What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Why is there time travel now? July – October 2021


The current story in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy has super-inventor Diet Smith sending machines back in time. It’s presented as the continuation of something he had tried before with humans.

Back in 2017 there was a throwaway mention of Diet Smith experimenting with time travel. Denny Lien was kind enough to explain a bit. Some years before 2017, Diet Smith mentioned working on a time machine to rescue his long-dead genius son Brilliant Smith. Brilliant, inventor of the two-way wrist radio, was killed in 1948 by the racketeer Big Frost. But there was no controlling when the time machine would send you, which limits its use for this sort of rescue operation.

I don’t, and Lien didn’t, know quite when this earlier time travel experimentation was done. I assume it’s something from that period in the 60s when Chester Gould tossed all sorts of wacky sci-fi fangles into the strip. You know, the Space Coupe, the psychic Lunarians and Tracy Junior’s bride from the Moon. The nation that controls magnetism controlling the universe. All of that stuff Gould put in with the assertion it was as much hard science as anything done in a forensics lab, scoring an own goal. But I can’t find when time travel was in the strip before. It could have been one of the antics in the Dick Locher run, for example, when the stories became very weird and impressionist and hard to follow. But it’s hard to think of Locher-era characters as driven by the emotions normal people have.

So this should catch you up on Dick Tracy for early October, 2021. If there’s any news about the comic strip, or you’re reading this after 2022 starts, there may be a more useful essay at this link. I’ll try to have one anyway.

And in mathematics blog news: I have interesting material on my mathematics blog. I’ve started my Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z, a glossary of various mathematics terms. The first essay of this year’s set discusses Multiplication.

Dick Tracy.

11 July – 2 October 2021.

Vera Alldid and Mysta Chimera have disappeared, eloping, according to their social media. Everyone agrees it’s unlike them. It threw Alldid’s popular comic strip J Straightedge Trustworthy into unexpected reruns, mid-story. And Mysta Chimera, who’d been doing publicity as the comic strip’s Mars Maid character, had thought Alldid a creep. Still, what are the cops supposed to do about two people vanishing on a story nobody who knows them believes? Look for them?

Tracy: 'I'm familiar with Vera Alldid and his comic strip. We've met on many occasions.' Homer 'Peanutbutter' Barley: Then I'm sure you've seen the news. *Do you believe* he eloped with miss Chimera?' Tracy: 'Not a chance. I know Mysta Chimera very well. She'd never marry him.' Tracy, thinking: 'But it's odd nobody close to her has raised the alarm yet.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of July, 2021. Believe me, I feel weird too wondering why Dick Tracy is showing such restraint in investigating the disappearance. I guess it is better that he’s willing to suppose it isn’t inherently a crime if Mysta Chimera marries someone he doesn’t like.

Homer “Peanutbutter” Barley, a freelance cartoonist and old acquaintance of Dick Tracy, takes action. He points out to Dick Tracy that Mysta Chimera is not actually a Lunarian. She’s the brainwashed, genetically-altered daughter of the quite human crime boss Posie Ermine. Thus she is a missing attractive white woman. With this to go on, the cops swing into action. Tracy checks in with Brock Archival, the last person the missing people were known to meet.

It’s the obvious lead, but it’s a good one, since the wealthy Brock Archival has kidnapped them. He intends to keep them both on his private island, and he’s got the private island — and the ring that neutralizes Chimera’s Lunarian powers — to do it. Alldid shoves them into a secret room when Tracy knocks on the door. Mysta uses her last ounce of strength to blast a telepathic cry for help that Honeymoon Tracy (herself half-Lunarian) picks up. And she relays that to her grandfather.

You might ask: wait, Mysta’s telepathy had been starved by lack of direct sunlight. How can she now have the energy to send out a last blast? Yeah, because if there’s one thing we can’t buy in narratives, it’s the last gasp of an exhausted hero finally making the difference.

Narrator: [ Tracy's search of Archival's home yields silver. ] Tracy, thinking: 'It's some kind of metal object, but it seems to be stuck beside, not under the molding ... A used pen nib! The type Alldid uses to draw with ... now I see ... no caulking and *there's an opening in the wall here*.' Out loud: 'Sam, come here, and bring Archival with you!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of August, 2021. I don’t know how Alldid’s pen nib got stuck there. I don’t see where Alldid planted it on-camera or had an unsupervised moment when he could have off-camera. Still, the pen nib is there, isn’t it?

