What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who is Dethany and why does she look like a villain? May – August 2020


Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.

Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.

While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.

On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)

It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.

(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)

Dick Tracy.

17 May – 9 August 2020.

Actress Fortuna Dyer was getting into character for her Breathless Mahoney bio-pic. Thing is Breathless Mahoney was a villain. Dyer wants information out of B.O.Plenty, who back before his heel-face turn kind of got pretty near murdering her. Tracy gives Dyer an interview, recapping the Mahoney-Plenty story of the 40s. And asks her not to contact Plenty, who’s gone all good.

Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.

Shaky: 'Breathless, we've been at this for two weeks now. What would you say to dinner with no movie talk?' Dyer/Breathless: 'I wondered when you'd bring that up. Sure, we can go out. But tell me something ... do you shake *all* the time?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2020. “Because if you do shake all the time, well, this could be even better than that time I was dating Chef Wiggly!”

Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.

Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.

In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.

So a thing Ugly Crystal maybe never mentioned to Shaky when he mistook her place for a safehouse? Her dad’s Lafayette Austin, undercover cop. Also he has like a dozen belt buckles so it’s easy to find one’s missing.

On the movie set, Shaky, playing Original Shaky, says, 'Come on, Breathless. I said I was sorry.' Dyer, as Breathless: 'No, Shaky. I don't take that from anyone. We're through!' Shaky: 'Please, baby?' Dyer: 'No. I've filed charges.' Shaky: 'You what?' Dick Tracy: 'Shaky.' Shaky: 'Buzz off! This is none of your business!' Tracy: 'Oh, but it *is*. You're under arrest.' Shaky: 'Ugh ... Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of June, 2020. Having yet another instance where characters play Dick Tracy characters, particularly with Current Shaky playing Original Shaky for this movie cameo, made this a confusing strip to read when it came out. What we’re seeing here, through the first panel of the bottom row, is a movie scene being filmed with Shaky playing his uncle the Original Shaky, and Dyer playing Breathless. The last two panels are the real Dick Tracy intruding, breaking up the scene with an actual real-world arrest. This seems needlessly jerky of Dick Tracy. Like, he couldn’t have waited one minute for the scene to be clear? But, Shaky responding to something off-script so plausibly suggests that maybe his real calling was an actor. He’s certainly not a competent crook.

Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.

Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .

Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.


The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.

Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.

The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.

Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.

Alex Wilson: 'What have you tried to persuade Miss Dendrobia to leave?' Coney: 'The usual cat and mouse. But she won't scare. After the last try she brought Dick Tracy into the situation.' Wilson: 'We may be on borrowed time, Coney. You've had no luck finding Viller's Millions?' Coney: 'No, but too many of his old mob remember his bragging about it being hidden in that warehouse. It MUST be there!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of July, 2020. OK, yeah, but, like, Villiers was operating in the 30s. There was probably some candy bar named “Villiers’ Millions” and it was advertised as the combination bar that filled you up like a five-course dinner served to a member of the Sugar Trust. They sponsored Stoopnagle and Budd for three months in 1934.

Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.

Howdy gets some information from Bookworm, which might be a shout-out to the Adam West Batman. With that information he drives over to On The Fastrack and kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre. Howdy gives Dendrobia the ultimatum: get her boss (Rose Trellis) to let go of the warehouse and she gets Guy Wyre back.

And, the 9th of August, Sam Catchem meets up with Sleet. Catchem knew her back when she was a racketeer and paid $500 to kill him. So it’s nice they’ve gotten past that. What relevance it has to these proceedings is unknowable as of Sunday. (He was getting information about Wyre’s kidnappers.)

This catches you up to mid-August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020, or want what Dick Tracy news I come across, I may have something at this link. Thank you.

Next Week!

I look through a couple months’ worth of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, unfortunately still in reruns for the dailies. I believe at least some of the Sunday strips are new, but haven’t checked. I’ll let you know what I find.

And one last note. Over on my mathematics blog I’m spending the rest of the year explaining one mathematics term at a time. I’m leaving a lot of mathematics terms un-explained. But you might like what you see. Thanks for reading.

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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