What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Svengoolie bust an actual vampire? August – October 2020


Svengoolie did not. For a moment it looked like the vampire-killer was confessing to the horror-movie host. Svengoolie was instead used, with some elegance, to provide exposition about how a gadget needed for the story should work.

This essay should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy through to the end of October, 2020. Any news about Dick Tracy that I get, or after about February 2021 new plot recaps, should be at this link.

On my other blog I continue writing about mathematics terms, one for each letter in the alphabet. This past week, I revisited a topic I’d already written, because I forgot I already wrote an essay about tiling. Come on over and stare at my embarrassment!

Dick Tracy.

9 August – 31 October 2020.

Dethany Dendrobia, star of Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack, was the guest star last time we checked in. She was in the Greater Tracypolitan Metro Area to investigate weirdness with a warehouse her company was buying. The weirdness: Coney, an ice-cream-themed villain. He’s searching the warehouse for a fortune left behind by Stooge Viller, a villain who died in 1940, our time. Coney’s desperate because the property management company “accidentally” sold the warehouse to Fastrack. To buy time and the warehouse, Coney’s gang kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre.

Sam Catchem’s informant has a tip for Wyre’s whereabouts: “some old warehouse”. It’s kind of a crazy lead, but you know what? Sometimes the crazy leads pay off. With the help of FBI Inspector Fritz Ann Dietrich they raid the warehouse, catching Coney mid-lick. Coney tries to put it all on Howdy, the Howdy Doody-themed henchman and yes you read that right. Dendrobia finds Wyre, and more, the restroom behind him. And one of those old-fashioned toilets with the water tank that’s up by the ceiling. She pulls the chain and finds piles of cash. This because none of the people searching the warehouse for Villier’s Millions ever looked in the toilet water tank.

Dethany Dendrobia, washing her hands, notices: 'Wow, there's an old-fashioned water tank in this bathroom.' She pulls the chain on the elevated water tank. The bottom of the tank falls out and bundles of money drop from it.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of August, 2020. Yes, Dethany’s washing her hands in that first panel and I don’t know why. She rushed past her bound fiancee to do it, too. One of the GoComics.com commenters speculated that Howdy was planning to keep the loot for himself, and pretended to have found nothing. Possibly relocated the loot while waiting for his chance to sneak it out. This isn’t explicitly supported in the text. But it would answer my doubts that in 80 years nobody checked the water tanks.

So all’s squared away, and Dendrobia and Wyre can get back to their Halloween-scheduled wedding. (It did go on, over in their home comic strip of On The Fastrack, as a mostly online event. Some family attended, after a strict two-week quarantine.)


The 23rd of August started another two-week Minit Mystery, with guest writer Mark Barnard and guest artist Jorge Baeza. The mysterious ‘Presto’ makes the city’s new Aurora Rising statue vanish when his ransom isn’t paid. The story is one of how Tracy follows his one lead. But there is a legitimate mystery and the statue’s disappearance is by a more-or-less legitimate piece of stage magic. Also, there’s a guest appearance by Smokey Stover, so, you’re welcome, Dad. I had nothing to do with it.


The Halloween story started the 7th of September with a mad sciencey-type carving fangs. And in an atmospheric and silent week, does a vampire-attack on a woman, Faith Brown. She dies of blood loss from two wounds in her neck, and there’s chloroform in her blood. He goes on to admire his fang-and-pump apparatus. And how after a “minor adjustment” he’ll be able to add Faith’s sisters’ blood to his “collection”.

Honeymoon Tracy and Adopted Orphan Annie pop into the story the 13th, as their journalism tutor Brenda Starr gives them an assignment. Pick a story from the paper and they do their own investigation. They’re interested in the “vampire” killing. Starr recommends talking with Professor Stokes, Biology Professor at Local College. He’s the guy with the fangs, and he’s known to be an expert on vampire lore. Honeymoon and Annie go to Dick Tracy to see if he can get them an introduction. They’re too young to realize that if you’re even a bit female, and ask a white nerd about his obsession, he will never stop talking to you, including about it.

Professor Stokes, showing his fangs to Honeymoon and Annie: 'There are 'vampire fans' who do practice the consumption of blood, but it is always voluntary, from a donor.' Honeymoon bleahs her tongue out. Stokes: 'Ha ha! I admit I'm not tempted to try it either. If you really want to explore the vampire subculture, I've made a list of books and sites to visit.' He hands Honeymoon a bundle of papers, labelled 'VAMPIRE BOOKS' on top. Honeymoon: 'Thanks, Professor Stokes.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2020. So this one time decades ago I was taking a picture in a dimly-lit computer room. When the flash went off, this friend who had an online vampire roleplay going howled in an instinctive pain. He said it was because the flash was right in his eyes but … you know? I should check how that picture came out. Since it was a photo I took in like 1997, probably unfocused and with everything interesting under-lit.

Tracy goes along with them, though, since he needs to get some suspects into the story. Stokes admits how he’s part of the local Nosferatu scene and sure there’ll be a certain amount of blood-drinking there, but not him. And it’s always from volunteers. And he has some literature.

