What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Daddy Warbucks really kill his wife? March – June 2019


Thanks for wondering about Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If it’s later than about September 2019, there should be a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. This should get you up to date on what’s happening as of mid-June 2019.

Dick Tracy.

24 March – 16 June 2019.

There was a special guest star in Dick Tracy last time around. Not from another comic strip. Joe Samson, who’d been a character in the late 70s, was back. He’s pursuing a Tacoma serial killer who’s murdering schoolteachers. Schoolteachers who are also basketball coaches and maybe sportswriters. We readers know who it is, and why he changed towns. It’s Barnabas Tar, hit new sports columnist for The Daily. He’s moved because his brother Reggie “Rocks” Tar thought this might stop his brother’s murdering.

Tar’s newest killing makes the papers. And gets him a Serial Killer Headline Name, “Teacher’s Pet”. The Tacoma newspapers called him that too. This outrages the killer. He confronts Wendy Wichel, star crime reporter for The Daily. And threatens death if he calls her anything but The Professor. She writes up the encounter for The Daily. And hasn’t got much more to share with Tracy. The Professor had a disguise. Also one of those voice altering devices that exists in this kind of story.

[ The SBN Parking Lot - As Dark As It Gets ] Wendy Wichel, to a masked assaulter: 'W-What do you want?' Professor: 'Your story about the murder was an INSULT! Do I look like a 'Teacher's Pet' to you?' Wichel: 'No!' Professor: 'I don't pander to anybody! I teach the teachers about death! You will call me 'The Professor'! Understand? Use 'Teacher's Pet' again and you'll be victim number eight!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 31st of March, 2019. Also hey, check that Crimestoppers reference to The Stan Freberg Show. The sixth and eighth episodes included a “Face The Funnies” sketch in which people too smart for their own good talk about such nonsense as … Dick Tracy and … Little … Orphan … Annie. Hm.

The investigation’s short on leads, so the subplots have to pick up the slack. Bonnie Tracy, who turns out to be a schoolteacher, takes the class on a tour of The Daily newsroom. Barnabas Tar is smitten with Bonnie Tracy, and they set a date at Coletta’s Restaurant. And just in time, as Reggie Tar has thought hard about his brother’s serial-killing and decided to call the cops on him. One might complain that once again Tracy gets the solution handed to him, no super-detective work needed. And I admit I’m not the crime podcast listener in the household. But my understanding is “family member turned them in” is one of the top ways serial killers get caught. It’s that and “gets stopped for an expired license plate and somebody checks”. Tracy catches up with Barnabas Tar at the date with Bonnie. Barnabas flees, out the kitchen and into the alley. Cornered in an alley, he tries to shoot Tracy and misses. Tracy tries to shoot Tar and succeeds.

(Gunshots in an alley between The Professor and Dick Tracy.) Tracy; 'Stay still. I'm calling an ambulance.' The Professor, falling into a heap of garbage: 'Don't bother ... dying in a garbage dump ... how ironic.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of April, 2019. Not to pick on someone’s dying utterances here but … I’m not clear what the irony is here. I can headcanon this, certainly, fitting it to Barnabas Tar/The Professor here having been proud to make it out of the dumps. And there’s no reason that his dying thoughts have to be anything Tracy would understand. I feel unsatisfied that they’re something we readers don’t quite fully have.

So that covers the Teacher’s Pet killings. The only big loose end is that Bonnie Tracy still has ambiguous feelings for Joe Samson, who’s been less a part of this story than you’d expect. But Samson doesn’t have to leave the strip just yet.

And some other busienss. The 26th and 27th of April, Vitamin and Kandikane Flintheart’s son is born. He’s named Kane Flintheart. Seems cute as kids go, so far as I can tell.


The 28th of April started another Minit Mystery, a two-week diversion written by Jim Doherty. The framing device is Dick Tracy recounting his time as police chief of Homewood. This for the benefit of Patrick Culhane and Austin Black, history writers. The story’s illustrated in a different style to the modern Dick Tracy usual. And it’s soaked in bits I love from old-time-radio detective stories. Wide-open cities run by gangsters, mayors being elected on a reform slate, protection rackets, insurance fraud.

The mystery featured a lot of text, though, and a lot of plot. When I read this as it came out I felt lost. I trusted that if I read the whole two weeks’ worth of strips at once, it would make better sense. It does. The solution is — well, it’s sensible. I’m not positive that it’s adequately planted by the narrative. But the puzzle would not have taken Dick Tracy so long without all the heavy plotting and heaps of information piled on the reader either. So was it fair? … Yes, I’ll say it was. I hope not only because I can imagine, say, Gerald Mohr reeling off Dick Tracy’s lines here.


Back to the main continuity. The current story started, more or less, the 13th of May. (There was one day’s strip previewing it before the Minute Mystery.) It features a special guest star. B-B Eyes’s trial for murder has hit a snag, from the prosecutor’s point of view. Its main evidence, the sworn statement of Trixie Tinkle, is missing. So is Tinkle. She was last seen on a cruise with her husband, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Yes, the story is a chance to check in on Dick Tracy‘s foster comic, the orphaned Annie.

Trixie Tinkle’s been missing for twenty years. I have no idea whether this is something from the actual Annie. I’m sorry. GoComics has Annie comics going back to spring of 2001, but I don’t have the kind of research time for that. Tracy’s sent to ask Warbucks about the disappearance of his wife.

Tracy: 'Oliver, you've been married ... ' Warbucks: 'Yes. Twice, at last count. My first wife took in an orphan. It was a fad. I came home and there was Annie. I'll always be grateful for that.' Tracy: 'And your second wife?' Warbucks: 'Kind of nosy today, eh, Tracy?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of May, 2019. That’s some typically good use of shadowed faces especially in the first panel. Also this strip makes me realize I don’t know the canonical explanation for how Warbucks and Annie ever met. I think like most people of my age cohort I just knew … uh … it was like in the Broadway musical that we never saw either, right? More or less anyway. So I appreciate getting the surprising news that Warbucks had a wife and she did the hard work of making the comic strip happen.

Warbucks doesn’t want to talk about his wives, and being rich and white, doesn’t see much reason he should answer fool questions from a public servant. But he’ll admit eternal gratitude to his first wife for taking in Annie. His second … he calls a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work. Like, how could Annie know someone who disappeared twenty years ago? Also, wait, how can B-B Eyes have been waiting twenty years for a trial? (B-B Eyes was thought dead during that time which, yeah, would delay his being brought to trial.) Also wait, Oliver Warbucks hadn’t adopted Annie before … recently? Really? That seems weird, but … I mean, I’m not going to challenge Joe Staton and Mike Curtis on story strip continuity.

It’s not just you, though. Emphasizing that Tinkle’s disappearance was twenty years ago, instead of a vague “years ago”, is weird. I think most comics readers accept this sort of floating timeline continuity. You know, where we don’t bring up that Tracy’s been about the same age since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. Maybe it is going to be important that this was twenty years ago, but as of now, I don’t know why “years ago” wouldn’t suffice.

Meanwhile B-B Eyes thinks he might be able to do something, now that the key evidence against him has vanished. He visits lawyer Tim Jackel, who’d tried years ago to get Tinkle a separation from Oliver Warbucks. Jackel actually says he got “a beating”. I’m not clear if he means in court or with a diamond-crusted mace. You don’t want to think that Oliver Warbucks, one of the protagonists of a long-running story comic, would be a violent and malevolent person. Then you remember he’s not just a billionaire, he’s a munitions manufacturer.

[ B-B Eyes's Apartment ] B-B: 'Tim Jackel! Long time no see!' Jackel: 'Same here! What can I do for you, B-B Eyes?' B-B: 'I've got to find someone, Tim. A showgirl named Trixie Tinkle.' Jackel: 'Trixie? You can have her as far as I'm concerned . I tried to get her a trial separation from her husband, Oliver Warbucks. What a beating I got! It wasn't long after that she and Warbucks took a world cruise. Trixie never came back.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of June, 2019. I’m very distracted in this side of the plot because I would swear that “Tim Jackel” is the name of somebody I play pinball with. So I keep thinking what the odds would be against him in a head-to-head match on Bad Cats. I like my chances. I can usually grind out the center ramp shot.

Anyway, B-B Eyes knows that Tinkle spoke often with a woman named Gypsy Gay. She might know something that might be admissible. He hires Jackel to track her down. Also searching for Gay: Dick Tracy. All they have to go on is her employer from when Tinkle vanished. And the hopes that that employer maybe knows where she’s gone. Really I would’ve checked Facebook first.

Gypsy Gay turns out to be in the other plot thread. Honeymoon Tracy, Ugly Crystal, and Annie are hanging out at the hotel Siam. It’s Annie and Warbucks’s home for the summer. Annie realizes she doesn’t have a toothbrush so stops in the gift shop where, what do you know, but Gypsy Gay is working. Ugly Crystal makes a note of her name. Why? She says “I collect unusual names,” or as they are known in the Dick Tracy universe, “names”. Jackel, reading the comics as they come out, passes news of Gay’s location on to B-B. But will Honeymoon Tracy ever pass on to her grandfather what she just learned? Guess what happened today, then. I’ll let you know if you’re right in, oh, let’s say September.

Next Week!

With “Buy-Buy” Bertie’s land swindle foiled, what more could be happening in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley? I should reveal all in seven days.

Revealed today: what syndicated comic strips discussed something mathematical in the past week. I hope you enjoy my blend of pop-mathematics discussion and acknowledging that students don’t like story problems.

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What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Is Marty Moon Going To Get Killed? December 2018 – March 2019


I’m happy to help you catch up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If it’s later than June 2019 when you read this there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. That might help you more.

Also my mathematics blog looks at comic strips regularly. Like, it did so earlier today. You might like them. I help the blog out with some of this looking.

And a warning before I get started. The antagonist in the major storyline of the past three months is presented with multiple personalities. If you aren’t comfortable with mental health problems used for comic-strip villainy this way, you are right. Skip the plot recap below the ‘Continue reading’ link, and we’ll catch back up in June.

Dick Tracy.

30 December 2018 – 23 March 2019

I last checked in Dick Tracy during a Minit Mystery. Donnie Pitchford wrote the sequence. He, among other things, draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. The mystery began the 30th of December, and ran each day through the 13th of January. It was not your classic Ellery Queen-style bit of piling up suspects and stories and finding who said something erroneous. It was more a very compressed story of a mad bomber sending poison gas bombs, and Tracy finding them by … well, detective work.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Is Marty Moon Going To Get Killed? December 2018 – March 2019”

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What is a “Neighborhood Bank” Scam? October – December 2018


If you’re looking for a recap of the plot of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, good news! This is a useful spot for that. If you’re reading this after about March 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap. It’ll be at this link.

And while I missed my deadline today, it was for the mathematically-themed comic strips I review at my other blog. But there are many essays in there already, and I hope there’ll be another there tomorrow. You might enjoy that too. Thanks.

Dick Tracy.

7 October – 29 December 2018.

The major storyline when I last checked in regarded Polar Vortex. He’s running drugs, under guise of an ice cream vendor, at Honeymoon Tracy’s school. Henchman Pauly, following Vortex’s direction, grabs Crystal Bribery. And, against Vortex’s direction, also grabs Honeymoon Tracy. And, probably against Vortex’s direction, clobbers Henchwoman “Devil” Devonshire. She’s left behind, for the cops. She stays quiet until threatened with hanging out with new Major Crimes Unit smiley guy Lafayette Austin.

Polar Vortex: 'You're back, Pauly! Did you get the Bribery girl?' Pauly: 'Yes, and the Moon kid too.' Vortex: 'Why, Pauly? I told you I didn't want her!' Pauly: 'Tracy will come for her. And I'll be waiting.' Vortex: 'I had a time and place for you to kill Tracy!' Pauly: 'You put me off too long. TRACY's MINE!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of October, 2018. You know, henchmen wanting to kill Dick Tracy at some other time than what the crime lord wants is rather a recurring theme of this comic strip. They maybe need some task-coordinating software to sort this out. Also, kidnapping Honeymoon Tracy is also a recurring theme. Might want to let the crime lords know that the premise was tried a couple times and it didn’t work the way they wanted.

Polar Vortex and Pauly get to fighting in their hangout. Pauly’s ready to kill Vortex, who’s got the cavalry on the way. He’d taken Honeymoon Tracy’s wrist-wizard communicator out of the ice cream freezer. For some reason Pauly thought this would inactivate it. Tracy and Sam Catchem bust down the door and get into a shootout with Pauly. Pauly lives long enough to say that all this was for his father, Crutch.

