What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Is Marty Moon Going To Get Killed? December 2018 – March 2019


I’m happy to help you catch up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If it’s later than June 2019 when you read this there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. That might help you more.

Also my mathematics blog looks at comic strips regularly. Like, it did so earlier today. You might like them. I help the blog out with some of this looking.

And a warning before I get started. The antagonist in the major storyline of the past three months is presented with multiple personalities. If you aren’t comfortable with mental health problems used for comic-strip villainy this way, you are right. Skip the plot recap below the ‘Continue reading’ link, and we’ll catch back up in June.

Dick Tracy.

30 December 2018 – 23 March 2019

I last checked in Dick Tracy during a Minit Mystery. Donnie Pitchford wrote the sequence. He, among other things, draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. The mystery began the 30th of December, and ran each day through the 13th of January. It was not your classic Ellery Queen-style bit of piling up suspects and stories and finding who said something erroneous. It was more a very compressed story of a mad bomber sending poison gas bombs, and Tracy finding them by … well, detective work.

That’s the side story. The main story had begun the 16th of December. Tulza Tuzon, stage name Haf-and-Haf, having burned half his head with caustic acid, escapes the psychiatric hospital. He’s now calling himself Splitface now and has alternate personas. Still, he’s following his former wife Zelda The Great to Tracy’s city. Last time around I reported that Tracy had, years ago, put away a serial killer named Splitface who was not this Splitface. That seems all right. I had thought Zelda The Great had married First Splitface, not Haf-And-Haf Splitface. But the recap panel on the 14th of January disagrees with me. I have to trust Joe Staton and Mike Curtis on this. They seem like they follow this strip.

Tracy: 'Vitamin, I'm here to tell you Haf-and-Haf is at large. He's now known as Splitface and we think he's in the city.' Vitamin: 'Good heavens! Fear not for myself, but for Kandikane and her delicate condition. And my goddaughter, Zelda! Does she know?' Tracy: 'Yes. We will do our utmost to protect everyone. As a precaution I want you to wear a Wrist Wizard until Splitface is in custody.' Vitamin; 'Thank you, Richard.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of January, 2019. I really like Vitamin Flintheart’s rococo dialogue. You can hear everyone’s eyes rolling whenever he speaks and also his decision that he doesn’t care, he’s having too much fun to cut that out, and good on him.

Vitamin Flintheart is Zelda the Great’s godfather. So she’s got reason to hang around the Patterson Playhouse. He’s playing himself in A Chin To Die For. This is a musical based on the J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip. J Straightedge Trustworthy is a comic strip in the Tracy universe. It’s based on and mocking Dick Tracy himself. The lyrics seem hilariously bad. Also, really? A musical based on Dick Tracy?

Zelda hangs around her godfather, the way people will. So Tracy gives everyone involved Wrist Wizards to contact him in case of trouble. Flintheart thinks “trouble” is Zelda having dinner with Jack Magnus, the drunk actor who plays Trustworthy and hates that fact.

In the nearby abandoned factory district, the Splitface and Haf-and-Haf personalities argue. Haf-and-Haf is content hiding. Splitface wants to act. And there’s a Tulsa Tuzon personality too. If I’m following this right. He’s got a long backstory and the Dick Tracy Wiki is really helping me out here. Oh, neat, the original Splitface was the villain for the 1945 Dick Tracy movie out of RKO.

Haf-and-Haf Splitface picks up homeless guy Clybourne Mayfair as terrified minion. Clybourne had been the name of one of Haf-and-Haf’s best trained crows back in the circus. Splitface goes to work, respecting the classic motifs by stealing some uniforms from a company that makes such. Have to wonder what the theft insurance is for uniform manufacturers in Dick Tracy’s city. Tracy finally skips a performance of A Chin To Die For, and that’s when Splitface and Clybourne knock out the cop and grab Zelda.

Backstage at the Patterson playhouse. Clybourne has grabbed Zelda. Zelda: 'We're going the wrong way! You said I had an emergency call in the lobby.' Clybourne: 'C'mon, and keep quiet!' Splitface: 'Hello, Zelda. You're still as lovely as I remember. AND STILL AS GULLIBLE!' Zelda: 'Who are you? ... TULSA!' Splitface: 'YEAH, YOUR OLD FLAME TULSA IS HERE, BUT I CALL THE SHOTS! // Splitface, don't! It's over! // SHUT UP, TULSA! // Splitface is right, Tulsa. She ratted us out! She dies!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 10th of February, 2019. I understand the Splitface/Haf-and-Haf division, and argument. I don’t understand the Tulsa/Haf-and-Haf division, though, so I can’t tell you which personality is answering Splitface and Tulsa in the last panel there. Also the Dick Tracy Wiki suggests Tulza should be spelled with a Z. I don’t know if there’s significance to the name being spelled ‘Tulsa’ now.

The 15th and 16th of February were a break from this and a foreshadowing of the current storyline. In it a sportswriter whose face we don’t see explains why this rival sportwriter had to die. I had no idea Gil Thorp was going to finish off the Robby Howry threat for good.

Zelda’s lost her Wrist Wizard. The playhouse’s security cameras saw nothing. Do security cameras ever? You’d think they were only in place to accustom people to universal, inescapable surveillance. Well, the cops have to resort to thinking. Chief Pat Patton has a crazy wild hunch, though. I mean, you’d never find a criminal and his henchman holding a hostage here, but, there’s nothing to go on. They’re blue-skying. There’s no bad ideas yet. But here it is: what if they check warehouses?