Meanwhile Faith’s bereaved sisters — Hope and Charity — are not too bereaved not to talk themselves into buying a car with their inheritance. Not from Faith’s death, particularly; a fortune they’d come into before her killing. Their Uncle Matthew had been a “patron to some really eccentric types”. If Faith-Hope-and-Charity weren’t found, the money would have gone to the eccentrics. Have you spotted the eccentric in this story?

Then there’s another break. TV horror-host Svengoolie had a fan send him a “working artificial vampire system”. Could it have something to do with the vampire killing? No, it turns out. The machine’s from a Local College student, and does have actual blood-draw gear, but its motor wouldn’t draw enough blood to kill. And “confessing to Svengoolie” would be weird even for the Dick Tracy universe. But, the Local College student did find the parts he needed from the college lab. And here we get explained how Stokes could make this vampire machine, without a villain monologuing and without anyone telling someone things they should already know.

Honeymoon, to Dick Tracy, driving: 'We're going to see SVENGOOLIE?' Tracy: 'He called and wants to meet us at the TV studio.' Annie: 'I watch his show on Saturday nights back home. I can't wait to tell Daddy, Punjab, and the Asp about this!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of September, 2020. “Daddy Warbucks is busy this week informing heads of government at the G8 summit just what symbolic reforms the wealthy are going to allow them to make in the next year. And after that he’s visiting Mr Am, his immortal friend who’s Ambiguously God. But once he’s back from all that he’ll be very impressed I saw a man who says `Berwyn` while stagehands throw rubber chickens at him.”

Professor Stokes learns of Hope and Charity buying a car with the money he feels entitled to. I don’t know how. He calls Hope Brown, though, with the promise of running a new-car-warranty scam. And stops in, coincidentally as Brenda Starr is visiting. Starr mentions she bought a new car and needs a warranty scam. He doesn’t have a card, he explains, but jots down his name and number.

Starr goes into action, because what kind of agent meets a client without business cards? In 2020, when I’m assuming smartphone owners transfer contact information by waving their phones in someone’s direction. So she calls Dick Tracy with her suspicion that Hope Brown’s the next vampire victim.

Hope Brown: 'I'm sorry about the interruption. I'll work up your travel plans right away.' Brenda Starr: 'It's all right. Meeting Mr Stoker was a bonus.' Brown: 'Have a nice day, Ms Starr. I'll be in touch soon!' Starr, thinking: 'Maybe sooner than you think, Miss Brown. I know I've seen 'Mr Stoker' before. And what kind of agent comes to an appointment without business cards?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 15th of October, 2020. Starr knows Professor Stokes, at minimum by reputation, as she’d recommended him to Honeymoon and Annie for vampire information. This may make you ask, then, why didn’t Stokes recognize Starr? But there’s no reason to think they’ve met. She’d habitually be making notes of “people with deep knowledge on esoteric subjects”. And even if they had, normal people do not remember every person they’ve ever met. Even people who, like Brenda Starr, have hair that’s always sparkling in the light.

Stokes descends on a woman leaving Brown’s office. She turns, beating him up. It’s not Hope Brown. It’s Officer Lizz Grove, in disguise. Stokes breaks free, though, and runs to a nearby Jazz festival. And into the path of a cop car, that kills him. The police are aghast at killing a white guy who wasn’t protesting police violence, of course. But that wraps up the vampire problem.

Now the parts where I’m confused. It’s in motivations. I understand Stokes wanting to kill the Brown girls, on the hypothesis that would somehow get him the inheritance. (I can imagine ways Uncle Matthew might have set things up so this could work.) I could also understand him just taking “revenge” on people he’s decided wronged him by existing. I can also understand Stokes wanting this “collection” of blood he mentioned. I don’t understand these motives applying at once. Well, maybe Stokes was a complicated person.

Brenda Starr has one last question, though, for Adopted Orphan Annie. It’s one I would have thought too obvious to ask. Annie could have picked any story in the newspaper to investigate. Why was Annie interested in a weird, freakish killing that drew a six-column, two-deck headline? Why not the business piece about soy futures coming in even more in line with forecasts than analysts expected? Annie explains she knew murder victim Faith Brown, from a distance, aware she had been a kind and helpful fixture of the neighborhood. I guess it’s nice to learn give Faith Brown some traits besides being the inciting victim. But if Annie never met her how did she even know Faith Brown’s name? It’s an explanation that makes me less clear about what’s going on.


Besides the Minit Mystery and the number of guest stars were a few special strips over this era. The 18th of October was dedicated to James “Bart” Bush, a longtime Dick Tracy super-fan who recently died. On the 6th of October much of the strip was given to Sam Catchem reading the “Quowit the Happy Hangman” comic strip.

On the 1st of October we saw a mysterious gloved hand emerge from the rapids. That seems likely to be Abner Kadaver, TV horror host-turned-killer for hire. Last we saw him, back in 2016, he died going over the Reichenbach Falls, like that could ever work. I am surprised he didn’t somehow get into the Halloween story.

Next Week!

I think the story about Joe Pye and his kids, escaped from jail, wasn’t a rerun? So we get back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley and see how they’re handling a reunion with Joe Pye’s wife. Again, that’s if anything goes to plan. Good luck to us all.

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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