… Which you’d think would be a big deal. Or which would be a big deal if it got some attention. Crutch is a character from the very first-ever Dick Tracy storyline. He was the gunman who killed Tess Trueheart’s father. It was the case that brought Dick Tracy into the scientific-detective line. I didn’t recognize this, no, and needed GoComics.com commenters and the Dick Tracy Wikia to guide me. Which all highlights some cool and some bad stuff about Staton and Curtis’s run on the strip. They’re incredibly well-versed in the history of the comic strip and can pull out stuff from about ninety years’ worth of stories. But when they’re doing this isn’t communicated well. To put Dick Tracy up against the son of the first man he gunned down? Good setup. But we didn’t know that was going on until that son was gasping his last breaths. Pauly’s role could be any henchman’s. So, what was the dramatic point made by linking him to the murderer of Tess’s father? In a way that you would never guess without auxiliary material?

Sam Catchem: 'He's down, Tracy!' Tracy, grabbing Pauly by the lapels: 'Where are the girls? TELL ME?' Pauly: 'You #$@&( Cop! The girls are safe ... this was for MY FATHER, CRUTCH ... ' (And an inset panel shows a picture of the original, 1931-era, Crutch, so far as I know.)
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of October, 2018. It’s not me, right? There is something morbidly funny about Pauly’s life here being defined by getting revenge on Dick Tracy, but his being such a marginal figure he’s in like two weeks of strips and gets killed without anyone even really knowing who he is?

Maybe it doesn’t need a point. Life is complicated and messy and has weird links. Maybe Polar Vortex wanted someone who’d try something stupid like this, and summon Dick Tracy’s attention. Tracy does investigate Vortex’s business. I thought he didn’t find anything, but the 18th of November Tracy mentions that Vortex is out on bail after drug-trafficking charges. The kidnapping he seems to get a pass on, even though kidnapping Crystal Plenty was part of the lost plan. Vortex does say he had a plan for killing Tracy, and this was too soon. Maybe Vortex’s plan went wrong. But I’d feel more sure if I were clear on what the plan was.


Well. The next big plot thread started the 21st of October, with the introduction of the (imaginary) comedy duo Deacon and Miller. They’re getting a revival, with a film festival hosted by Vitamin Flintheart plus a new syndicated newspaper comic strip based on the pair. … Which might be the most implausible premise I’ve seen in this strip. And this is a strip that has telepathic, psychokinetic Moon Men and a guy who used a popcorn maker to shoot someone.

The revival’s funded by a trust set up by Miller, redeemable after 40 years. There’s a bunch of money in it, and Polar Vortex has got himself named trustee. And I’m confused on just how myself. It was described as a “neighborhood bank” plan scam. I’m not sure what this is. It reads like the mark (Dick Miller of the comedy team) was convinced to put money into a fake bank. But the scammer went ahead and actually invested it, and pretty well. And I’m comfortable with that, that far. The scam where it turns out to be easier to go legitimate is a fun premise. I loved it in the movie Larceny, Inc. (Well, the movie circles that premise anyway.)

So then to the present day. Vortex got charge of the money, and went looking for Peter Pitchblende. Pitchblende is the grandson of Miller, and rightful heir to all this money, and the point person for this whole revival. Vortex’s plan seems to be to get Pitchblende to sign over the money to him. There’s something I don’t understand in the phrase “neighborhood bank” scam, but I haven’t been able to work out what from the strip. I would understand embezzlement. I don’t understand why Vortex can’t just take the money without involving Pitchblende. Also it seems like the revival got started before Vortex contacted Pitchblende. But that might be that the revival would have been airy plans until Vortex dropped the promise of money into it.

Pitchblende, on the phone to a creditor: 'I'm sorry, Mr Daily. I'll check into it immediately!' Pitchblend, calling Devil: 'Hello, Ms Cypher? I got a call from Mr Daily at the Patterson Playhouse today. They haven't been paid yet.' Devil: 'If you check your copy of our contract, Mr Pitchblende, you'll know we have 90 days from the first notice of a bill to pay it. You gave us their bill just this week.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of November, 2018. Fun activity puzzle challenge: identify a sentence which starts “if you’ll check your copy of our contract” and yet which ends with good news for the person being spoken to. Difficulty level: not in the final scene of a musical comedy where the protagonist is worrying about how he’ll afford to get married when his only asset is that song he sent in to the music publishers.

Well, Vortex’s plan seems to be … being very slow about repaying Pitchblende for out-of-pocket expenses with the Deacon-and-Miller revival. That at least seems like a workable start to a scam. Vortex claims this is a temporary sideline from his drug-dealing at schools. But it’s hard, especially with a small group. And I’m not sure he understands just stealing money. Like, I’m pretty sure even with a drug-oriented racket he could fake Peter Pitchblende’s signature on stuff. Anyway, he feels the personnel shortage. So Vortex hires some guy he sees talking confidently at the coffee shop. The guy’s named “Striker”, or as we know him, Lafayette Austin. (Austin is getting a lot of attention this year, mostly working undercover in foiling various villains.)

Devil, mourning her workload: 'Blah! I hate being stuck at this desk all day! I'll be glad when this Deacon, Miller, and Pitchblende business is over!' [ Elsewhere, at a coffee shop ] Vortex, drinking his coffee: 'I need someone who's good at customer relations.' Austin, next to him: ' ... when all was said and done, not only did the customer reinstate the order, he doubled it!' Vortex: 'That's the man I need!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of November, 2018. So I was workshopping this joke about job-seeking web sites that advertise on podcasts for Evil Masterminds, and I while I might still do that one, I give it freely to any sketch comedy groups in need of a premise. What I’ve got to thinking now is: how in the name of heck did Lafayette Austin figure out to be at this coffee shop at this time, and to start talking about his good customer-handling skills right where Vortex could overhear? And he goes on to talk about his cover story being taken. I’ll grant the cops working out that Vortex goes to this coffee shop regularly and planting Austin there. (It still seems weird to think of crime bosses just going to the coffee shop on the corner though, doesn’t it? I mean, I guess they must, but still?) And I’ll grant Austin overhearing Vortex talking about something he needs and improvising an appealing cover story. Coming up with stories like that on the fly is a decent actor’s challenge and probably a skill you pick up fast if you’re going to be an undercover cop. But this means Austin and his handlers were figuring that Vortex would someday be in the coffee shop, talking to himself about needing someone to do a thing. Why would they figure on that happening?

Austin, working undercover, is able to get at Vortex’s files by the cunning plan of being left alone in the room with them. Vortex likes Striker’s energy. He doesn’t like that of street-level pusher Ballpark, who’s been using the drugs instead of pushing them around some. Vortex sends Ballpark to “the bell tower”, which is a literal bell tower. There’s some setup about the experimental infrasound system being good for … well, it’s got to be killing, doesn’t it?

Start of December. The police sweep up drug dealers around Honeymoon and Crystal’s school. And over the rest of town. The cops close in on Vortex and Devil, up in the bell tower. I’m not sure he did get to killing Ballpark, or ever using this infrasound bell tower death machine. Maybe that’s left for a future villain to use, although I’d hope it gets a fresh introduction and explanation of what it’s supposed to do then. The story’s been one of those with a strong enough line of action that you seem like a spoilsport complaining about key parts of it not explained. It makes my life harder.

(Shootout at the bell tower.) Catchem: 'Tracy! Polar has a gun!' Tracy; 'DROP IT, VORTEX! This is your last chance!' Vortex holds his gun, more feebly, and drops it without shooting Tracy.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of December, 2018. I don’t quibble with Vortex not being able to actually shoot a person, even someone he hopes to kill. There’s a difference between ordering someone killed and doing it yourself and I’ll give Vortex difficulty making that leap.

Vortex tries to, but can’t shoot Tracy. He’s arrested. Austin finds the documents showing that Pitchblende should have the Miller-investment-inheritance. I really don’t understand what the setup of that was. But they turn over the money to Pitchblende and the show can go on. The show features Vitamin Flintheart, playing himself, in a musical based on J Straightedge Trustworthy. This is an in-universe comic strip inspired by and parodying Dick Tracy.


The 16th of December, I believe, starts a new plot. It opens at the Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (get it?) where Tulza Tuzon kills several doctors and escapes during a blackout. Tuzon’s better known to the cops as Haf-and-Haf. He’s got a reputation for breaking out of psychiatric hospitals. Last time he did, he got sprayed with some caustic waste, burning half his head. So since then he calls himself Splitface.

He makes for The City, where high-diving star Zelda The Great is performing. This all gets Tracy’s attention. Tuzon is something of a tribute act. Ages ago Tracy “put away” — I don’t know if he means jailed or killed — a serial killer named Splitface. The original Splitface’s ex-wife is Zelda the Great. Haf-and-Haf is also reported to have developed two alternate personas. That’s a development I’m sure won’t mean that I have to provide a content warning about mental health next time around.

But! That’s on hold for two weeks as the strip does another Minit Mystery. This one written by Donnie Pitchford, who writes and draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. And which makes me finally, about two months late, recognize what “Peter Pitchblende” is a reference to. So, y’know, anyone looking to me for insight please remember that that’s the level I’m working at.

(The Si and Elmer referenced in that strip was a syndicated serial comedy. It’s listed as an attempt at cloning Lum and Abner. I am not sure that both shows aren’t more properly clones of Amos and Andy, with hillbilly rather than blackface comedians. Si and Elmer were elderly small-town residents who decided to go into the detective business. At that point in their own series, Lum and Abner were a justice of the peace and the town sheriff, which makes them almost on-point for a Dick Tracy crossover. I haven’t listened to any of the episodes. Apparently something like 95 of the estimated 130 episodes made survive. That’s an amazing record for early-30s radio. Here are something like 67 of them available for the listening. There might be others elsewhere on archive.org.)

So I don’t know anything about the Minit Mystery besides what you saw in today’s strip. I’ll recap that and whatever this Haf-and-Haf/Splitface plot develops in a couple months’ time.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a hundred years old! How many of those years did its centennial celebration run? What happened with Peggy Lee? Did Walt Wallet move into the Old Comics Home? Find out here, in seven days, or, y’know, skim through the strip yourself. You’ll probably make a pretty good estimate.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who Is Ugly Crystal’s Father? July – October 2018


Hi, readers of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. I do my best here to bring you up to date on the last couple month’s developments. If it’s past about January of 2019 for you, there’s probably a more recent update here. Good luck finding the story you need.

The mathematics you need is over at this link, where I talk about the mathematics last week’s newspaper comics mentioned. I like this stuff. You might too.

Dick Tracy.

16 July – 7 October 2018.

Last time I checked in Dick Tracy was entering a charity bread-making contest so I’m sorry I have to go lie down a bit. All right. Sawtooth hopes to use the chance to kill Tracy; he and his gambling-addict partner Grimm have stolen a bread truck and, saying they were from the charity event, got into the Tracy’s home. They don’t fool Tracy for a second. He used the super-detective work of knowing the restaurant collecting the bread didn’t have a truck to send out. The fight spills out of Tracy’s kitchen, through the glass door. Sawtooth and Grimm flee as cop cars approach.

Catchem: 'How did you know Sawtooth was coming today, Tracy?' Tracy: 'We didn't. Tess and I have been ready for anything since you discovered Sawtooth. We expected Ernie's restaurant to pick up the bread, but when Tess said there was a large truck in the drive, I knew something was up. Ernie's doesn't have trucks.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of July, 2018. Which, all right, Tracy’s reasoning makes sense — and was correctly foreshadowed — except that if Ernie’s doesn’t have trucks where did Sawtooth and Grimm get an Ernie’s Fine Eats truck from? Did they get it painted themselves? Why not a plain white truck that Tracy could take as something rented for the occasion?

They can’t take a train legitimately. Grimm lost the pair’s money betting on horses. Sawtooth (off-panel) kills him, and hops a freight train to Minot, North Dakota. Dick Tracy knows this thanks to one of the informants recruited by Lafayette Austin. Lafayette Austin’s this faintly Shaggy-esque introduced so prominently during the recent Green Hornet storyline that everyone had to wonder what his deal was. Early August, he explains his deal: He knew Mister Bribery and his sister Ugly Christine back in college. Back before Christine Bribery (?) turned to a life of crime. And then a death of leaping from a magnetic Moon Valley-technology Air Car into a smokestack. But he knew Ugly Christine as a beautiful person. He didn’t know she had a daughter. Ugly Crystal, friend to Honey Moon Tracy. Hold that thought.

Sawtooth: 'Grimm, this job was your second chance. Is this how you repay me? By losing my money too?' Grimm: 'It was a sure thing ... owww! Please, Sawtooth, I need a doc. My arm's killin' me!' Sawtooth: 'You're wrong, Grimm. Gambling is going to KILL YOU!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of July, 2018. While we haven’t seen exactly how Sawtooth kills people, it looks awfully likely he just chews their necks open, so I can’t fault them not doing this on-screen.

