited an Antarctic valley in investigation of the Second Moon Maid.

I’ll keep you updated in case anything breaks on these plots. Meanwhile, I encourage you to find someone who will call you “my errant moonling”. You deserve such luxuries in your life.

Next Week!

Has Rufus managed to commit an act of successful woo-pitching with The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom? Or has he lost her affections to an unbearded Elam? We’ll check in with Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley where we meet, of course, Dick Tracy. I swear Comic Strip Master Command is messing with my head.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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