What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What’s Detective Frisk doing not being dead? September – November 2019


Evening, everyone wondering what’s going on in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, which also holds older Dick Tracy recaps. Thanks for reading.

Dick Tracy.

8 September – 30 November 2019.

Dick Tracy had just wrapped up a story when I last checked in. They were moving into two weeks of a Minit Mystery, solving a poisoning. That started the 1st of September and ran through the 15th. Makes things very neat for me. It featured characters from the Friday Foster comic strip of the early 70s.


The story opens with Detective Frieda Frisk. She’s been busy the last few years, ever since she died in the line of duty. She explains to Dick Tracy that yeah, back in a 2004 adventure Sal Monella drowned in the river. But you all just thought she drowned too. And since she was reported dead at work, she figured she might as well not come in anymore. Before you ask whether this makes sense please consider that Sal Monella had previously been crushed in a trash compactor. He turned up alive, albeit more cubical than before, and a legit concert promoter. Again, if you aren’t regularly going “wait, what?” you aren’t reading the real Dick Tracy.

[A familiar face from the past] Tracy; 'DETECTIVE FRISK?' Frisk: 'Ah, you got me, Tracy. Which is more than I can say for my would-be assassin.' Tracy: 'We all thought you DIED in pursuit of Sal Monella. What happened, Freida?' Frisk: 'Well, obviously Monella drowned and I didn't. Anyhow, Justice was serviced, and since I don't play well with others, I decided not to return to the MCU. For the past few years I've been investigating the activities of Mrs Clair Howell. Her specialty is selling infants to prospective parents.' Tracy: 'A baby broker.' Frisk: 'One of the biggest. She's been in the business for decades.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2019. I do not know whether we’re meant to take it that Frisk saw Monella drowned, or whether she’s just supposing someone who seemed to have drowned, and hasn’t made contact with any of the people he knew for a decade and a half now, must be dead. Anyway, Monella’s thing when he was a concert promoter was set-decorating a venue with real actual garbage, and somehow this was a major hit, netting like nine million bucks before Frisk decided he needed to be not so alive. Monella’s original scheme, when he was first a villain in the comic, was selling recycled garbage as discount airline snacks, which gave Dick Tracy a case of amnesia, causing him not to wonder why a discount airline has snacks. I don’t know, I’m just telling you what’s on the Dick Tracy Wiki.

Anyway, Frisk’s new job is providing family information to Howell Babies. These are the children sold, for decades, by Clair Howell’s for-profit adoption agency. Which Frisk notes is not against the law, merely wrong. Frisk gets back in touch with Tracy because she shot an extra named Edward Delacroix. But she was going contact him anyway. She’s discovered that Officer Lizz Worthington-Grove, who’s been in the strip since the 50s, was also one of Howell’s sold babies. Tracy has questions. Frisk says she doesn’t know why Delacroix was shooting her. She also won’t reveal how she’s getting the Howell’s adoption records.

The Howells would like to know that too. Their plan of sending Edward Delacroix to shoot the information out of her didn’t work. They think long about what motivates people besides bullets, and hit on the idea of money. It turns out Frisk herself is a Howell Baby. They take the chance that Frisk’s birth mother, Lily Seven, would take money in exchange for setting up a trap. So she would.

Seven contacts Frisk, claiming to have only recently found out about her from Howell. Frisk and Tracy grant Seven might be working with Howell. But she’s interested in where this is going. It goes to dinner, and a movie, and before long, going to see Vitamin Flintheart in Our Town. They’re having a great relationship except for how Seven is only in it as long as Howell’s bankroll holds up.

Tracy: 'Well, Frisk, it's been two weeks and no move against you. How are you and Lily getting along?' Frisk: 'Eh, I could still be on someone's marked list, so I'm keeping an eye out. As for Lily, I think she may be on the level.' [ Elsewhere ] Lily: 'Look here, Clair, I'm getting tired of playing Mommy. When are you gonna make your move?' Clair Howell: 'The next time you meet with Frisk.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 10th of October, 2019. Really genuinely curious what the small talk between Seven and Frisk is like. “So, uh, when you decided to just go along with the people who decided you were dead, uh … like … did that get the student loan people off your back? Because if plunging into the icy rivers of Tracy City and then never returning to your workplace or apartment is what it takes, I can think of some people who’d figure that’s worth it.”

Seven and Frisk go to Our Town again, I’m assuming because The Best Man was sold out. At the close of the play Seven jabs a hypodermic into Frisk’s neck. Seven and the Howells, who’ve been lurking around the show, drag her away.

They have a great plan to kill Frisk only slowly and uncertainly. They drag her to the abandoned building district, and to the roof of the Crow-Infested Building Hotel. There they tie her to the Roof Machinery and leave her in the rain-turning-to-snow. There’s only one possible way that she might escape. And that is if her Wrist Geenee, the souped-up version of the Dick Tracy Wrist-Radio that they were using in the early 2000s, was not in fact destroyed when she wrestled with Sal Monella in 2004, but instead fell into the lining of her jacket where it has rested ever since, waiting for the random motions of Frisk trying to break the zip ties binding her arms to her legs to activate its distress signal mode on a frequency still monitored by contemporary Dick Tracy Wrist Wizard technology, which it has retained enough battery power to do for fifteen years. And what do you know but — ! So Tracy’s able to rescue Frisk before she would plummet to her death.