Sawtooth, in Minot, goes to the Hoagland Cemetery. The grave of one “Private James Wesley Malone, CSA”. The baffling and offensive headstone is a fake. Sawtooth had left $50,000 in cash underneath it. Tracy and Sam Catchem, following the lead of Austin and of Usagi Yojimbo‘s Inspector Ishida, are already there. Sawtooth shoots first. Don’t know whether Tracy or Catchem shoots the bullet that kills him.

(Silhouetted figures at the graveyard.) Tracy: 'You've dodged arrest for too long, Sawtooth. HANDS UP!' Sawtooth: 'DODGE THIS, TRACY!' (He shoots at Tracy and Catchem.)
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 11th of August, 2018. I don’t talk about the art enough here, so let me just say: great panels here. Particularly the use of silhouettes with one item of clothing in the light for Tracy and Catchem.

And then, starting the 19th of August, was a two-week Minit Mystery, featuring as guest artist Rick Burchett. Burchett’s a two-time Eisner Award-winner, has penciled and inked a lot of comic books, and since 2017 pencils Funky Winkerbean. Anyway, this Minit Mystery is set at the Rogue’s Gallery, where a bunch of cosplayers feign being Dick Tracy characters. Lest you think this is entirely two weeks of self-reference and an excuse to show Flattop (deceased 1944) again, know that the Rogue’s Gallery building was established as 704 Houser. That was Archie Bunker’s address.

Anyway, the mystery is figuring out who killed the Cosplay Dick Tracy. It takes a week just to start collecting clues. The resolution is … well, there’s no information given on-camera that would let you find it. But it does show what the critical clue would be. It’s the old minute-mystery trick of an incriminating note that’s been torn off the sheet of paper, but that you can find by scraping a pencil over to read the impression of what was written there.

Third of September, and the start of the current storyline. A drug pusher by the school gets kicked out by a Sonic-the-Hedgehog-haired woman working for “Polar Vortex”. Polar Vortex seems to be quite fond of the air conditioner and he swears he’s got protection. Get his … guy … within six feet of Dick Tracy and “Poof! No more Tracy!” (I would have written “Vanished, without a Tracy” but I’m not the professional here.)

Back at school, Ugly Crystal and Honey Moon Tracy notice the drug dealer. Honey Moon calls her dad the cop, but the dealer confronts her and she kinda moon-electrocutes him. The dealer’s arrested. Honey Moon gets grounded, which I like as a nice understated joke.

Lizz: 'I'm sorry, Lafayette. I didn't know you and Christine were close. Did you know she had a daughter?' Lafayette: 'Huh?' Lizz: 'She's been in boarding schools all her life until recently. Bribery called her 'Ugly Crystal'.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of August, 2018. So what is the over/under on it turning out that when you brush the hair out of her face Ugly Crystal looks just fine, or even, you know, pleasant?

Back to Lafayette Austin. He thinks he might be Ugly Crystal’s father. He goes to Mister Bribery, in jail, for information. Bribery won’t talk with him. Tracy intervenes. Bribery is upset Tracy wants help with that “hippie” Lafayette Austin, which is a pretty good insult. It does kind of match Austin’s look, yes. But also if we accept that he was going with Ugly Christine back in the 60s, yeah, maybe we would have been a hippie. Also, rich old white guys have this weird obsession with hippies coming out and grabbing at the women-folk. So it’s possibly true, it’s funny, and it’s in-character.

It’s a bit of a weird embrace of the time-warped nature of a comic strip where characters age erratically, but, eh, so what? Crystal and Honey Moon also make a reference to “Anything Can Happen Day” on The Mickey Mouse Club and I’m not sure this is something people of their purported age cohort would have experienced. But if Honey Moon’s been a teenager for forty years? Why not?

Oh, also, turns out Lafayette’s brother is Adam Austin who writes those “Midnite Mirror” stories about the Mirror-Universe Evil Dick Tracy. And who’s going around with Sprocket Nitrate, of the film-fraud Nitrate siblings, because this crime-adventure comic is still a soap opera.

Tracy presses, though, arguing that Ugly Crystal should have a family if possible. And Bribery admits that, so far as he knew, Ugly Christine never had another serious relationship. They set up a blood test. Also the chance to meet and, for Austin, to talk about Crystal’s mother. The paternity test comes back, oddly enough sent to the Major Case Unit instead of Austin’s or Crystal’s residences. They’re daughter and father.

(Crimestoppers Textbook warns putting your address on a key makes it easy for burglars.) [ Polar Vortex's Hideout. ] Devil, looking a run-down ice cream truck: 'What the hey?' (Going in to see Vortex) 'Hey, boss. What's that hunk of junk doing here?' Vortex: 'It's all part of the plan, Devil, to recruit Crystal Bribery.' [ Elsewhere ] Dick Tracy: 'Hi, Junior. Is Crystal still getting mail at your house?' Junior Tracy: 'Yeah, why?' Dick Tracy (handing over envelopes): 'These are the results of the paternity test. One for Crystal and one for Lafayette.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of September, 2018. Is … is putting your address on a key something people do? I’ve seen it on hotel keys with a holder promising postage paid if you drop it in the mailbox, but only in hotels from the 1950s or New Hampshire, not anywhere that real people live.

Meanwhile, Polar Vortex is still trying to I’ll go ahead and call it icing Dick Tracy. His plan relates to dealing drugs at Honey Moon’s school. He’s got an ice cream truck. And someone named Pauly who’s a mechanic and comes from a broken home which somehow makes him “valuable” to Vortex. And somehow this is all supposed to come together to destroying Dick Tracy. We’ll see what happens next.

Next Week!

How has Walt Wallet’s toothpaste conspiracy ranting gone? How is his roast of Little Orphan Annie going? Who is that creepily-realistically-drawn woman trading jokes with the cast? All this and more as we check what’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, all going well.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Is The Green Hornet Eating Bread? April – July 2018


I’m glad you wonder what’s happening in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. For me, its the middle of July 2018, and my answers reflect that. If it’s much later than July 2018 I might have a more up-to-date post. It’ll be at or near the top of this page, if there is one. Thanks for reading.

My mathematics blog reviews comic strips too, with at least one post a week about Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and Andertoons. You might like it.

Dick Tracy.

22 April – 14 July 2018.

Central City newspaper publisher Britt Reid is secretly notorious racketeer The Green Hornet. But The Green Hornet is secretly on the side of justice. He sneaks into the criminal organizations that police and even FBI men cannot touch and breaks them up. And now, he’s appeared in Dick Tracy’s city, just behind Central City mobster Cyrus Topper. Reid, in his guise as a respectable newspaperman, and an unsuspecting Dick Tracy are sure they’ll get Topper. Tracy also thinks he can finally put The Green Hornet behind bars. So now sit back, pour yourself a large, hearty bowl of Post Toasties — fortified with pep shot from guns! — and enjoy this past three months’ installments of Dick Tracy and the Green Hornet.

Topper is trying to work with The Apparatus, the major crime syndicate in Tracy’s city. They suspect he’ll bring the Green Hornet in on them. It never crosses their minds that the Green Hornet and his new parter, Red Wasp, might be breaking up criminal organizations. They did, after all, just smash a counterfeiting ring. Hornet and Wasp used the Green Hornet’s supercar Black Beauty to smash it open.

The Apparatus wants the Green Hornet away from Topper’s proposed Protection-Racket-As-A-Service. I’m fuzzy on how that scheme supposed to work. The “protection” is from blackouts on the computers small-time people rent out to banks who need the processing for transfers. Is that a thing?

But I mostly doubt the details matter. The part that doesn’t doubt remembers Matty Squared. Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence agent is laying low in Cyber-Mexico until the heat’s off. But another digital crime thing might be a thread they’re saving for later.

[ LIGHTS OUT! Everybody dance! ] (Dick Tracy and Topper shoot at each other. Green Hornet shoots someone with his gas gun.) Topper's Chauffer: 'BOSS! My gun's in the car!' (Kato kicks the chauffer. Dick Tracy and Green Hornet face each other.)
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of May, 2018. After the fight Tracy calls up Batman and finds out, yeah, all the fights with Green Hornet kind of go like this. It’s totally weird and inexplicable.

Anyway, the Apparatus is confident the Green Hornet won’t muscle in, and assigns Jarman as his first protectee. Topper starts explaining to Jarman that he’ll be paying money when The Green Hornet muscles in, if we pretend guns are muscles. The Green Hornet starts explaining to Jarman that he’ll take the protection money when Dick Tracy muscles in, if we pretend guns are muscles. The Green Hornet drops a gas grenade, making his way to Black Beauty and starting a chase. Topper gives chase. Tracy, somehow, can’t get out of the gas fast enough to chase after the cars. So he instead meets with the police chief’s informant from Central City, Lafayette Austin. Lafayette Austin’s introduced like someone we should recognize. I admit I don’t. He’s not listed in John Dunning’s Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio for either Dick Tracy or the Green Hornet’s radio shows. He might be original.

[ Dick Tracy meets a new ally. ] The Chief: 'Lafayette Austin is from Central City. I pounded a beat there before I came here.' Austin: 'Pleased to meet you, Tracy! I was one of his informants back then. When I learned Topper had come to your city, I followed in case Pat needed help.' [ ELSEWHERE ] Red Wasp/Lenore Case: 'Chief! We've got word from Kato!' Green Hornet, reading the message: 'Topper is escalating his plan. Will keep you apprised.' [ ELSEWHERE ] Topper, crying out to Kato/Shiyaki: 'Shiyaki! Fix me a drink!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 13th of May, 2018. I haven’t figured out what Lafayette Austin’s deal is, but he got a big roll-out in the Green Hornet storyline, and he’s been sent on a mission to deal with Sawtooth in the current storyline.

Topper loses the Green Hornet. Hornet doesn’t return the favor. Kato, the Hornet’s faithful valet, has been secretly working as Topper’s valet “Skiyaki”. Topper figures to try shaking down his an old friend at Mazuma National Bank, before skipping town. But Dick Tracy, tipped off by Austin, is there. The Green Hornet, I assume tipped off by Kato, is there too. Also there: the Green Hornet’s smoke bomb and gas. Also also there: Dick Tracy’s two-way radio gas masks. In the fight, the Green Hornet clobbers Tracy and Kato knocks out Sam Catchem. But they use Tracy’s wrist-radio to summon backup, and leave the also-unconscious Topper for arrest.

Tracy gets credit for arresting Topper, and for scaring the Green Hornet back to Central City. That reported sighting’s premature, made by the Red Wasp — Lenore Case, Britt Reid’s romantic lead — with the backup Black Beauty. It should give Reid time to clear out of town gracefully.


And that, with the 27th of May, closes the Dick Tracy/Green Hornet crossover adventure. The 28th begins a new one, one with many parts moving together. The first part is Sawtooth, contract killer last seen in the strip around Christmas, not-killing Dick Tracy. Mister Bribery, his contractee, micromanaged the murder. You freelancers out there know how it is. Mister Bribery is, from prison, offering $25,000 for the murder of his former pet scientist Ygor Glitch. Sawtooth is up for it, and what the heck, figures he can try killing Dick Tracy again and see what happens.

Meanwhile Diet Smith and the Moon Governor have put together the “Moon Compound”. It’s a museum exhibit meant to explain the Lunarians to the people of Earth who have nothing to fear from their advanced science, and secret colony living in an undisclosed location, and control over magnetism, and cute stubby little antennas, and power to dispense electric shocks severe enough to render adults unconscious, and close ties to the industrialist billionaire Diet Smith who himself enjoys confidential ties with a police officer who has an 87-year track record of extrajudicial killings of suspects in often fantastically gruesome ways. The unwashed masses can have such weird, inexplicable fears!

Ugly Crystal: 'You're lucky, Honeymoon. I never knew my dad. My mom never told me about him, and neither did Uncle Bribery. I don't even know if I'm going to a foster home or an orphanage.' Honeymoon: 'Well, whatever happens, Crystal, you have a friend.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 7th of June, 2018. Honestly sweet moment for some of the personal and slightly soap-operatic elements going on here.

Honeymoon Tracy and her friend Ugly Crystal — Mister Bribery’s niece — bond over their strange family experiences. Honeymoon’s half-Lunarian. Her mother, the original Moon Maiden, was killed long ago. A second Moon Maiden, Mysta Chimera, surgically created by human superscience from the amnesiac daughter of a mob boss, has joined the strip and loosely Honeymoon’s family. Please do try to keep up. Ugly Crystal doesn’t know her father, and Honeymoon wonders whether anyone could do something about that mystery. If she only had an in with some scientific superdetective or something.

