What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Daddy Warbucks really kill his wife? March – June 2019


Thanks for wondering about Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If it’s later than about September 2019, there should be a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. This should get you up to date on what’s happening as of mid-June 2019.

Dick Tracy.

24 March – 16 June 2019.

There was a special guest star in Dick Tracy last time around. Not from another comic strip. Joe Samson, who’d been a character in the late 70s, was back. He’s pursuing a Tacoma serial killer who’s murdering schoolteachers. Schoolteachers who are also basketball coaches and maybe sportswriters. We readers know who it is, and why he changed towns. It’s Barnabas Tar, hit new sports columnist for The Daily. He’s moved because his brother Reggie “Rocks” Tar thought this might stop his brother’s murdering.

Tar’s newest killing makes the papers. And gets him a Serial Killer Headline Name, “Teacher’s Pet”. The Tacoma newspapers called him that too. This outrages the killer. He confronts Wendy Wichel, star crime reporter for The Daily. And threatens death if he calls her anything but The Professor. She writes up the encounter for The Daily. And hasn’t got much more to share with Tracy. The Professor had a disguise. Also one of those voice altering devices that exists in this kind of story.

[ The SBN Parking Lot - As Dark As It Gets ] Wendy Wichel, to a masked assaulter: 'W-What do you want?' Professor: 'Your story about the murder was an INSULT! Do I look like a 'Teacher's Pet' to you?' Wichel: 'No!' Professor: 'I don't pander to anybody! I teach the teachers about death! You will call me 'The Professor'! Understand? Use 'Teacher's Pet' again and you'll be victim number eight!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 31st of March, 2019. Also hey, check that Crimestoppers reference to The Stan Freberg Show. The sixth and eighth episodes included a “Face The Funnies” sketch in which people too smart for their own good talk about such nonsense as … Dick Tracy and … Little … Orphan … Annie. Hm.

The investigation’s short on leads, so the subplots have to pick up the slack. Bonnie Tracy, who turns out to be a schoolteacher, takes the class on a tour of The Daily newsroom. Barnabas Tar is smitten with Bonnie Tracy, and they set a date at Coletta’s Restaurant. And just in time, as Reggie Tar has thought hard about his brother’s serial-killing and decided to call the cops on him. One might complain that once again Tracy gets the solution handed to him, no super-detective work needed. And I admit I’m not the crime podcast listener in the household. But my understanding is “family member turned them in” is one of the top ways serial killers get caught. It’s that and “gets stopped for an expired license plate and somebody checks”. Tracy catches up with Barnabas Tar at the date with Bonnie. Barnabas flees, out the kitchen and into the alley. Cornered in an alley, he tries to shoot Tracy and misses. Tracy tries to shoot Tar and succeeds.

(Gunshots in an alley between The Professor and Dick Tracy.) Tracy; 'Stay still. I'm calling an ambulance.' The Professor, falling into a heap of garbage: 'Don't bother ... dying in a garbage dump ... how ironic.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of April, 2019. Not to pick on someone’s dying utterances here but … I’m not clear what the irony is here. I can headcanon this, certainly, fitting it to Barnabas Tar/The Professor here having been proud to make it out of the dumps. And there’s no reason that his dying thoughts have to be anything Tracy would understand. I feel unsatisfied that they’re something we readers don’t quite fully have.

So that covers the Teacher’s Pet killings. The only big loose end is that Bonnie Tracy still has ambiguous feelings for Joe Samson, who’s been less a part of this story than you’d expect. But Samson doesn’t have to leave the strip just yet.

And some other busienss. The 26th and 27th of April, Vitamin and Kandikane Flintheart’s son is born. He’s named Kane Flintheart. Seems cute as kids go, so far as I can tell.


The 28th of April started another Minit Mystery, a two-week diversion written by Jim Doherty. The framing device is Dick Tracy recounting his time as police chief of Homewood. This for the benefit of Patrick Culhane and Austin Black, history writers. The story’s illustrated in a different style to the modern Dick Tracy usual. And it’s soaked in bits I love from old-time-radio detective stories. Wide-open cities run by gangsters, mayors being elected on a reform slate, protection rackets, insurance fraud.

The mystery featured a lot of text, though, and a lot of plot. When I read this as it came out I felt lost. I trusted that if I read the whole two weeks’ worth of strips at once, it would make better sense. It does. The solution is — well, it’s sensible. I’m not positive that it’s adequately planted by the narrative. But the puzzle would not have taken Dick Tracy so long without all the heavy plotting and heaps of information piled on the reader either. So was it fair? … Yes, I’ll say it was. I hope not only because I can imagine, say, Gerald Mohr reeling off Dick Tracy’s lines here.


Back to the main continuity. The current story started, more or less, the 13th of May. (There was one day’s strip previewing it before the Minute Mystery.) It features a special guest star. B-B Eyes’s trial for murder has hit a snag, from the prosecutor’s point of view. Its main evidence, the sworn statement of Trixie Tinkle, is missing. So is Tinkle. She was last seen on a cruise with her husband, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Yes, the story is a chance to check in on Dick Tracy‘s foster comic, the orphaned Annie.

