What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Were those drones from the future watching Dick Tracy? October – December 2021


The big storyline in Dick Tracy was set off by “Time Drones”. That is, the kind of hovering aerial camera/microphones used to record viral videos of drivers attempting the new traffic circle. The Time Factory blew up, though we saw many drones hovering over the ruins. And Smith asks if Tracy remembers “what my first time travel drone, the ‘mystery ship’, saw”. Tracy does, and Smith says, “I think that future is now”. Tracy’s memory is better than mine, or those of most readers. jonahhex1, a GoComics commenter, identified what all this was about. The fleet of drones was not from our, 2021’s, future. By “The Future” what was referenced was this moment from 2014, the story introducing the time travel shenanigans into our strip:

Diet Smith, explaining: 'As you remember, Tracy, my son, Brilliant, was killed by the criminal, Big Frost. I began project 'Blue Image' to go back in time and save him. I tried countless modifications. But it was impossible to dictate the era the 'Mystery Ship' would travel to. Each try became more perilous. So I stopped. Of all the images we received, the last was most telling. It was of this building, all gone but for some rubble atop its cornerstone, while aircraft filled the sky overhead.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 6th of November, 2014. I think we’re all impressed that Staton and Curtis dropped in something that they wouldn’t pay off for seven years. But I would like them to pop over and borrow some narrative bubbles from The Phantom because one little tag reading “Nov 6, 2014” would have saved me a lot of confusion reading the strip. Now on to resolving the haunting of B.O.Plenty’s home!

These drones, then, are not a fleet of onlookers from the future gawking at a major disaster. They’re just contemporary drones gawking at a major disaster. Diet Smith has said he doesn’t plan to build new Time Drones, and nobody’s been shown trying to change his mind.

This should catch you up to December 2021 in Mike Curtis, Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. (Joe Staton stepped down from the strip in late October.) If you’re reading this after about March 2022, or any news about the comic strip breaks, I should have a more useful essay for you here.

And a last bit of self-promotion. While I’ve put my mathematics glossary project on a (brief, I hope) hiatus, I do still have what I think are quite nice discussions up there. And I’m bringing some older discussions out of the misty past, using the old-fashioned time-droning of going on at length. Thanks for considering my pop mathematics writing.

Dick Tracy.

3 October – 25 December 2021.

Diet Smith’s newest super-invention is the Time Drone, able to bring aerial surveillance to anyone, anytime, through all history. I know, you’re busy thinking how “the past” includes split-seconds in the past. But I ask you to consider how much this could mess up Silver and Sprocket Nitrate’s forged-historical-movies business. By day it offers glorious opportunities to historical and archeological researchers. By night it offers Sterling Eliot, Smith Industries mole on behalf of The Apparatus, the chance to find lost loot for the crime syndicate. And, for himself, a chance to look at this coming week’s lottery numbers. At least until the Time Drone apparatus explodes, killing Eliot and two others, and wounding Diet Smith.

Sterling Elliot, working the Time Drone apparatus; in view is a newspaper mentioning the $1.75 billion lottery jackpot. Elliot thinks: 'I've done all the footwork and erased the tracks for The Apparatus. After this trip, I can write my own ticket out of here.' Something goes awry with the Time Drone, that shivers and wobbles around uncontrollably: 'What? ... The diagnostics report was clear ... I CAN'T STABILIZE IT!' The Time Drone explodes, with the explosion going on to shatter the whole building.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of October, 2021. I’d thought the problem might have been the attempt to send a Time Drone into the future, rather than the past. But the ‘Mystery Ship’ went into the future all right, in that 2014 strip. I suppose we have to conclude it was just a mishap of technology that’s still young, even if it could be operated by a lone person, that caused Sterling Elliot’s untimely death.

Diet Smith convalesces under the care of Daddy Warbucks, a man who knows how to not get in trouble when people around him turn up dead. (Fun fact: both Oliver Warbucks’s first and second wives died while with him at sea.) Tracy, meanwhile, pursues Briar Rose. She was the Law Enforcement Magazine reporter who’d interviewed him the previous month, and was going on to interview Diet Smith. She was a fraud, not affiliated with Law Enforcement Magazine or any other magazine. It’s a slender lead, but the only one they have.

It’s also a good one, as she is under The Apparatus’s protection, whether she likes it or not. She has some criminal “business” going on, that I can’t quite get clear. But The Apparatus is the bigger fish, so if they say she has to work from their hotel room, she has to work from their hotel room. Ace of Spades, the head of The Apparatus, decides she’s a good one to take the blame for whatever the heck happened at Smith Industries. He has her put somewhere Dick Tracy can find her after her shocking death.