So at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Tracy’s partner Sam Catchem — uh. Sorry. I have to go lie down a moment. I don’t know what’s even real anymore.

[ AN UNEXPECTED GUEST AT THE 'ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW' ] Sam Catchem: 'Sawtooth!' Sawtooth (his mouth bleeding): 'Sam Catchem! You're a cop!' Grimm: 'I've got him!' Sawtooth (winding up a punch) 'Tell your buddy Dick Tracy I'm coming for him next!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of June, 2018. The blood on Sawtooth’s jaw is from where he bit Ygor Glitch’s neck, killing the man. Catchem happened to run into Sawtooth asking, hey, Glitch’s death-scream wasn’t one of the canonical responses, so what’s the deal?

So at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Tracy’s partner Sam Catchem runs into Sawtooth. Catchem’s there for the fun of it. Sawtooth is there on business: he knew Glitch was a Picture-Head, as they call Rocky Horror Picture Show fans. So he went where he knew Glitch would be, and eats him. I mean, I’m fairly sure that’s what I’m meant to infer. “It was as if some huge predator caught him by the throat” could mean many things, I suppose.

Tracy’s able to identify the victim, and the perpetrator, and who likely ordered the hit. This is thanks to his scientific superdetective work of having Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo character Inspector Ishida call up and tell him what’s going on. So, y’know, never under-develop your intelligence network. (I haven’t read Usagi Yojimbo but I hear good stuff about it. I’m just going by what the captions, complete with copyright notices that I haven’t seen under other crossover guest stars, tell me.) Also Sawtooth might have given the scheme away by warning Catchem he was coming for Dick Tracy.

On to the search for Sawtooth. With special guest Lafayette Austin, who’s introduced with such emphasis one wonders if they feared we wouldn’t notice him. Sawtooth and his assistant/boat-anchor Grimm are hiding out in a hotel. Grimm is losing all their cash betting on horses. Sawtooth is figuring to kill Tracy and then head out of town. Sawtooth looks to The Pouch for tips.

The Pouch, by the way, is an information-dealer who works the city zoo as a balloon vendor. His backstory is he used to be a circus-show Fat Man, and lost almost all that weight. He took the flabby excesses of skin and sewed them into numerous closable pouches with with to be a courier. In the 70s, he used a popcorn popper to kill a guy and got away undetected. So remember: if you aren’t perpetually going “Wait, what?” you’re not reading authentic Dick Tracy.

Okay. Now stuff is coming together fast. The Moon Compound exhibit is getting ready to open. Honeymoon and Ugly Crystal enjoy a tour, under the supervision of Mysta and some of the minor Lunarians. Grimm loses the last of his and Sawtooth’s money as Sawtooth wants to check out. Meanwhile, Dick Tracy is thrilled to be entering his sourdough bread in — I’m sorry, I have to go lie down a bit again.

Sam Catchem: 'You're going to make sourdough bread for a celebrity banquet at Ernie's? How are you gonna do that, Tracy?' Dick Tracy: 'If I bake all day, i should finish in time to delivery my bread to the banquet that night. Making baking plans and staging stakeouts. It's all one in the same to me.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of July, 2018. Not sure I’ve felt a deeper shake to my confidence in Dick Tracy’s abilities than I had in learning he thinks the phrase is “one in the same”.

Right. Dick Tracy is baking sourdough bread for a charity banquet. And he’s got people ready to pick up his many fine loaves of enthusiastically-baked bread. The bread-transport guys arrived Saturday. They’re Sawtooth and Grimm, in disguise.

So. Yes. There is a lot that’s been happening the last two months, and it’s not all clearly a single unified thread. This was, to me, a bit hard to follow day-by-day. But it’s quite clear when read in bulk like this. Tracy continues to have a lot of his investigative triumphs come by people just thinking to tell him the plot. There have been a couple references and guest appearances, even besides the Green Hornet’s.

The most noteworthy of those was Michael Patterson from Lynn Johnston’s For Better Or For Worse poking in back in late June. That was a great reminder of the old days on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and every other comics-discussion group. We’d gather to talk about how awful the prose of his in-universe award-winning super-novel was. And how nasty the strip was to the upstairs neighbors, who were painted as villains without actually doing anything worse than not liking Michael. And how much everybody hated Elizabeth getting yanked out of her life and forced to marry Granthony. And how nastily Lynn Johnson treated Granthony’s first wife because — gasp — she didn’t want to have a child, but did anyway after Granthony whined her into it. This is way too much space given to a side appearance like this, but do please understand. My Gen-X cohort has endured many betrayals in our lifetime. One of the most lingering was the last couple years of For Better Or For Worse. Complaining about it was such a glorious experience while it lasted. I mean, it’s okay talking about how stuff in Funky Winkerbean doesn’t work like that. But it didn’t have the epic fall from what we thought-at-the-time-was-greatness-and-maybe-kinda-wasn’t that For Better Or For Worse did.

Anyway. Topper’s failed cyber-protection racket might feed into artificial intelligence Matty Squared. Still no developments on B O Plenty’s house being haunted. And Denny Lien was kind enough to explain a bit of Diet Smith’s strange mention of a time machine machine last December. Apparently a while back Smith had been working on a time machine, in the hopes of saving his long-dead son Brilliant Smith. The machine wasn’t practical. But the thing about a time machine is the development and testing cycle of a working one can be as short as you like, once you take it seriously. Those are the major outstanding plot threads that stand out to me. Well, that and whatever it is we’re supposed to make of Lafayette Austin. Some of the GoComics.com commenters have suggested that would be “Shaggy from Scooby-Doo”. All right.

Next Week!

Yes, the appearance of old-time radio star The Green Hornet worked! Jim Scancarelli is out of hiding. So when we ask what’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What’s up with Jim Scancarelli? The heck with all this Little Orphan Annie stuff? At least one of these questions can now be answered!

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Will the Green Hornet Remain At Large? January – April 2018.


Oh, all kinds of things are going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. (Also, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher routinely work on the Sunday strips. I’m not sure how often they work on daily strips. I want to be fair about crediting the people who make the comic but I don’t always know.) This is my best attempt at bringing you up to speed for mid-April 2018. If it’s a lot later than that, try at or near the top of this page. If I have later-written summaries they should be up there.

Over here should be my latest discussion of mathematically-themed comic strips, if you like those too. I do, and that one’s my blog.

Dick Tracy.

28 January – 21 April 2018.

Back in late January, Dick Tracy and the Major Crime Unit were arresting Mister Bribery. The crime boss himself was going mad after his meeting with the former Governor of the Moon. The Lunarians had abandoned their city in the no-longer-habitable valley on the moon and gone into hiding … elsewhere. The Moon Governor himself was just poking around to figure out the deal with Honey Moon Tracy and the surgically-created Second Moon Maid, Mysta Chimera. Can’t exactly blame him for not taking all this well.

In the forest Preserve, during a snowstorm. Honey Moon, thinking: 'My wrist wizard is showing a life sign not far from here!' She shouts, 'CRYSTAL! Dad! I've found her!' Crystal Ugly: 'M-Moon girl?' Honey Moon, cradling her: 'Here, take my jacket. I don't feel the cold.' Crystal: 'C-Can't w-walk. F-freezing.' Honey Moon: 'Don't worry, Crystal. My Dad's coming.' (Thinking) 'Hurry, Dad! She needs to get warm. Fast!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 4th of February, 2018. If Honey Moon doesn’t feel the cold, why does she need a jacket? … Well, I saw commenters snarking about that when the strip was first published. Me, I figured it was Honey Moon saying something assuring so that she could cover up Crystal Ugly without Crystal feeling guilty. And it may be more than that: later in this sequence Honey Moon manages to generate a little circle of heat, enough to melt the snow around them. So this may be presaging Honey Moon developing new Lunarian super-powers. Introducing it in a low-key way that doesn’t seem like anything more than a friend accepting (possibly dangerous) discomfort to help another.

Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Dick Tracy in a slow and painful manner, skips town. Tracy wasn’t killed slowly nor painfully. Lee Ebony breaks her months-long cover as bodyguard T-Bone to arrest Bribery. Meanwhile Honey Moon rescues Crystal Ugly, Bribery’s niece and a new friend, from where she’d fled in the snow. All seems settled. The 11th of February there’s a coda about the Moon Governor meeting Diet Smith and Honey Moon Tracy. And about Lee Ebony going on vacation.

And that starts the next big plot, the one that’s dominated the last several months. It’s at Pepper’s, a popular restaurant apparently unrelated to the setting of the ended Tina’s Grove comic strip. Billionaire Simon Stagg — whom commenters identified as someone from DC Comics that I don’t know about — has a briefcase full of cash to buy Pepper’s restaurant. But Pepper declares he’s got no intention of selling. He’s poisoned the billionaire, after establishing that Stagg had eaten fugu earlier in the day. The coroner thinks it’s blowfish toxin, accidental poisoning. But the mayor has doubts, and calls Dick Tracy in from his fishing vacation with Popeye and Alice the Goon.

Ghost Pepper: 'You had blowfish for lunch, didn't you, Simon?' Simon Stagg: 'H-how did you know?' Pepper: 'One of my chefs prepared it.' Stagg, poisoned: 'H-he didn't!' Pepper: 'You're right, he didn't. Your fugu was safe. *I* prepared your *dinner* myself. There's no antidote for my 'secret ingredient', so relax, Simon, and enjoy the trip.' (Stagg falls forward, dead.)
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of February, 2018. I confess I don’t understand the appeal of fugu. I grant I’m a low-risk thrills person; my most dangerous pastime is riding roller coasters, which just isn’t dangerous. But exactly how awesomely good would fugu have to taste for that to be worth the risk of death? Especially when, based on the story comics and crime or mystery shows I’d see when my mother has control of the TV, eating fugu gives you a roughly one-in-one chance of dying from it? And again, I grant I don’t have a sophisticated palette. I once managed to eat half a Reuben sandwich before realizing I didn’t order a Reuben. I’m content with a Taco Bell cheesey potato burrito. But still, fugu seems like a needlessly dangerous lunch. I don’t understand it.

Tracy goes to Pepper’s with just a few questions, and Pepper allays them by chasing him off the property, the way innocent people with nothing to hide do. Tracy returns, hoping to talk with the chefs while Pepper’s caters a political dinner at the Winrock Mansion. One of the cooks offers that he can talk, if Tracy will meet him outside, away from witnesses, over by Ambush Rock. Tracy’s good for it, and the cook’s good for clobbering him with a bowling pin, like he was in a George McManus cartoon.

Pepper takes Tracy’s own handcuff and hooks him up to his trailer hitch. This raises several questions, like: wait, would a handcuff actually keep someone on a trailer hitch for a twenty-mile ride by country road? I’m never confident those things are secure with actual proper hitches and it sure looks like the handcuff should pop right off the first good bump in the road. The second question: wait, so Pepper figures he’ll get away with murdering Stagg if the city’s most famous detective, whom the Mayor and the Major Crimes Unit know is investigating Pepper, goes missing and maybe turns up dead? (Although, in fairness, it was barely two months since the last time Dick Tracy was abducted and left for dead so maybe his murder would be lost under a buffet of suspects.) Third question: what does Pepper hope to gain from killing Tracy instead of, like, actually hearing any of his questions?

Despite the high speeds Tracy’s able to call Sam Catchem. And to get his handcuff key, maybe to get free. Before he can, Pepper has to stop short, avoiding a deer in the road. Tracy gets free and shoots out the truck’s tire before Pepper can run him over. Pepper’s truck crashes down the ravine, and the restauranteur makes his escape before Tracy can follow.

[ Ghost Pepper stops for a deer in the road, and Tracy gets loose. ] Pepper: 'I better check on Tracy. ... Uh-oh!' (Looking out of the truck.) Dick Tracy: 'PEPPER! YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!' Pepper: 'I'll run him over!' [ Starts the truck in reverse, aiming at Tracy. Tracy takes his snub-nose gun and shoots! ]
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 11th of March, 2018. That’s some really well-composed scenes, and great action. It’s just that I’m still stuck on how that handcuff stayed on that trailer hitch for miles(?) of travel on country roads.

Pepper finds a hideout with Phishface, who — reluctantly — sets Pepper and his fugu chef up in an unused part of the city aquarium. That’s good for almost days before, fleeing staff, Pepper falls into the tank hosting the new Portuguese Man-of-War. And so, the poisoner himself dies with appropriate dramatic irony but not the particular involvement of Dick Tracy, who was busy arresting the fugu chef.