Tracy, racing to the rooftop where Frisk is about to fall to the ground: 'FRISK! DON'T MOVE!' (Grabbing her.) 'I've got you!' Frisk: 'T-Tray! How'd you find me?' Tracy: 'Your Wrist Genii signalled me. You're freezing.' Frisk: 'M-my Wrist Genii? I LOST IT when I fell in the bay chasing Sal Monella.' Tracy, tearing it out of her coat as he unties her: 'It's in the lining of your coat! Your struggling must have activated it.' Frisk: 'Tracy, I'm so SORRY about the mean things I said to you.' Tracy; 'We're OK, Frisk. Now come in out of the cold.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 3rd of November, 2019. Not denying that it’s a normal and realistic and human thing to say, but: Dick Tracy yelling at Frisk to stop falling off the roof makes me so happy. Really great stuff there. (They spelled Frisk’s device as the Wrist Genii here, although back in the early 2000s it was called the Wrist Geenee. I do not know what significance this change in spelling has and would not rule out that Genii is easier to letter.)

The Howells hear about this on the news and just. Can. Not. I sympathize. They make a break for it as cops converge on their house. The Howells spot one cop car, T-bone it, and keep going. But that’s damaged their own car, and when its tire blows the car careens off a bridge into the river below. Tracy calls for an ambulance and divers, but there’s not much to do. When you’ve witnessed two people get dumped into the cold waters and not come up you have to accept them as dead. Tracy asks Frisk about her plans.

She figures to carry on contacting Howell Babies and offering them information on how to contact their birth parents. Oh, and she’ll definitely stop back in when Lily Seven’s trial comes up.


So that, the 14th of November, closed out the story that’s dominated the last couple months. It also introduces the new, currently-running story. It opens at Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (motto: “Get it? Eh? EH?”). We know it as the facility holding Tulza Tuzon. Tuzon’s half-handsome, half-monstrous face earned him the performing and crime name Haf-and-Haf. He contracted a case of Soap Opera Multiple Personality Disorder. If that’s the sort of subject matter you do not want in your casual entertainment, you may want to drop Dick Tracy from your reading the next couple months. So far Tuzon hasn’t done very much in the story that any old villain looking for revenge wouldn’t be doing anyway.

The person we see on screen might be acting in the character of Tulza Tuzon, or as Haf-and-Haf, or as the particularly villainous Splitface. Which gets even more confusing than usual, because there was another, earlier Splitface in the Dick Tracy universe. I think that this Splitface has taken his name in tribute to the older one. But, gads, they aren’t making it easy for me. Haf-and-Haf was a character Chester Gould created in the mid-60s by Totally I Swear Not Having Heard Of Two-Face Over In Batman.

Last time I dealt with Tuzon/Haf-and-Haf/Splitface, they were kidnapping Zelda, Tuzon’s ex-wife. Along the way they picked up a sidekick, a homeless guy name of Clybourne Mayfair. The kidnapping plan didn’t work, but Splitface orders Clybourne to escape before the cops finally close in.

Anyway, Clybourne’s popped in again, pretending to be a statue delivery guy to Wertham Woods so he can sneak Tuzon/Haf/Splitface out. He’s not out to kill Zelda this time and anyway she’s out of the country. Instead he’s got a car bomb project. A two-car bomb, that he sets off outside the Hotel Siam when Dick Tracy’s car pulls up. You’ll remember the Hotel Siam as the place where Oliver and Annie Warbucks stayed while they were most recently in the strip. The bomb doesn’t kill Tracy or Sam Catchem.

Car explodes. Narrator: 'Tracy, Sam, Steve, and Mike narrowly escaped a car bombing at the Siam!' Steve Roper: 'This is quite a welcome, Tracy.' Tracy: 'Yes, isn't it?' Sam Catchem: 'Friends of yours, Tracy?' Tracy: 'Sam, this is Steve Roper and Mike Nomad.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of November, 2019. “Sam, did I mention I’ve been learning how to throw my voice? … … … I’ve been learning how to throw my voice.” Anyway, did you know that Steve Roper and Mike Nomad was written by Allen Saunders, who also wrote Mary Worth for like six hundred years back in the mid-20th century? And, yes, the strip started out as a joke strip titled Big Chief Wahoo, and changed. So it did the Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy thing of changing genre, and the Barney Google and Snuffy Smith or Robotman/Monty thing of getting a new cast and dropping the old. Comic strips used to be even weirder.

It does reveal this story’s special guest stars, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. From the remembered comic strip Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. When that comic was last seen, in December 2004, Steve Roper was the editor of Proof Magazine. Mike Nomad was a private eye. Together they’d have action-adventure stories that I never read. I mean, c’mon, who was doing story-comic snark blogging in 2004?

Roper’s car was completely destroyed by the bomb. Roper and Nomad were in town, by a great stroke of luck, investigating Tulza Tuzon. Nomad explains they knew Haf-and-Haf, from an investigation they ran ages ago into carnival cons. The one they could pin on Haf-and-Haf: the old purse-snatching-crows plan. Which, I read, was part of the original Haf-and-Haf story in 1960s Dick Tracy. They spotted Haf-and-Haf’s scam, called the cops, and Tulza went on the run. He ran all the way into a truck carrying a vat of toxic disfigurement chemicals. So, uh, good job, Proof Magazine, giving some supervillain his Origin Story. I get why Tuzon would be aiming a bomb at them; what I don’t know is why they figured they had to come back into town now and be a target for him.

And that’s where the story has gotten to, as of Saturday.

Next Week!

Will I get to talk about old-time radio? It’s time to explain what’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, so, yes. Catch you in a week, unless something demands the publication slot first.

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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