Briar Rose, being arrested: 'Yeah, I'm okay, but he was going to kill me!' Sam Catchem: 'He's not a problem anymore, Ms Rose. I'm Detective Sam Catchem. We've been looking for you.' Rose: 'I know. Take me to Dick Tracy. I'll explain everything to him.'
Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 15th of November, 2021. One can snark that this is another Dick Tracy mystery resolved by dumb luck. If Catchem hadn’t decided to try a new deli he’d have missed the whole thing. But Briar Rose’s offer to tell everything is motivated, at least if we trust she worked out that the promise of a ‘safe house’ was a lie. It’s a reasonable thing for her to work out, even if it was worked out off-screen.

Sam Catchem finds her, though, as she’s being moved in. It’s a lucky break; he happened to stop at the deli underneath the death-site apartment. He follows, catching and shooting the zentai-clad assassin holding Briar Rose. Rose is happy to flip, and I can’t blame her.

Dick Tracy moves fast, taking on the disguise of the Jack of Spades, Rose’s failed assassin. So he’s doing some actual super-detective work here. Mumbles takes him back to the Ace of Spades, who wants to know, where is Rose’s body? If Rose is dead, why was “Jack” unconscious when Mumbles recovered him? What about this makes any sense? And as it’s weeks away from my plot recap, they tear his hood off and reveal Dick Tracy. Meanwhile the cops, who’ve been listening over the two-way wrist radio, move in and grab everyone with a weird face or speech gimmick. Ace of Spades as well as Doubleup are able to escape through the plot tunnels, but otherwise it’s a pretty good catch of villains.


The next phase started the 11th of December. This with a museum exhibit on America’s Top Cop. That would be Dick Tracy, who’s been fighting The Apparatus (under various names) for 90 years now without clearing them out of the city. But then The Apparatus (under various names) has been trying for 90 years to kill Dick Tracy and that hasn’t taken. So Ace of Spades, from his new hiding place, hires Richard “Mr Bones” Bonhomme to take a shot at him. No rush, just, you know, succeed this time.

Blackjack: 'Mr Bones? From the DT Collector Forum?' Bones: 'Correct! I should have known you'd be here, Blackjack.' Looking over the Wall of Hats, Bones says, 'Ah! Even Dick Tracy has a collector's streak in him. Each hat represents a moment when he cheated death!' Blackjack, thinking: 'Except mine, of course.' Bones: 'Let's take in the rest of the exhibit.' Blackjack: 'Agreed!'
Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of December, 2021. Blackjack’s Hat doesn’t represent a time Tracy cheated death. Way back in March 2012 when we met Blackjack, he surrendered to the cops once he was allowed to set Tracy’s hat on a fire hydrant and shoot it. This so he could get a credit on Tracy’s Wall of Hats without risking harm to “my pal”.

Mr Bones’s thoughts turn to Blackjack. You may know him as that guy who played Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumpin” (“I got knocked down/ but I get up again”) while robbing banks and being a Dick Tracy superfan. Blackjack’s storage lock of Dick Tracy memorabilia got stolen recently, and Blackjack broke out of jail to find it. Mr Bones — “From the DT Collector Forum” — hangs out at the exhibit until Blackjack appears, and admits: he’s the one who stole Blackjack’s collection. But he’s happy to return it … we don’t yet know what for.

Yes, it does seem like Mr Bones stole Blackjack’s collection before being hired to kill Dick Tracy. I don’t know whether this is because Mr Bones was hired long before we first saw mention of it. He did say he suspected Dick Tracy might be the target, but I don’t know when he got the idea The Apparatus wanted him to kill someone. It’s also possible (as I write this) that Mr Bones is bluffing about the stolen collection, to manipulate Blackjack.

Also I appreciate that the in-universe Dick Tracy Collectors have a Forum. I hope this means their main social group is on a charmingly semi-maintained phpBB forum rather than being a Facebonk or Reddit or Discord something bad like that.

Meanwhile, Patty Cure, a woman who’d been letting The Apparatus use her doorstep as a package drop, turned herself in. The Apparatus came to her looking for someone with “management experience to run an escort service”. And they didn’t stop pressuring her after the big raids. Lizz Worthington goes under cover as Cure, to learn what The Apparatus does want her to do. And that’s where we stand on the brink of the future.

Next Week!

Is that Halloween party still going on? Why aren’t we seeing more Santa Claus? I look in on Old Time Radio’s own Jim Scancarelli, and Gasoline Alley, to ring in 2022, I hope. See you then.

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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