And this highlights a bunch of other questions. First: wait, what the heck? Second, like, what did Pepper hope to gain from killing Stagg in the first place? Simon Stagg’s money seems like a good enough motive, and (on the 28th of March) the fugu chef does think he’s making off with Stagg’s briefcase full of cash. But it seems weird to kill a guy for money he was going to give you in an actual legal and above-board transaction. I guess keeping the money and the restaurant is good, but, sheesh, having a restaurant grow successful enough to be worth selling out is winning the lottery. What more does he want? Third, so, the final toxicology report (delivered the 22nd of March) is that Stagg died of blowfish toxin. I take it this is meant to signify that Pepper got away with it, killing Stagg in a way that looked like it was an unrelated accident.

In which case, yeah, Pepper committed a perfect crime and undid it by kicking Dick Tracy until the super-detective got curious. This isn’t by itself a problem. People committing crimes they aren’t actually smart enough to succeed in can make for great storytelling. Elmore Leonard, the 2016 Electoral College, the Coen Brothers, and the Florida Man Twitter feed make compelling material out of this. And Tracy (on the 31st of March) says he hasn’t met any smart criminals yet. All right, but if the point is that Pepper piddled away his chance to get away with killing a rich man for money, I’d like that made clearer. Tracy didn’t even ask Pepper any specific questions; why was he panicked already?

One of the hallmarks of the Staton/Curtis era of Dick Tracy has been rapid, relentless pacing. And that’s great; story strips don’t need to be lethargic, much as they seem to be trying to be. But they do fall into a counterbalancing failure, where the plot logic and the motivations behind things are unclear or just baffling. I have no idea why Pepper figured “try and kill Dick Tracy” was the sensible thing to do after killing Stagg. I’d like it if I did.

The 1st of April started another weeklong “Minit Mysteries” segment. This was illustrated by John Lucas. The mystery was the murder of George Reeds, actor and star of the Ultraman TV series. That runs through the 8th of April; please, enjoy working out the puzzle if you like.

The new, and current, storyline started the 9th of April. Britt Reid, publisher of the Central City Daily Sentinel, is in town, poking around organized crime. This has attracted the interest of old-time radio fans, because yes, it’s a crossover. Britt Reid was known for years on radio, and for about one season on TV in the 60s, and for about 45 minutes in the movies in like 2011, as the Green Hornet. Reid’s gimmick, then and now, was to pose as a respectable newspaper publisher — so you see how far back this schtick goes — pursuing the super-villain the Green Hornet. But the Green Hornet is himself Reid, using the reputation of being a super-villain to infiltrate and break up actual crime rings.

This is unrelated, but, there was a little bit on one of Bob Newhart’s albums where he thought about the TV show I Led Three Lives. This show was about one Herb Philbrick, who was a communist for the FBI. Not from the show I Was A Communist For The FBI. Newhart opined that he wished, just one, in one of the Communist cell meetings that someone should have stood up and said, “Say, has, ah … has anyone else ever noticed, uh, whenever we assign Philbrick to anything, we all get arrested?” I’m not one to spoil a good golden-age-of-radio gimmick, but, like, the original Plastic-Man was only able to use this same approach about four issues before the mobsters caught on that Plastic-Man’s secret gangster identity was bad luck.

Anyway, Britt Reid and Dick Tracy meet, to review what they know: Central City mobster Cyrus Topper is trying to hook up with the Apparatus, the organized crime syndicate in Tracy’s town. The Green Hornet seems to be following. Tracy’s sure that Topper and the Hornet will get justly deserted. No, neither one of them knows what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli. You’d think he’d be all over this meeting of former Golden Age of Radio crime-detection superstars. And that’s about where things stand.

There’s only a few threads left loose from the last couple months’ stories. One is Matty Squared, the artificial intelligence/uploaded semi-personality of Mister Bribery’s former accountant. He was last seen the 10th of February, planning to head to “the server farms down south”. His companion: a mouse named Ignatz that’s got to be the oddest Krazy Kat reference in a long while.

It’s never said what the Moon Governor talked about with Diet Smith, Honey Moon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera. The Moon Governor himself emerged from the Lunarians’ secret hideout (somewhere on Earth) to investigate telepathic signals. Mysta? Honey Moon? Someone else? It hasn’t been said explicitly so anything might be yet entered into evidence. And no, I haven’t forgot that someone’s trying to scare B O Plenty and family out of their estate by making ghost noises.

A thread that hasn’t been brought up, and might never be: Britt Reid was, canonically, the grand-nephew (or something like that) of the Lone Ranger. The characters have been owned by separate companies since the 50s, so allusions to this have to be more deniable or involve more negotiation ahead of time. But the comic strip did show Vitamin Flintheart and Joe Tracy watching a Vista Bill movie. I think that’s made up for the in-universe continuity. But a western hero with the wonder horse Comet crying out “Fly, Comet! And Awaaay!” is reminding people of something. Merely for world-building? Perhaps, and plausibly so. For something more? Goodness knows.

Next Week!

What’s going on in Gasoline Alley? There’s evidence that at least someone is there as reruns go into their sixth month. What’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I haven’t heard anything today. But a whole week from now? Maybe that will have changed. Come on around and let’s see what we might find out.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? November 2017 – January 2018


It’s been only a few short months since I last checked in on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and yet plenty of stuff has happened. I’m glad to try catching you up on that. More stuff might have happened by the time you read this. If it’s late January or early February 2018 for you, this is probably enough to catch you up. If it’s a lot later than that, maybe the story’s developed far past that. If I’ve written a later summary I shall try to have it at or near the top of this link. Also I mentioned this on my other blog, but GoComics.com broke something so that My Comics Page won’t load, and broke their “Contact Us” page so it won’t submit error reports. I’ve got workarounds, but I’m not happy with them.

Also, on my mathematics blog, I review comics with mathematical themes. My latest report on those should be at or near the top of this link. Thanks for checking that out, if you do.

Dick Tracy.

5 November 2017 – 27 January 2018.

Last time you’ll recall, Dick Tracy and team were closing in on audio-recording forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate. The pair were hiding out in the Lyric (movie) Theater, Sprocket on a date with novelist and Les Moore’s less-punchworthy twin Adam Austin, Silver in the Phantoms Of Theaters room. Silver watches his sister have a date so serious she even wears sandals for it. So he gives her half their take and alibis her. He goes to jail. She goes to California with Adam Austin, who I’m assuming is writing the novelization for the Starbuck Jones sequel. Silver Nitrate and his boss/jailbreaker Public Domain go to jail and that ends that story reasonably logically.

[ Chaos erupts at the Lyric Theater ] Lizz Grove: 'That's an emergency exit alarm!' Dick Tracy: 'Everyone cover the exits!' (Voices) 'Over there!' 'It's Silver Nitrate!' 'Stop! You're under arrest!' Silver Nitrate: 'Okay, okay! I give up!' Sam Catchem: 'Anybody come out this door?' Officer: 'Nobody's come this way, sir.' Catchem: 'Everyone's checked in, Tracy. No sign of Sprocket Nitrate.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2017. I don’t mean to make light of what operational skill it requires to surround and secure a public theater with hundreds of people inside to secure one criminal safely. But Sprocket Nitrate is inside the secured building, and her costume is pretty much that she’s wearing sandals. Just seems like they could have checked.

And then, the 18th of November, came an odd interlude before the next story: a “Minit Mystery”. It was one of those adorable puzzle mysteries, you know, figuring out who killed the guy based on whether an umbrella is damp or figuring which jacket is underneath another on the coat-stand. It’s a week illustrated by Charles Ettinger, and it’s introduced as the start of a new series. There was just the one mystery presented this time around. Perhaps they’re waiting for the current storyline to resolve, or reach a logical pause, before showing the next. I’m not sure this is any more logically rigorous than an Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, but it’s a fun pastime. The story started the 19th of November and ran each day through to the 26th, when the solution was revealed.

Back to plotting, the 27th of November. Mister Bribery reappears, along with his niece Ugly Crystal and hired gun Sawtooth. Bribery’s hired Sawtooth to execute Dick Tracy. Tracy’s team has infiltrated Bribery’s organization, though, as their bodyguard, with Lee Ebony pretending to be “T-Bolt”. Bribery orders Sawtooth to carry out the execution plan, even though it’s not compatible with putting the shrunken head of Dick Tracy into a jar on his shelf. Okay then.

One of the dangling side plots comes back to the fore. The fellow you get by fusing Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop finds crime boss Posie Ermine. Ermine’s been disheartened since his daughter was abducted, surgically altered to be Mysta the new Moon Maid, and somehow brainwashed into a whole new identity who wants nothing to do with her biological father. Buster Oop has personal reasons for this. He’s the Governor of the Moon, and father of the original Moon Maid. (The original Moon Maid was killed in the 70s, when most of the really loopy science fiction stuff was written out of the strip, although her daughter — Honey Moon Tracy, Dick’s granddaughter — is still around and a critical character these days.)

Got all these relations? Because that just catches things up to early December 2017 and from there everything gets explosive.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal … Bribery, I guess is her last name? … meet cute-ish at the mall’s CD store. They get along surprisingly well, what with both having superpowers and Ugly Crystal envying Honey Moon’s antennas. I understand. I imprinted early on Uncle Martin’s extendable antennas from My Favorite Martian. And I’m not an ugly person.

Mister Bribery, out for a jog, shoves another jogger into the path of a minibus. It’s a startling moment. It establishes Mister Bribery’s villainy and menace in a way that his hiring someone to murder Dick Tracy hadn’t, somehow. I suppose it’s because you expect the villain to try killing the scientific superdetective. It’s normal and routine and built into the worldview and the name of the comic strip that the plan won’t work. But he can kill — or try to kill, as the victim survives with “minor injuries” — some nobody. And that it’s utterly unmotivated makes Mister Bribery’s danger more real. The murderous impulse doesn’t do Mister Bribery any good, either, as the city looks for whoever’s in the blurry video footage of the crime.

Mister Bribery, jogging: 'Ah, it's a beautiful, brisk morning for a jog!' [ He comes up on a woman jogging ] Bribery: 'That minibus is awfully close! Let's have a little room.' [ He shoves the woman into the minibus's path. ] 'SO much better!' [ Screech ] 'EEEE!' Bribery: 'What a hubbub! I'd better cut my jog short.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of December, 2017. And … jeez, can’t you just see this happening? A lot of the Dick Tracy criminal plans are a bit outrageous — robbing banks to the tunes of Chumbawumba, hijacking Space Coupes, forging 19th-century audio recordings — but just simply shoving a person into traffic to kill them? I can see local news covering that. And I’m in mid-Michigan; this story might bump Larry Nasser off the top of the news feed, but only maybe.

Which might be too late: Sawtooth snags Dick Tracy — from right outside his son’s house on Christmas Eve-or-Day, by the way — and drags him out into the woods. Sawtooth drags him into the deep woods, in the blizzard, and ties him to a tree to die. Sawtooth does well enough tying up Tracy, who’s unable to get his hands free, never mind untie any of his ropes, nor answer his Wrist Wizard to call for help. What Sawtooth fails to account for: Rifle Ruby, who found and saved Dick Tracy deep in the woods where Mister Crime tried to drown him in a story in 1952. (I had not the faintest idea of this, but GoComics commenter RGGlick recognized this and provided people with the link.) She and her niece Rhett run across the shivering, starved Tracy and nurse him back to non-death.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal meet up again, under Lee Ebony’s supervision. Honey Moon gets a bit of brain freeze from the Moon Governor’s transmissions. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine have been searching for Honey Moon. Meanwhile Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence assistant/digitally-uploaded former henchman Matty Squared has detected the Moon Governor’s Space Coupe. Mister Bribery orders Sawtooth to kidnap Honey Moon. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine close in on Smith Industries, there to find Mysta the (second) Moon Maid. Yes, I’m getting tired just writing all this.

OK. There’s a shootout. Ermine’s killed. Sawtooth grabs the Moon Governor and Mysta and takes them to Mister Bribery. Mister Bribery wants the Moon Governor’s help getting to the Lunarian valley settlement, there to mine lunar gold and whatnot. The Moon Governor tries to squash these plans. He drops the bad news that there’s no oxygen left in the Moon Valley colony. (This we the readers have known since in 2012, in one of the last uses of Diet Smith’s Moon Coupe. And that also shows how long this team is willing to let a mystery simmer.) Also, it’s dumb to go to the Moon to mine gold. These days the fashion is to go to the Moon to mine Helium-3, which is even dumber. Plus there’s the whole Rocket Hat problem. He tells Mister Bribery to move on, “as we did”.