Zelda, as Clybourne pours water in a tank: 'Don't do this! The dive platform isn't safe!' Clybourne: 'Don't worry. I'm filling the tank. Splitface put most of the platform together himself. We only had a couple of pieces left over.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of February, 2019. I do like the 1940s serial cliffhanger chic of forcing someone to do a high dive into a dubiously-set-up tank.

In the Circling Brothers Circus warehouse Haf-and-Haf and Clybourne are holding Zelda. Zelda used to high dive for the circus. (She’s with Circus Aquatica now.) Haf-and-Haf used to be part of their freak show. Splitface has figured out how to kill her. They set up her high-diving platform and demand she jump. Zelda stalls as long as she can, trying to explain how the show sets this up to not kill her. This isn’t Splitface’s concern. But it’s good vamping. Tracy and his squad see the lights and movement in the circus’s warehouse and interrupt all this.

Splitface orders Clybourne to escape and get to “the place I told you about”. For himself, he’ll either escape or break out of jail again some other time. Fair enough. Tracy and Sam Catchem do shot Splitface, and take him into custody. Clybourne does escape. And we’re left to ponder why Splitface, or one of his personalities, saved the homeless guy he met for the first time earlier that month, reader time.

Splitface, diving to the warehouse floor, while Clybourne flees: 'Run, Clybourne! I'll draw his fire!' Splitface shoots a hole in Dick Tracy's hat. Sam: 'Yikes! Another one for your 'wall of hats'.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 1st of March, 2019. So the ‘wall of hats’ thing: when Tracy gets a bullet in his hat, he replaces it. The old one goes on exactly what the name ‘wall of hats’ would make you think. I first noticed this thing as part of the 2012 sequence that introduced Blackjack. Blackjack’s a super-fan of Dick Tracy, committing crimes mostly to be part of Tracy’s Rogue’s Gallery. Blackjack’s first crime wave he gave himself up once he got to shoot a hole in Tracy’s hat. I have no idea if the Wall of Hats predates the Staton-and-Curtis run of the comic. I don’t remember it from the Dick Locher era, but the Dick Locher era was a bizarre, surrealistic dreamscape from which no narrative could escape. And I didn’t read (or have access to) the daily comic from before Locher and Mike Kilian made the comic.

A plot point left hanging: Vitamin Flintheart begging Jack Magnus to share anything he might know. And why he might think Magnus might know anything.


With the 4rd and 4th of March the current story started in earnest. Detective Joe Sampson visits the strip from 1979. I’m not mocking his (quite normal) fashion sense. I mean this is maybe the first time he’s been in the strip since 1979. It depends how complete the Dick Tracy Wiki is. Sampson had been a close friend and romantic partner to Bonnie Tracy, Dick Tracy’s daughter. She’s interested in meeting him, at least, and he reciprocates the interest. But she has mixed feelings, and spends some time talking them out with Sparkle Plenty.

But there’s work. Sampson’s tracking a serial killer. The killer’s murdering schoolteachers. He’s found a two-week-old plane ticket to Tracy’s city. And last week someone murdered a Tracy City schoolteacher. There’s more links between the Tracy City victim, Frederick Scholl, and earlier victim Ben Friday. They were both basketball coaches. They were both sportswriters.

This mystery needs some suspects, though, so in the last week and a half the strip introduced some. Barnabas Tar is writing for Tracy City’s newspaper The Daily. His editor likes how his trolling gets half his readers loving the column and half hating it. Those pictures of Spider-Man don’t hurt either. Cool.

Editor: 'Barnabas, I respect new points of view, but do you think it's wise to bait your readers?' Barnabas: 'But sir, why should I have all the fun? Everyone wants to play, so I don't just embellish on the facts in my column. I invite discussion.' Editor: 'Incite is more like it. But our readership is up. I can live with it if you can, Barnabas.' Barnabas: 'Will do!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 16th of March, 2019. So what do you think, gang? Is Barnabus Tar just Gil Thorp’s Robby Howry, his chin reconstructed after one too many stupid, offensive stunts at Local Community College that he tried to explain were “just a social experiment”?

We get a moment at the apartment of Reggie “Rocks” Tar, whom I don’t know anything about and the Dick Tracy Wiki doesn’t seem to either. Barnabas is prepping for a date that he “got through a school teacher site”. Reggie has some kind of misgiving we’re not told explicitly. Barnabas says Reggie should know the kind of woman he likes.

Another schoolteacher’s killed. Lee Ebony returns from her post-Mr-Bribery leave of absence. Sampson’s invited to look around the crime scene. There aren’t yet good leads we the readers havebeen let in on.

There we stand.

Next Week!

We continue the centennial year of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. We’re back from the Old Comics Home. What’s happened to the Alley gang since then?

TV host: 'Hi, I'm Rick Steel, talking to local resident Walt Wallet about a milestone! In our little burg there's an alley. You may recognize it from the garage next door, or like my guest, you may have fixed your car there.' Walt: 'Thanks, but ... ' Steel: 'Locals call it Gasoline Alley! This ongoing car repair has been active ... ' Walt: '100 years, Rick!' Steel: 'Walt, were you one of the original resident mechanics?' Walt: 'Do I look *that* old?' Steel: 'Gasoline Alley! 100 years and still going strong!' Walt: 'I think I'll get my hair touched up.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 10th of March, 2019. I’m not sure why they ran this tribute now, as opposed to at the comic strip’s centennial or the anniversary of Skeezix’s discovery. It’s possible I missed some other significant date. Also, boy, you forget the comic strip was based on “guys hanging out trying to get their cars to work”.

Well, they’ve been visiting friends. More in seven days, barring surprises.

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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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