With something that kind of resembles probable cause if you squint, Tracy asks to inspect Archival’s mansion. And he consents, because how could you find people shoved into a closet? This does give us some actual super-detection. Tracy follows strange scuff marks in the carpet to find one of Alldid’s drawing pen nibs. From there he finds the secret room holding Alldid and Chimera. Archival fumes that Tracy can’t possibly prove a kidnapping charge and Chimera kicks him in the Great Hall.

So, the 20th of August, this story resolves. Alldid gets back to his studio to draw comics. Chimera gets home again. The powers-controlling ring gets handed to Diet Smith because when would he ever do something ill-advised or dangerous with super-technology?


The next and current story got seriously under way the 21st of August, although it had a teaser a few weeks earlier. This debuts Diet Smith’s newest creation, the Time Drone. It’s a drone, like you might fly over the park and record video with, except it travels through time and space too.

Hooded woman, wearing a Queen of Spades card: 'Stealing the time drone won't be easy. Dick Tracy's a close friend of Diet Smith. He always shows up when Smith's tech is threatened.' Ace of Spades: 'I have plans for Dick Tracy. There will be plenty to keep him busy.' Queen: 'And what about your friends in the Apparatus?' Ace: '*What* friends?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of September, 2021. I suppose as long as they keep looking around and not seeing a Time Drone pop into the room gathering evidence they can feel confident their plan is working.

Smith’s got a few videos. Dick Tracy’s iconic villain Flattop. The building of the Great Pyramid of Giza. He sends one to Ford’s Theater to catch a show. Another to see Washington’s Inauguration. The “treasure pit” at Oak Island, Nova Scotia. He announces this to the public, and the Ace of Spades, new head of The Apparatus crime syndicate, sees opportunity.

We don’t know his plans. From the 9th of September we got a short diversion, Dick Tracy talking with Briar Rose of Law Enforcement Magazine. Tracy tells the story of how the murder of Tess Trueheart’s father spurred him to move from patrolman to detective. How the city attracted newer and weirder criminals. How Tracy stepped up to become the super-scientific detective of world renown. It all smacks of an anniversary celebration, and it’s curiously timed: the comic strip debuted on the 4th of October, 1931. I’m not sure why this sequence ran a few weeks early except perhaps to get us fans talking about it early?

Tracy: 'I'm glad to tell you what I know of our precinct's history, Miss Rose. It won't be dull, I promise.' Rose: 'Thank you, Detective Tracy.' Tracy: 'This precinct was established during the era when gang bosses, made rich and powerful by Prohibition, reigned over the city with little fear of consequence.' Rose: 'My! How wild and woolly were those days?' Tracy: 'The lives of ordinary citizens were often in peril. It wasn't unusual for gun battles to be fought on city streets. Some of the older buildings still have bullet holes. In fact, it was during a robbery that my fiancee's father was shot and killed.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of September, 2021. This particular strip comes up to but doesn’t quite force us to accept that Tess’s father’s murder was in the Prohibition era (for us readers it was in 1931). Look at precisely what’s said. So that’s a fair squaring of the circle that these characters don’t (much) age without retconning events to have happened later than they appeared in the newspapers.

And then one more story promising to start. Blackjack broke out of prison. Someone stole his collection of autographed Dick Tracy memorabilia and he intends to do something about it.

Not particularly threatening to be a story: Rikki Mortis is pregnant with Abner Kadaver’s child. So there’s the hope for a new generation of horror movie hosts to be Dick Tracy villains.

How does the Time Drone fit into Blackjack’s plans? I don’t know. They might not at all. Staton and Curtis are comfortable introducing something they don’t follow up for months. Sometimes years. Several years ago B O Plenty complained that his house was haunted. Could that be the Time Drone which we saw used to take photographs of the whole entire family? I’m not confident saying it is. We’ll have to check back in a couple months.

Next Week!

Bears discover fire, and they don’t approve. All that and leaf-gathering as as I recap Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, if things go well.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

4 thoughts on “What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Why is there time travel now? July – October 2021”

  1. How did the story with the society lady who was being scammed by a crook who claimed he had a recording of Lincoln end? Is Diet going to sell her the “Our American Cousin” footage?

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    1. Oh, now, that fell apart when Public Domain, the guy closing the deal with the society lady, figured he could leave the Nitrates to hold the bag over the scam, and the Nitrates didn’t care for that. Somehow and I don’t seem to have recorded how, Honeymoon Tracy learned who the society lady being targeted was, and Tracy went after the scammers there. Sprocket Nitrate escaped the police dragnet and started dating author Adam Austin. That’s all summarized at https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/2017/11/06/whats-going-on-in-dick-tracy-august-november-2017/ although I think I probably would summarize it better if I wrote it today.

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