What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? How was Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy supposed to work? February – May 2020


There is no possible way that Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy could have worked.

I’m happy to catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here.

Also, if you’re interested in comic strips with a mathematical theme? I am, too, and I write about them regularly at my other blog. Plus there’s some other interesting stuff happening there. I hope you enjoy.

Dick Tracy.

23 February – 17 May 2020.

Shaky, nephew of a Dick Tracy antagonist killed in the 40s, was attempting revenge. His plan: give an alibi to James McQueen, who he doesn’t care anything about. McQueen had been convicted of first-degree backstory. The evidence against him was gathered by Tess Tracy’s detective agency. Shaky figured to extort Tess Tracy. His deal: she pays him to suppress his (fake) evidence, or he goes to the press saying she suppressed evidence.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. The only way it could fail is if Tess reports the scheme to her husband, star detective of the Major Crimes Unit. Somehow, she does. Shaky shows up for his first payoff, and Dick Tracy provides it by shooting him. Shaky shoots Tess, though.

[ The Tracy Agency ] Shaky: 'Time's up, Mrs Tracy! Your payment is due today and I'm here to collect.' Dick Tracy: 'And I'm here to arrest you for extortion, Shaky!' Shaky: 'Aw, heck no! BACK OFF, TRACY!' He reaches for a gun; Tracy shoots him. Shaky shoots wildly(?), hitting Tess Tracy.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of March, 2020. Tess Tracy would spend a while in the hospital. I’m not sure we’ve seen her discharged yet. We did see several days of doctors agreeing this was very serious and Dick Tracy seen from behind, standing somberly.

Shaky and his wife(?) Edison flee to a safe house. “Ugly” Crystal, daughter of undercover cop Lafayette Austin and (the late) Ugly Christine, is there. I think we’re supposed to take that Shaky got a key to the house from Mister Bribery, Ugly Crystal’s uncle. Crystal takes this intrusion with calm. She nags him about smoking until he flees, and then calls the cops.

Shaky and Edison show up at the door of his cousin Quiver Trembly. Who tells him to get lost: she’s dealt with Dick Tracy twice and has had enough. But he has ideas to help Trembly’s charity-donation scam. So she agrees to deal with his crazy. Within minutes, the cops converge on him. Trembly says she’s not even gonna fight this. I’m not clear that she has any reason to think Dick Tracy knows she exists, but I understand her wanting to skip to the end. Edison gets out of the car and tries to get lost in the crowd. Shaky, though, he’s got a plan.

Shaky, on a steel girder, shooting down: 'Stay back, you lousy cops!' Dick Tracy, through a megaphone: 'Shaky, throw down the gun or we'll shake you off that girder!' Shaky: 'The devil you will!' Tracy, to crane operator: 'Start moving the girder!' Shaky: 'NO! STOP IT! I GIVE UP!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of April, 2020. I’m supposing the interrogation of Shaky mostly centers on “what about your plans made you think they were anything but quite bad?” and “have you considered that you’re not good at crime?”. Maybe, “so have you ever had a plan that turned out like you planned?”. Certainly at least “do you have other interests that might get you not-arrested sometimes?”.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. Shaky holds a construction crew foreman at gunpoint, demanding to be raised by a crane on a steel girder, the better to shoot Dick Tracy. So, you know something? Using a handgun? From 50 feet off the ground? When you’re on a steel girder? Held only by ropes? That you cling to? When you’re a guy named “Shaky”? Turns out that’s a bad way to be a sniper. The cops arrest Shaky, and Trembly for good measure. And figure they’ll get the accomplice (Edison; they don’t know who she is) later on.


The 7th of April saw the new, current story start. Its center is B.O. Plenty, Junior Tracy’s father-in-law. And like many Staton/Curtis stories, it’s steeped Dick Tracy lore of the 40s. Breathless Mahoney was, before Madonna played her in the movie, step-daughter of the original Shaky. I learn from the Dick Tracy wikia, which tries to explain the Plenty-Mahoney connection. If I have it right, Mahoney, on the run, stumbled into the Plenty farm. While hiding there she drugged Dick Tracy and, with fled to the city with Plenty for some reason. They got separated, but reunited when Plenty stole the car she was hiding in. Plenty strangled Breathless “nearly to death” while robbing her. She got arrested and recovered from the battery, but died in prison anyway of plot disease. B.O. would reform and become a respectable citizen and part of the Tracy clan.