Trixie Tinkle’s been missing for twenty years. I have no idea whether this is something from the actual Annie. I’m sorry. GoComics has Annie comics going back to spring of 2001, but I don’t have the kind of research time for that. Tracy’s sent to ask Warbucks about the disappearance of his wife.

Tracy: 'Oliver, you've been married ... ' Warbucks: 'Yes. Twice, at last count. My first wife took in an orphan. It was a fad. I came home and there was Annie. I'll always be grateful for that.' Tracy: 'And your second wife?' Warbucks: 'Kind of nosy today, eh, Tracy?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of May, 2019. That’s some typically good use of shadowed faces especially in the first panel. Also this strip makes me realize I don’t know the canonical explanation for how Warbucks and Annie ever met. I think like most people of my age cohort I just knew … uh … it was like in the Broadway musical that we never saw either, right? More or less anyway. So I appreciate getting the surprising news that Warbucks had a wife and she did the hard work of making the comic strip happen.

Warbucks doesn’t want to talk about his wives, and being rich and white, doesn’t see much reason he should answer fool questions from a public servant. But he’ll admit eternal gratitude to his first wife for taking in Annie. His second … he calls a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work. Like, how could Annie know someone who disappeared twenty years ago? Also, wait, how can B-B Eyes have been waiting twenty years for a trial? (B-B Eyes was thought dead during that time which, yeah, would delay his being brought to trial.) Also wait, Oliver Warbucks hadn’t adopted Annie before … recently? Really? That seems weird, but … I mean, I’m not going to challenge Joe Staton and Mike Curtis on story strip continuity.

It’s not just you, though. Emphasizing that Tinkle’s disappearance was twenty years ago, instead of a vague “years ago”, is weird. I think most comics readers accept this sort of floating timeline continuity. You know, where we don’t bring up that Tracy’s been about the same age since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. Maybe it is going to be important that this was twenty years ago, but as of now, I don’t know why “years ago” wouldn’t suffice.

Meanwhile B-B Eyes thinks he might be able to do something, now that the key evidence against him has vanished. He visits lawyer Tim Jackel, who’d tried years ago to get Tinkle a separation from Oliver Warbucks. Jackel actually says he got “a beating”. I’m not clear if he means in court or with a diamond-crusted mace. You don’t want to think that Oliver Warbucks, one of the protagonists of a long-running story comic, would be a violent and malevolent person. Then you remember he’s not just a billionaire, he’s a munitions manufacturer.

[ B-B Eyes's Apartment ] B-B: 'Tim Jackel! Long time no see!' Jackel: 'Same here! What can I do for you, B-B Eyes?' B-B: 'I've got to find someone, Tim. A showgirl named Trixie Tinkle.' Jackel: 'Trixie? You can have her as far as I'm concerned . I tried to get her a trial separation from her husband, Oliver Warbucks. What a beating I got! It wasn't long after that she and Warbucks took a world cruise. Trixie never came back.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of June, 2019. I’m very distracted in this side of the plot because I would swear that “Tim Jackel” is the name of somebody I play pinball with. So I keep thinking what the odds would be against him in a head-to-head match on Bad Cats. I like my chances. I can usually grind out the center ramp shot.

Anyway, B-B Eyes knows that Tinkle spoke often with a woman named Gypsy Gay. She might know something that might be admissible. He hires Jackel to track her down. Also searching for Gay: Dick Tracy. All they have to go on is her employer from when Tinkle vanished. And the hopes that that employer maybe knows where she’s gone. Really I would’ve checked Facebook first.

Gypsy Gay turns out to be in the other plot thread. Honeymoon Tracy, Ugly Crystal, and Annie are hanging out at the hotel Siam. It’s Annie and Warbucks’s home for the summer. Annie realizes she doesn’t have a toothbrush so stops in the gift shop where, what do you know, but Gypsy Gay is working. Ugly Crystal makes a note of her name. Why? She says “I collect unusual names,” or as they are known in the Dick Tracy universe, “names”. Jackel, reading the comics as they come out, passes news of Gay’s location on to B-B. But will Honeymoon Tracy ever pass on to her grandfather what she just learned? Guess what happened today, then. I’ll let you know if you’re right in, oh, let’s say September.

Next Week!

With “Buy-Buy” Bertie’s land swindle foiled, what more could be happening in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley? I should reveal all in seven days.

Revealed today: what syndicated comic strips discussed something mathematical in the past week. I hope you enjoy my blend of pop-mathematics discussion and acknowledging that students don’t like story problems.

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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.

3 thoughts on “What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Daddy Warbucks really kill his wife? March – June 2019”

  1. You should check out the “”To Tell The Truth” episode with the person who apprenticed the LOA creator, he shows off copies of the first few strips and Bill Cullen gets to be an evil butler when Gary Moore has the panel play act them.

    Like

    1. Ah, thank you. That sounds like good fun and it’s amazing to think of a time that comic strip creators might be reasonable guests for a parlor-game game show. Or that there would be parlor-game game shows.

      Like

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