[ Bribery's office. ] Mister Bribery: 'Whee! I must be dreaming! It's the Moon Governor! What a prize! Naturally, you came to Earth in your SPACE COUPE. I can utilize that in my master plan! This is so perfect!' [ Elsewhere ] Sam Catchem, on Lee Ebony's wrist wizard: 'Come in while you can, Lee This blizzard's getting bad.' Glitch: 'T-Bolt? Is that a POLICE wrist wizard?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of January, 2018. All right, yes, he’s a sociopathic crime boss who just weeks ago tried to murder a woman for absolutely no possible benefit, but to say “utilize” when “use” would be the correct word? That’s put him beyond the pale.

Mister Bribery takes this with all the calm and grace of Donald Duck finding Chip and Dale back on his folding lawn chair. Meanwhile henchman Glitch spots Lee Ebony talking on her official police-grade wrist wizard, astoundingly sloppy undercover work. It’s okay, though, since Glitch has figured out this is the big meltdown and he’s just telling people to run while they can. Ebony arrests Ugly Crystal (I’m not sure for what, but I suppose that can be sorted out). Sam Catchem says they’ve got the rest of Mister Bribery’s gang. And Tracy is going in after Mister Bribery himself, who’s got the Moon Governor and Second Moon maid with him.

And that’s where we stand. It’s a lot of stuff happening, and with (so far as I noticed) no weird cameos or digressions, after the Minit Mystery interlude. I’ve only noticed one odd, unresolved mention of a thing either: on the 4th of December mentioning how Diet Smith’s “time machine was a bust”. I didn’t know there was ever a time machine in Dick Tracy, but I’m also not surprised, given how crazy Chester Gould went in the 60s.

The only outstanding thread that I haven’t seen advanced, or mentioned, was the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty lair, which started action back in June 2017.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli has been out of action since the last time I recapped the plot in Gasoline Alley! Why? Where? What’s happening? Will the story of Rufus’s courting of The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom ever resolve? I don’t know. But I’ll do my best to share what I know, or can find out. And to recap nearly three months’ worth of reruns next week, somewhere on this link. Here’s hoping there’s good news ahead.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? August – November 2017


I got back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley a bit quicker than I figured! Last time around I predicted I’d get back to this strip in December 2017, and here it is November 2017, way ahead of that. But the point I made in the preamble there stands. This is a recap of the comic strip’s most recent developments. But if you’re reading this later than, oh, let’s say April 2018 then the strip has moved on. I’ll be out of date. And I may have some more recent-to-you post about what’s going on. You should be able to find it at or near the top of this page.

If you like comic strips that aren’t necessarily story strips you might look at my mathematics blog. There I regularly discuss the recent syndicated comics that did something mathematical. Ideally I don’t ruin the jokes.

Gasoline Alley.

21 August – 11 November 2017.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has, since the 27th of April, been running a very dangerous story. Not that the stakes in it are that high. But in that it’s a crossing of two of the strip’s styles of stories. One is the weepy melodrama. Poverty-stricken kids Emma Sue And Scruffy, and their widowed mother, The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom, moved into the abandoned mill. The kids ran across the curmudgeonly codger Elam Jackson, who softens when he meets them all. Elam Jackson starts repairing The Widow Etc’s mill. Also he begins acts of courtship with The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom.

The danger is that it’s crossed with another of the strip’s story types. This is the Joel And Rufus Story. Joel and Rufus are preposterous, silly characters. They’d make sense on Green Acres. They can have adventures easily. Attaching emotions to them, though? That’s a tall order. Still, Rufus had encountered Emma Sue and Scruffy. He and Joel played Santa for the impoverished kids, back before the August update. Rufus gave some newly weaned kittens to the kids. He’s also got romantic designs on The Widow Etc.

Rufus, to Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'I'll see yo' kids soon! Right now I'm goin' t'say bye t'yo'momma!' Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'Thanks fo' th'kitties! We love 'em, an yo' too!' Rufus at the mill: 'There's Mrs Ruffington over by th'mill wheel with m'friend Elam Jackson!' In the third panel Rufus sees The Widow Etc and Jackson kissing.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of August, 2017. The terrible moment that sends Rufus off to the circus, ultimately. Can’t fault him for being heartbroken after seeing that. But then we the reader know a bit more about what’s going on, such as — a few weeks later — the strips from the week of the 11th.
So this storyline has to balance its absurdist-clown streak with its weepy-melodrama streak. It’s tricky. Anything goes wrong and all narrative could collapse. When we left off Elam Jackson’s courting of The Widow Etc had reached the point of actually kissing, in silhouette, off where Rufus could see. Rufus immediately despairs, a state not at all natural for this goofball. He storms home, puts a note on his mailbox that “I’ve gone away! Ain’t comin’ back! Pleze hol’ my mail!” and even leaves his cats without supervision. Well, he leaves them to Joel, about the same thing.

Jackson: 'I'm sure hot and thirsty, Leela!' The Widow Etc: 'Oh Elam! I appreciate all the work you're doing on the mill! How can I ever repay you?' Jackson: 'How about a kiss?' The Widow Etc: 'How 'bout some iced tea? It'll quench your thirst and COOL you off!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of September, 2017. A fair sampling of the ways The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom politely but unmistakably turns any talk away from romance. Which, given how much she turns away kisses this time, makes one ask what the heck was going on in the previous strip? That the embrace is in silhouette allows for all kinds of mistaken-identity shenanigans. But they also require putting in some character who hasn’t been in the story so far. So, you know? The heck?
The news of Rufus’s disappearance spreads slowly. Scruffy recovers from his bike accident and with Emma Sue visit Rufus’s place to find him missing. They go back home to hear Elam Jackson talking seriously about marriage with The Widow Etc. The worldly Scruffy explains how he knew it was coming to that. But Jackson’s leading questions are left hanging in the air, the 16th of September, and we have not seen these characters since.

But Joel knows things are awry, and so, starting the 19th of September, begins searching in the logical place: other comic strips. Joel and Rufus are at the core of this slapsticky, absurdist, fourth-wall-breaking streak of the comic strip. Why can’t he pop over to Dick Tracy if he likes? So Joel meets up with Tracy slapsticky hillbilly character B O Plenty and then the super-scientific detective himself. Tracy has enough of this within a week and sends Joel back to his own comic strip, right where he left off.

Dick Tracy: 'Joel! What're you doing in my comic strip ? Are you lost?' Joel: 'No! Rufus is! I was lookin' for 'Mr Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons', but reckymembered WE and HE ain't on radio no mo'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of September, 2017. Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons ran on the NBC Blue Network/ABC from 1937 to 1947, and then CBS from 1947 to 1955. It’s mentioned because Jim Scancarelli is trying to get himself installed as an exhibit in the Museum of Old-Time Radio. Also, yes, Gasoline Alley was on radio several times. In 1941 (NBC, Red and then Blue) the daily serial even adapted the then-current storylines to the air. It also ran in 1948-49 in transcribed syndication. There’s some evidence that it was produced in regional radio as early as 1931, but John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio doesn’t pin down where or when. Also, Dick Tracy ran as a kids’ police serial, starting on NBC New England stations in 1934, then bouncing between CBS, Mutual, NBC, and NBC Blue/ABC through to 1948. And this doesn’t matter but there was from 1932 to 1935 a syndicated comedy-mystery serial titled Detectives Black and Blue, about a pair of shipping clerks in Duluth who try for something more.
Just in time, too, since he’d left Becky (his mule) right by a poster for the circus. And Joel knows what this means. He hasn’t become one of YouTube’s top hosts of ‘Let’s Play’ JRPG videos without learning how to recognize the plot rails. He makes his way to the circus tents to see if he can get the next plot point going. It’s hard work, including swinging hammers around, sleeping with the elephants and mules, being haunted by visions of Rufus at all the sideshow posters, and being pressed into clown duty by owner P T Beauregard’s son, a Young Ralph from Sally Forth. This sends Joel to an encounter with another of the Gasoline Alley universe’s many Frank Nelsons. Also it offers some name-drops of Emmett Kelly, Otto Griebling, and (in Joel’s confusion) Walt Kelly. And gives Scancarelli an easy extra 25 points in his bid for installation into the Museum of Old-Time Radio.

Joel, on his mule-drawn wagon, looking very small amidst close-up pictures of tiger and lion and elephant and giraffe heads, while the ringmaster continues his spiel about the circus's offering: 'Lions, tigers, an elephant or two; this isn't all --- it's our pre-view!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of October, 2017. Part of the entry of the gladiators and all that, and taken less because it’s key to the plot and more because I like the composition. There’s not enough craft in the drawing of newspaper comics and I’m glad Scancarelli resists the considerable pressures to put up simple, functional panels.
The show begins! And we get a good week or so of acts and animals and Joel cringing before some well-rendered lions and the like. And then, finally, the 27th of October we learn what’s come of Rufus. He’s the Human Cannonball, like it or not, and over Halloween he’s shot out of the cannon, through the Big Tent’s walls, and into Joel’s haystack. He explains: after seeing Elam Jackson kissing The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom he was heartbroken, ran away from home, and joined the circus. Along the way to the human cannonball job he’d been the beareded lady, the thin man, the four-legged dog, all the stuff Joel saw posters for. It’s not that complicated a story, but it had been two months since readers last saw Jackson or The Widow Etc or the kids. I don’t blame Scancarelli for giving a recap like that.

This week Rufus, deciding he’s had enough of the circus, rides with Joel back to the normal Gasoline Alley continuity. And Joel has hopeful news for Rufus. After getting the mill up and running again, The Widow Etc “done canned yo’ ex-‘fr’end, Elam!”. This is consistent with my reading of The Widow Etc’s reluctance and talking around Jackson’s questioning. It also raises some good questions. For one, how could Joel know that? Based on what we’ve seen on-camera, anyway? For another, what is the difference in pronunciation between “fr’end” and “friend”?

So that’s how the comic balanced the weepy-melodrama and the goofy-slapstick sides of things. Stepping out into another comic strip is going to work for some readers. Doing a month of circus jokes should work for others. But it forgot the weepy melodrama for several months. That’s probably as best as can be done. I’m not sure Rufus (or Joel) can sustain the pain of unrequited love. His getting shot out of a cannon fits him more easily. I’m surprised that Elam Jackson seems to be getting sent back to the primordial xylem of supporting characters from which he came. But I was also surprised to learn Rufus considered him a friend. I had supposed they were people in town who didn’t have much reason to interact.

The story reads as though it’s coming to its conclusion. This extends the strange synchronicity between story strips concluding stories around my recaps. (Of course, a story ending two or three weeks before or after my recap seems “around” my essay. With a margin like that it’s amazing a strip is ever not in synch with my recaps.)

The Sunday strips, not in continuity, have been the usual bunch of spot gags. Can’t say that any of them really stand out. And there’s no story, so, if you want to read one just go ahead and read it; you won’t be confused.

Next Week!

Prairie dogs are making a comeback. Mark Trail came to South Dakota to count these coming-back prairie dogs and blow up vehicles. And he hasn’t got near a prairie dog yet. Stop in here next week to, I hope, see bank robbers, abandoned mining towns, and vehicles exploding, all the important pieces of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Also, never ever EVER go outside. The parts of nature that aren’t trying to kill you are filled with weird life forms that can poison you or be really, really eerie. And the parts that aren’t trying to kill you and aren’t full of horrible lifeforms? The parts that are adorable little creatures like quaggas or obscure variations on hamsters or sharks that look like puppies? They’re dying. (Recommended soundtrack: Sparks, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”.)

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? August – November 2017


Thanks for asking! If you read Dick Tracy, by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis, with (I think) art support from Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher on Sundays, you know how often events happen these days. This is an attempt to keep track of what’s been going on. If it’s much later than early November 2017 when you read this, events might have gotten much more progressed. This essay might be too out of date to be useful. If that’s happened then please try out this link. If I’ve written a later story summary, it should be at or near the top of that page.

And if you’re intersted in comic strips generally please try out my mathematics blog. I talk some about the mathematically-themed comics of the week, each week, and this week was one of them.

Dick Tracy.

14 August – 4 November 2017.

Crime had promised to pay last time I checked in on Dick Tracy. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) Movie-forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were sprung from jail by the quite ellipsoidal Public Domain. Domain’s hired them to forge a recording that legend says Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made on his experimental phonautograph of Abraham Lincoln. The work goes well: Silver discovers a new thrill that he wasn’t getting from film fraud anymore and hopes to do more work with Domain. Sprocket thought this was their last scam before getting out of the business. Domain thought this was a good way to get money from the matronly Bea Thorndike before leaving the Nitrates to take the rap. Bea Thorndike thought she was paying basically-good-but-emotionally-cowardly money for a recording of Abraham Lincoln asking “Is this on?” and reciting the Gettysburg Address. And Tracy thought that Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were relatives, what with their being siblings.

