The current storyline in Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy included some scenes at a furry convention. It was a decent way to get the story’s main villain (Art Dekko) on-screen and explain his deal (art forgery). And, along the way, we encountered Mumbles, whom you remember from that one odd yet strange scene in the Dick Tracy movie. I mean the one with the polar-bear-shaped water cooler that’s a tape recorder. Mumbles says he’s a furry and acts surprised Tracy didn’t know.
It’s a moment that left me startled. It felt weird to write a personality trait like that into a character who’s been with the comic since before anybody ever heard of Chuck Yeager. I understand, Mike Curtis is the writer of the strip, he has the right to play with the character any way he likes. But — as with Francesco Marciuliano’s decision that Abbey Spencer’s father had a secret second family — I do wonder how the writers feel about adding big new traits to long-established characters. I’d love to know if they feel intimidated changing, or at least augmenting, someone that way.
Oddly, this threw me more than the same storyline’s revelation that Officer Lee Ebony, part of the strip since the Carter administration, was lesbian or bisexual. I don’t know why this registered as different except maybe that the Mumbles news came first. But I know at least one friend of mine wondered if Mumbles was there as part of the storyline, using “I’m a furry” as his abili. Doesn’t appear to be so; he just, you know, has a life outside whatever his exact guitar-based crime deal is.
And there might be something Mike Curtis has in mind for all this. He’s a writer not afraid to plant stuff for use years later. For example, and relevant to the first story of this recap, Curtis established Sam Catchem as a fan of the fictional-in-our-universe comic strip Derby Dugan ages ago. (For us, it’s a series of novels by Tom De Haven, with illustrations by Art Spiegelman.) It set him up as having a reason to hang around the Derby Dugan musical being put on at Vitamin Flintheart’s theater.
So this should catch you up on the comic for the end of January 2023. All my plot recaps, and news about Dick Tracy, should be at this link. So if you’re somewhere around May 2023 or later, you’ll probably find a more useful plot recap there. If you’re here at the end of January or the starting end of February 2023, though, read on. This may help.
30 October 2022 – 28 January 2023.
Steelface, who runs an automobile chop shop outfit, called in a favor from his nephew Robert Parrish. Parrish had wanted a key part in the Derby Dugan comic strip musical and Steelface arranged it. In trade, Parrish swiped a couple cars needed to make quota. One happened to be Derby Dugan superfan Sam Catchem’s car. With Catchem’s wrist radio in their possession Steelface’s gang can clear out ahead of the cops’ raids.
Derby Dugan author Tom De Haven (to them, historian of the strip) meeting the performers causes Parrish to twig onto Sam Catchem being a cop. Before he’d only known him as a friend of Vitamin Flintheart hanging around the theater a lot. And guilt-stricken at this, he sneaks Catchem’s wrist radio out of his uncle’s shop and back to Catchem’s pocket.
Steelface, fuming about the theft of the wrist radio, has a car accident. He drives to the hospital where they start giving him an MRI. The powerful magnets resonate mightily with the chunks of metal in his face. They cause extraordinary pain before the hospital staff yanks him out of there and asks, oh, like you were named Steelface literally?
Parrish, who’d got a text his uncle Steelface was in an accident but nothing more, comes clean about everything to Catchem. Steelface, maimed by the MRI pulling his skin out, decides to take his chances with car crashes. He races out of the hospital to find his car, ironically, stolen. Or “stolen”, since he was using a bait car, and Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem were right there to pick him up. And that wraps up the story, the 25th of November.
After a pause to observe Charles Schulz’s centennial the current story started. Tom De Haven is back, looking unsettlingly like Les Moore, to show Dick Tracy some animal cells he got from a 1930s Derby Dugan cartoon. Tracy’s impressed, he guesses, until De Haven reveals there were never Derby Dugan cartoons. Someone’s selling forged animation art. This … doesn’t seem like a Major Crimes Unit case. But Dick Tracy knows who’s writing this strip. He goes to meet Sam Catchem’s pal Eric, who deals movie memorabilia at Fanfur Con. That’s how we get the revelation about Mumbles mentioned above.
Eric’s not saying he knows anything but that Art Dekko guy’s selling counterfeits. So he is, although not clearly enough that Tracy and Catchem can nab him. But he’s got a plan, that he explains to his moustachioed assistant, Sue Reel. Art Dekko explains a lot this story, mostly by explaining how Art Dekko didn’t get where he did by making obvious mistakes. Such as taking shortcuts in his counterfeiting. We get this shown by his demanding wardrobe tags for a fake George Reeves Superman costume be made right. (Granting, that is the sort of oversight a casual inspection would catch.)
His big plan? Faking a Leonardo da Vinci. In Paul Chandler he has a talent who can do the painting. He sets Chandler up with period materials and special paints and access to da Vinci sketchbooks. And while Dekko is happy to explain this to his assistant, he’s not telling anything where any cops can hear.
Enter Blaze Rize, last seen in the strip somewhere around 2015-16. She had been part of a scam to defame Dick Tracy with forged video. She turned state’s evidence against the gang. In the past few months she’s started a relationship with officer Lee Ebony, who’d met Rize when undercover in Mr Bribery’s gang. She’s willing to do the cops a solid and goes into Dekko’s memorabilia shop. She finds a post-it note to ‘Call Paul Chandler’, the first thing that looks anything like evidence for the cops.
Fortunately, everybody is ready to blow up a perfectly good scam. Chandler demands a bigger share of the Da Vinci job. Dekko declares he didn’t get where he is by not being fair, and agrees. And pays for Chandler to take a vacation in Panama City, Florida. Dekko then declares (to himself) that he didn’t get where is by doing his own killing. He calls a hit man named Kriptonite, or Kyptonite, or Kryptonite, depending on which day you read. And before he knows it Chandler enjoys an early-morning swim with nobody but the fishes and the hired killer spearing him, leaving his corpse to wash ashore days later.
Dekko tells Reel he’s going to Chandler’s place, pretending to check on him. He’s confronted by a woman calling herself 99 and demanding half the da Vinci job’s take. And warning she’ll call in Kryptonite if Dekko tries to trace her. She muses how if Chandler had needed Dekko’s connections to pull off the scam, and if he’d only kept his cool … and, of course, she’s planning to knock off Dekko whatever happens. Meanwhile, Dekko observes that he didn’t get where he is by not being able to turn people against each other. Where he is is hiding in the storeroom, living on Montoni’s Pizza, so you know he’s in dire straits. He’s thinking of how to break up whatever links 99 and Kryptonite might have.
And that’s how we got where we are now. We have had a couple appearances by Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, who’s got some hand in Diet Smith rebuilding his laboratory. And worrying about Annie growing up. And, this Sunday receiving a mysterious package that Diet Smith needs to know about. We may suppose that’s to be dealt with in a coming story.
Garbage truck rides: are they only for the impossibly old anymore? Or are they also for immortal being such as Santa Claus? Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is unafraid to tackle the tough issues, and next week, I might be too! See you then.