B.O. Plenty, reading the paper: 'Some outfit is shooting a movie in this city! About Breathless Mahoney! Gertie don't know anything about me and Breathless, and I want to keep it that way. My lettle Sparkle don't know her pappy was almost a murderer!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of April, 2020. I guess B.O. Plenty’s explained things just fine here. I don’t know that I need to detail it further.

So, someone’s making a bio-pic about Breathless Mahoney. B.O. Plenty tries and fails to keep the news secret from his family. The lead actor, Fortuna Dyer, wants to know everything about Mahoney. So she’s talking with everyone who knew her. And she’s telling people to call her Breathless during the film shoot. And while she talks with Dick Tracy. And while she looks over Mahoney’s career and works out exactly when and how she blew it. She mentions how she’s a method actor. So she’s looking forward to a long life as a respectable and respected member of society.


Those are all the major plot threads that have been going on the last few months. There are a couple of minor ones. The most ambiguous is a two-week Minit Mystery, written and drawn by Charlie Wise. It’s about Mysta Chimera, who used to be Mindy Ermine, a crime boss’s daughter. She got mind-wiped and genetically engineered to be the new Moon Maiden. So now she’s a Lunarian with sci-fi powers that Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science. In the “Mystery”, Chimera gets kidnapped. It’s by Scarmony Corybant, former cellmate of Mindy Ermine. Corybant’s looking for plans for the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s famous magnetically-driven spaceship. Which, again, Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science.

[ Minit Mysteries ] Corybant: 'You can't imagine what it was like after you stopped writin'! I waited, always hopin!' Mysta Chimera: 'I was kidnapped! They took away my memory!' Behind them is a jail cell, with the figure of Corybant curled up and shown only in silhouette, to reflect it being a memory. Corybant: 'You really won't remember? We were gonna buy a pony farm together.' Chimera: 'IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT?!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of April, 2020. Guest artist and writer Charlie Wise. I won’t quarrel with you if you don’t like the way Charlie Wise drew the characters. But having Corybant’s memory be shown behind them, with herself in a featureless outline (done several times in the sequence) is a quite good choice.

While fighting Corybant, Chimera says how now she remembers hating her jokes. Corybant complains how Ermine broke her promise to write her cellmate. Or to, when they got out, buy a pony farm, which Chimera finds as weird as I do. They fight long enough for Dick Tracy to arrive, and catch Corybant. Chimera, though, thanks Scarmony “for showing me who I was,” and does buy a pony farm. And sends Corybant, in jail, pictures from it.

So, first, this wasn’t any kind of mystery. Not in any aspect. Second, it seems to establish that Chimera is regaining some memories of her life as Mindy Ermine. Is that part of the continuity now? I would be surprised if Staton and Curtis would let Charlie Wise change something about a major character in a way they didn’t approve. But it does mean they have an excuse to revert this change if they decide they don’t like it. So I’m not quite sure what we did watch, then.


Another little bit: Annie Warbucks has been accepted into the Young Journalists Academy. One of her teachers is another cancelled-adventure-strip star, Brenda Starr. I wasn’t figuring on some vague wordplay when I started that sentence, but you’ll notice I let it stand.


Mysta Chimera, who’s been having a heck of a year, got a visit from Dennis Deyoung, of Styx. This in a follow-up to her being kidnapped by a Mister Roboto-themed Styx fan.


And Dick Tracy put off talking with Fortuna “Breathless II” Dyer a bit to recommend against paroling William “Broadway” Bates. Bates is a con artist, going back in the strip to 1932. He’s also The Penguin’s brother, but in ways that could be denied in front of a trademark hearing. So that’s a refresher that the character exists and might do a thing.

Next Week!

Farms: they’re like scrapbooking, but for food! What does this weird string of words mean? My recap of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley should have an answer. Someone remind me to answer that.

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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