Thorndike Mansion. Bea Thorndike: 'Hello, Mr Domain, Mr Femstock [Silver Nitrate]. It's a pleasure to meet you.' Domain: 'Likewise, Ms Thorndike. We thank you for agreeing to help us.' Thorndike: 'Mr Femstock, I've seen the images of your phonautogram and all its documentation. Can you tell me more?' Nitrate, as Femstock: 'I have some great news from the university. They were able to PLAY OUR PHONAUTOGRAM! I have the recording right here. Would you like to hear it?' Thorndike: 'YES, PLEASE!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of September, 2017. Yeah, I know, I’m being mean on Bea Thorndike for falling for this scam. It’s easy for me, when I got to see the scam from plan to completion. If all you had was the artefact and the evidence of a provenance that would explain how this legendary thing might come to be at this place at this time? Harder, especially if the fraud’s done by someone like the Nitrates who have a good history of creating fake antique recordings.

Then came a revelation whose significance I still don’t quite grasp. Lizz discovered that Silver and Sprocket were adopted, separately, by their film-production-scammer parents. I think the point of that revelation was to explain the Nitrates’ history. And that they grew up moving from town to town, camping out in the local theater of each mark. I guess that explains Silver knowing where to find a hidey-hole in a city theater. But I admit when I list crime-detection plot points I need justified, “villain knows a secret place to hide out a couple days” isn’t usually among them. So I don’t get why Lizz figures it’s a big revelation that they’re “merely” siblings by adoption. Or any of the backstory, really. Team Tracy understands the Nitrates’ scam pretty well, and the reader does too. The extra background is nice and interesting and humanizing. But it seems of marginal relevance to the investigation. Maybe she figured it might be something to get inside either Nitrate’s head during an interrogation. I don’t know.

Domain’s doing a good enough job getting in Sprocket Nitrate’s head anyway. He insists on her staying behind when they close the scam with Bea Thorndike. His argument: Sprocket’s hippie-ish Mother Earth stylings are too ridiculous to show to real money. These are meetings in which real grown-up people with names like “Public Domain” who look like Moai statues do serious deals. Silver Sprocket at least looks normal. He means normal for a Dick Tracy universe character. That means he could be slipped into the backglass for the 1991 Williams pinball machine The Party Zone without drawing attention. But Sprocket? Why, she goes barefoot. Silver sticks with Domain, and the promise of money. And shatters Sprocket, who spends a whole Sunday strip singing the Carpenters’ “Another Song”.

But Silver does have his skills. He talks Thorndike into paying a half-million for the recording, when Domain had been hoping for only $50,000. And I’m surprised Domain went to so much trouble when he was figuring to net at most $50,000. You know, you always hear about people leaving money on the table in business negotiations. I should see if he’ll represent me when I pick up some freelance work, in case I ever get some freelance work. (Does anyone need a lance freed? Send me a note.) And yet he only wants $20,000 of that extra, he says. He tells Sprocket how they’ll use that money to vanish.

Silver and Sprocket make plans. Silver: 'And then I added $20,000 to the price Domain asked for!' Sprocket: 'Hmmph! Was Domain pleased?' Silver: 'Cheer up, sister dear, THAT'S OUR BONUS! As I see it, Domain won't need either one of us much longer. If you can find us a car, Sprocket, WE'LL GO VISIT MS THORNDIKE, collect our 20 grand and vanish. I've done all the work. Domain can finish the deal himself.' Sprocket: 'I'll get started right now, Silver! I think you'll need me to go out for cigarettes right?' Silver: 'Heh, heh!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 24th of September, 2017. I’m hoping someone asked McMansion Hell about that Olympic-class ski slope of a roof that Domain’s lair has in the middle tier there. Also I don’t know whether it’s architecturally sound to have one of those little arched doorway things on top of another little arched doorway thing but my gut says no, really, no.

Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out who the Nitrates are trying to scam and how they’re doing it when his granddaughter comes in and tells him who they’re scamming and how they’re doing it. With that tip he heads to Bea Thorndike’s. So does Silver Nitrate, who’s shaken his Domain bodyguard with a phony tale of emergency dental needs. (I so expected the dentist would be the guy from Little Shop of Horrors, either version, but no. He’s just a dentist.) Silver offers Thorndike a “genuine 1857 phonautograph machine” for a mere quarter-million. She’s thrilled at the chance to fall for this, and the Nitrates get out just ahead of Dick Tracy’s arrival. Fearing they were spotted, the Nitrates make for the Lyric (movie) Theater. Silver’s got a hideout under the seats somewhere.

Tracy, having had enough of this, arrests Domain and refers to Silver Nitrate as a bunko artist, just like he was on an old-time radio detective program. I mean, he was, but it’s still delightful. Domain takes three panels to go from “I’ll never talk” to “I talked”. Tracy is soon hanging around waiting for someone to come in and tell him where the Nitrates are.

Silver Nitrate hides out, looking for some way to pass the time waiting for the new movie to start its run. The movie is Midnite Mirror. It’s based on a fictional series-within-the-strip based on Dick Tracy that isn’t Fearless Fosdick. Silver takes up “making the theater staff think the place is haunted”. It’s a fun pastime, but carries a high risk of attracting meddling kids. But he fools some human-form cameos from Mike Curtis’s longrunning Shanda the Panda comic book.

On a coffee run, Sprocket Nitrate cute-meets Adam Austin. He’s the renowned author of the Midnite Mirror book. And he’s what might happen if Funky Winkerbean‘s Les Moore were ever to deserve not getting that smirk knocked off his silly face. She is full-on smitten. They make a date to the premiere of Midnite Mirror: The Motion Picture. She agrees to wear shoes for the event. The most open shoes ever, basically a couple of straps looped around each other, but still, shoes. Silver is aghast.

Having a cup at The Coffee Pot. Austin: 'Susan, I truly enjoy these meetings with you. I wonder ... might I escort you to the Halloween premiere of MIDNITE MIRROR?' Sprocket ['Susan']: 'I'd LOVE to go, Adam. Could I meet you here before the movie?' Austin: 'Certainly! The premiere begins at 7. Shall we meet here at 6?' Sprocket: 'Sounds perfect!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 29th of October, 2017. Hey, in the background of the first panel, center row there: it’s the guy who runs the pinball league! Ask him what he thinks of the new Stern Star Wars. (He thinks it’s got some neat shots and the art and sound packages are fantastic but the ruleset is just too crazy complicated to follow.)

Tracy takes a moment to reassure Bea Thorndike that many people have fallen for even dumber scams than this one. Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out where Silver Nitrate is hiding, when the guy Silver Nitrate contacted for help fleeing the country tells Tracy where Silver Nitrate is hiding. The squad closes in on the Lyric Theater and makes ready to nab the bunko artist. And that takes us to this week’s action.

As you see, it’s been a straightforward plot. There’s no baffling motivations or deeply confusing networks of double-crossing to turn the story to chaos. Well, Silver Nitrate keeps changing his story about what he’s doing. But it makes sense he’d tell whoever he’s talking to what they were hoping to hear. Note how he told Sprocket he planned to do more scams with Domain and, after she didn’t want to do that, how he was going to take the $20,000 and vanish.

Tracy hasn’t really done much detecting on-screen. I suppose there’s something to having a good net of informants and identifying relevant gossip quickly. But that does mean the two big driving revelations were things he learned by not covering his ears and shouting “LA LA LA LA I CAN NOT HEAR YOU” is all.

There have been threads of other stories. Let me see if I’ve got all the major ones.

  1. Blackjack asked Dick Tracy to make sure the Tracy collectibles he got Sparkle Plenty to sign last story are safe while he’s in jail. (the 28th and 29th of August)
  2. Undercover detective Lee Emory, as “T-Bolt”, has met Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Tracy. (the 4th through 9th of September)
  3. Speaking of Mister Bribery, the crime boss has checked in on his niece Ugly Crystal at finishing school. She’s learned much. She can cover her eyes so as to make her nostrils and lips look like a very tiny face, and she can blow out multiple precisely-aligned candles using a slug from a slingshot. So she’s ready for a life of super-crime. (the 4th and 5th of October).
  4. And most intriguingly: the person you get by making Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop share a transporter pod has landed a Space Coupe in a derelict farm outside the city. He’s taken out a box of “old currency” and hopes to find “our errant moonling”. (the 18th through 20th of October)

Also there was a strange moment where Sam Catchem got the giggles about an ancient bag of shredded cheese cleaned out of the staff fridge. I don’t know what that was all about. It seems to have been playfulness and/or hijinkery.

Nothing’s been said about the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty residence. Crime Boss Posie Ermine hasn’t apparently done anything about recovering his daughter, brainwashed into the Second Moon Maid. I will count the appearance of Buster Oop as an update on the Lunarian who visited an Antarctic valley in investigation of the Second Moon Maid.

I’ll keep you updated in case anything breaks on these plots. Meanwhile, I encourage you to find someone who will call you “my errant moonling”. You deserve such luxuries in your life.

Next Week!

Has Rufus managed to commit an act of successful woo-pitching with The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom? Or has he lost her affections to an unbearded Elam? We’ll check in with Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley where we meet, of course, Dick Tracy. I swear Comic Strip Master Command is messing with my head.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? June – August 2017


Are you trying to work out what’s going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy? Welcome, fellow confused reader. I’m doing my best to explain the current storyline myself. I’m writing this in the middle of August 2017. If it’s much past that date for you, the story might have changed radically or even concluded. If I’ve written another summary of plot developments they should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for trusting in me to spot pop culture references in the venerable story comic about a scientific detective.

For other comic strip talk, my mathematics blog just reviewed some strips with the theme of “Pets Doing Mathematics”. Please consider that, too.

Dick Tracy.

4 June – 12 August 2017.

My last update, in early June, coincided with the conclusion of a storyline. So I have a nearly clean field for this one. The story for June and July focused on the B O Plenty family, hillbillies with one Devo hat and a powerful aroma to them who married into the comic strip decades ago. The Plentys worry about strange sounds suggesting their house is haunted. What they should worry about is Paragon Bank noticing there haven’t been any payments on their mortgage, like, ever. In foreclosure, Plenty points out that he paid for the house in full, and turns over the receipt. The judge goes against precedent and rules the bank may not seize their home and destroy their lives.

Not to worry for justice. The bank skips out on paying court costs. Tracy, at the behest of Gravel Gerty, goes to the bank to keep B O from shooting anyone wealthy. And while he’s there Blackjack and his gang pop in and hold up the bank. Tracy doesn’t get involved, on the grounds that he didn’t want to start a gunfight. Blackjack, a hardcore Dick Tracy fanboy, realizes the detective has been replaced by a pod person, but makes off with the cash. Tracy points out that Blackjack’s taken to robbing banks with notorious reputations for cheating people, so, you know. I’m sure the bank is working its way through to paying court costs like the manager says they were totally planning to do.

Blackjack's Hideout. 'I still can't believe it! I had the chance to meet B.O.Plenty and Gravel Gertie!' Winston: 'Why is that bothering you, Boss?' Blackjack: 'It's something you can't understand, Winston. If I'd met the Plentys, perhaps I could have met their daughter, Sparkle. I have all her toys. This is too much for me! I NEED TO GO ROB A BANK!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of June, 2017. So, better or worse: Blackjack going on a series of bank robberies, or Blackjack sliding in to Sparkle Plenty’s Twitter direct messages? Because I gotta say, he has got to have the creepiest come-ons.

Sparkle Plenty goes to the bank. There she hears the haunting strains of Blackjack’s leitmotif, Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” (“I get knocked down/But I get up again”), which I am going to go ahead and assume he adopted after falling out of love with Smashmouth’s “All Star”. She appeals to his fanboyishness, offering to sign all his Sparkle Plenty collectible toys if he’ll call off the bank heist. He agrees, dependent on his getting a selfie with her. So that works out great for everybody.

Finance rumbles on. With Fleischer Savings and Loan defaulting on pension obligations Tracy figures he knows Blackjack’s next target. Manager Frank Hickman appreciates Tracy’s warning, but he’s counting on Blackjack robbing the bank to cover a $250,000 shortfall the auditor is days away from discovering. But Blackjack takes his time, as he’s busy building plastic scale models of Dick Tracy. Here the last molecule of plausibility is destroyed. I’ve been a plastic scale model builder since I was like seven and I will not accept the idea of a plastic scale model builder actually putting together a plastic scale model. We just buy kits and paints and glues and gather reference materials and let them sit until a loved one yells at us, then we sell two of the most-duplicated kits at the next yard sale. Building the blasted things goes against the Code.

Anyway, Blackjack wastes so much time that he gets to the bank just after Hickman’s set the place on fire. Tracy and his stakeout team, and Blackjack and his bank-robbery team, turn to rescue operations, hauling people out. Hickman fights Blackjack hard enough everyone knows something’s up. Tracy gets a major clue when all the bank workers say how Hickman set the fire. Blackjack’s arrested too, but he gets to see Tracy’s Wall of Action-Scarred Hats, which is a thing and really thrilling to him. And that, on the 25th of July, wraps up that story.

The Fleischer Savings and Loan is in ruins. Sam Catchem: 'Tracy, all the employees I've talked to say THIS FIRE WAS SET.' Tracy: 'Mr Hickman, we'll have to take you in for questioning.' Hickman: 'I WANT A LAWYER!' Tracy: 'As for you, Blackjack ... ' Backjack: 'I know Tracy. I had to help those people in the bank.' Tracy: 'Thank you, Blackjack.' 'Sure, I rob banks, but I'M NOT ALL BAD.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of July, 2017. What I’ve never been able to work out is whether the name of the Fleischer Savings and Loan is a shout-out to the Fleischer Studios, the animation team that brought us all those great Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons, but also went and made Hunky And Spunky For Some Reason so maybe that’s why they get a rotten bank named for them?

The current story: Silver and Sprocket Nitrate escape from prison. Their liberator: an animate Moai named Public Domain. Domain wants the bogus-film experts to create a phony audio recording. There’s the legend that Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville had recorded Abraham Lincoln’s voice on his phonautograph in 1863. The Nitrates like this idea, figuring they can make it their one last caper before retiring to a farm upstate. While the Nitrates call everybody they know to ask if they can impersonate Abraham Lincoln, Domain primes his mark. And that’s where we stand now.

The work begins at Public Domain's hideout. Sprocket: 'You've got a package, Silver.' Silver: 'THE CYLINDERS ARE HERE! They're made of canova oil, like the ones Edourd-Leon Scott de Martinville used.' Sprocket: 'Are you going to record on this cylinder?' Silver: 'You got it. Abraham Lincoln was supposed to be a tenor with a Kentucky accent.' Sprocket: 'Public domain is right. You're the tops at scams like this!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 6th of August, 2017. I am embarrassed to say how much I’m geeking out about this forged-audio-recording storyline. I mean, creating a plausible phony antique media document like this, which I assume has to come complete with a plausible provenance, presses so many nerd buttons on me.

There’s two major plot threads that have been left unresolved but got refreshes recently. Nothing’s been said about the weird noises that made the Plentys think their house was haunted. Other Detective Lee Ebony continues in deep undercover as Mister Bribery’s bodyguard.

Not given a refresh the past couple months: crime boss Posie Ermine wants his daughter, who’s been brainwashed and surgically altered into the Duplicate Mysta Chimera (“Moon Maid”), back. There was some (apparent) Lunarian in an Antarctic Valley pledging to investigate the mysterious Duplicate Mysta.

Next Week: Since my car has finally passed 100,000 miles I should take it down to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for a check-up. Will there be old-time radio references? You make the call!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eight points today despite fears among traders that there might be multiple open-air jazz festivals going on in the Eastside that we’re going to have to deal with? The heck is that even possible?

359

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? March – June 2017


Again I thank people who’re looking for help working out what’s going on in Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this much later than June of 2017 there may have been a new update. The update should be at or near the top of this link along with any miscellaneous but important news that’s broken about the comic strip’s production. For example, if the artist changes or something like that.

Dick Tracy

12 March – 3 June 2017

I last checked in on Dick Tracy as a mega-super-hyper-crossover event over twelve percent bigger than usual was going on. Perenelle Flammel was murdered just before the climax of the auction for her immortality formula. Tracy and Will Eisner’s The Spirit were going around the special guest stars looking for clues, but Oliver Warbucks, Tracy‘s own Diet Smith, Terry and the Pirates‘s Dragon Lady all have solid alibis, and Spirit recurring villain Mister Carrion was already arrested and sent back to the Old Comics Home under Jim Scancarelli’s supervision. With no other suspects in the picture Tracy and Spirit turn to God.

Hotel Siam - The Penthouse. Am: 'As my old friend Alley would say, long time no see.' Tracy: 'Am, did you just arrive here?' Am: 'Why, yes. How did you know?' Spirit: 'Am, I assume you have doubles?' Am: 'I do. You have discovered my secret! I pay them well, and it makes my life safer. Why do you ask?' Tracy: 'It's about the double that's been here in your absence. Where is he now?'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of March, 2017. Oh good grief, the Great Am is talking about his friend Alley Oop, isn’t he? He’s making an Alley Oop reference out of all of this.

God in this case is The Great Am. He’s from Little Orphan Annie, when Harold Grey figured he needed some supernatural aid in railing against the New Deal. I don’t understand his deal exactly, except he’s one of those Ambiguously God characters that can add a pleasantly mystical touch to a setting. And at least in some of the strips I’ve seen he could add a charming wicked little cynicism about human nature.

The Spirit, aware that the strip is almost out of characters, guesses that The Great Am has a body double for the vague security reasons that make impossibly rich people in pulpy adventure stories have body doubles, and what do you know but he’s right? Am’s Double and Flammel’s longtime servant Ramon Escobar are found in a state of cahootsing, still on the books as a vice rap. The two flee, with Double Am caught in a choke hold by The Spirit and Escobar struck by lightning.

The Spirit is trying to apprehend the Double Am. Spirit: (If I can get this dang sling off ... ) 'There! How do you like your NEW NECKTIE?' Double Am: URK!
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of March, 2017. I don’t know, Spirit. Is it within the power of man to truly apprehend the nature of Am? Or … well … you’re kind of dead, aren’t you? Something like that? Carry on, you seem to know what you’re doing.

The plan, explained: Escobar, denied his choice of wife by Flammel, hoped to steal first the auction money; when Kitchen and Brush failed (as recounted last update) they tried to steal the immortality formula proper. When Flammel discovered the attempted theft, Double Am strangled her. And so everything is settled basically sensibly.

Escobar, on the balcony: 'YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME IN, TRACY!' He's hit by a bolt of lightning.
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of March, 2017. This is why when we were kids our parents warned us not to use the land-line phone (the only phone there was) or our balcony guns during a thunderstorm!

I have mixed feelings about the resolution. The story seems to hang basically together, in that if you grant the premise the participants have good reason for what they do and why. The weak point as a whodunnit mystery is there’s nothing that hints, prior to The Spirit’s question, that the Great Am has body doubles. Perhaps I missed the clue, though, or perhaps somewhere in the Great Am’s past appearances this was established and Staton and Curtis just supposed that of course we’d remember. On the other hand, part of detective work is asking slightly speculative questions and sometimes those do turn out to be valuable. So one can slight the Double Am’s existence as being a deus ex machina used to give the story a plausible killer. But then Escobar’s being literally struck by lightning as he’d otherwise have gunned down Tracy? — Ah, but, this is a part of the story dominated by the Ambiguously God character of the Great Am. Doesn’t letting Ambiguous God into the story serve as all the warning you need of a dei ex machina? I’m not sure, but realizing that about the story structure made me smile, so I’m going to have to allow it.

After a couple rounds of banter the new story began the 7th of April, with some guests from the Harold Teen comic strip that I never heard of either. Also a story with Shelley Pleger doing the daily art duties in place of Joe Staton. Pleger had been part of the team doing the Sunday art before. Staton’s credit is back on the first daily after this story resolved, so I suppose it to be a temporary post.

The story’s centerpiece is a cosplay convention, which Honeymoon Tracy and her friend Astor are thrilled to attend. Honeymoon guides Tracy gently into the world of people who cosplay, a friendly mass of folks who try to work out what he’s supposed to be, anyway, Inspector Gadget? But it also makes me think about this.

The Cosplay Convention is On! Tracy: 'Honeymoon, I recognize the cartoon characters, but what are those other animal costumes from?' Honeymoon: 'They're from a CROSSOVER FANDOM, Pop-pop. Do you know what a crossover is?' Tracy: 'I think so.' Honeymoon: 'Well, in furry fandom, some people design and wear animal costumes. They're called FURSUITERS.' Tracy: 'I see. Interesting. Those fursuits look professionally made.' Honeymoon: 'CONNIE! You made it! Where are you?' Connie: 'Right behind you, Honeymoon!'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of April, 2017. Honestly not sure if I’m more unsettled by Dick Tracy learning what fursuiters are, by the gang at the Flophouse podcast talking about Sonic the Hedgehog m-preg pictures on Deviantart, or that there’s a chance my dad will ask me what m-preg is next time we’re on the phone.

A recurring minor character in Dick Tracy is The Pouch. He had been a circus freak-show fat man attraction, but lost most of his nearly 500 pounds of weight. He took his enormously many loose, flappy bags of skin and sewed them into clasping pouches, the better to conceal and smuggle items while selling balloons at the zoo. And while you ponder the question, “wait, what?” let me give you this point: He once used a popcorn popper to kill a man. And now this question: if that is the baseline normal for what human beings are and can do in the Dick Tracy universe, where do you go for imagination and fantasy characters?

Back to Cos-U-Con. A mysterious masked figure robs contest organizer Brian Miller and one of the Three Margies, a trio of women whose struggling costume shop donated thousands to the contest. The robber makes off with the ten thousand dollars cash prize. But — as was clear all along — it’s a fake. The Three Margies have arranged the theft. Big Margie and Little Margie celebrate by vandalizing a cemetery for Jewish people. And that’s rather a jolt. Yes, Dick Tracy is a crime-detection comic and that is the sort of offense that a major crimes unit would deal with. It’s just a dramatic change in tone for a storyline that, three weeks earlier, seemed to be about Dick Tracy ogling someone in a blue raccoon costume. But then isn’t “we were all having a giddy little time and then it suddenly got awful” just what the past eighteen months have been? Those nice-looking cousins all named Margie who run a costume shop turning out to hate Jewish people somehow fits.

Tracy: 'Sorry the cosplay contest had such a unpleasant ending, SVENGOOLIE.' Svengoolie: 'It was a real downer, but I'm sorry for BRIAN MILLER, the con organizer.' Tracy: 'Having the prize in cash was inviting something like this. I'm thankful nobody got hurt.' Svengoolie: 'That's too scary to think of! I wish you luck cracking the case, Tracy.' Tracy: 'Thanks, Mr. Koz. With good detective work, we'll find the thief. And with a little luck, recover the money too.'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 7th of May, 2017. I appreciate the subtle change in the color palette this strip. It’s the same location as the previous comic, but a little bit darker and sadder after the robbery. Even if you didn’t read the word balloons you could sort out whether this or the strip from the 23rd of April happened before the crime.

Tracy and Sam Catchem, after asking the Three Margies about the convention theft, realize that as the other characters in the story the Three Margies are the best bet for the perpetrators. They confirm their suspicions with a Sunday strip’s worth of actual detective work. The Margies paid two months’ back rent in cash, and that one of the Margies had come six months ago from a town that suffered similar cemetery vandalism up to six months ago.

Tracy and Cachem stake out the Margies. Big and Middle Margie lead them to a construction site, where they’re trying to bury a satchel from the robbery. The Margies aren’t very good at this sort of crime, and get captured easily, dropping some surprisingly strong anti-Jewish words for the comics page and clearing Little Margie’s name on their way out of the story.

Tracy: 'Take it slow, Ms Thatcher.' Maggie Thatcher: 'No! I won't go to jail!' (She hits him with the satchel.) 'Not again!' Other Maggie runs up with a stick. Catchem emerges from the shadows with his gun drawn: 'Drop it!'
Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2017. I do like the action here; it mixes the slightly slapstick with the threatening and the surprise reveal. Comic strips don’t have the space that they had in the glorious old days like when Dick Tracy was new, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t able to put together a lot when they need.

The story wrapped up, neatly for my purposes, the 2nd of June. Was it successful? I’d say so; once we grant everyone in the Dick Tracy universe going wild for cosplay the events hold together, and Tracy and Catchem do actual detective work that could logically lead them to the perpetrators. It’s not a very intense storyline, but they don’t all need to be; I appreciate that sometimes the initial major crime can be as simple as a ten thousand dollar robbery. If it comes apart because the Three Margies are not very good at laundering money, that’s fine; they seem to be dabblers in this sort of crime and naturally they’d leave an obvious trail.

A new story seems to have started the 3rd of June. It’s opened on the B O Plenty family. They’re hillbillies who long ago married into the comic strip. No guessing where that might lead. The last couple months have not included any one-off comic strips that seem to be there to set up long-running or future storylines. They’ve been on point to the current storyline.

Special Guest Stars Of Dick Tracy Have Included:

  • Will Eisner’s The Spirit
  • Oliver Warbucks
  • The Great Am
  • The Dragon Lady
  • Harold Teen
  • Pop Jenks
  • Shadow Smart
  • Svengoolie

I am certain I’ve missed some. The Cos-U-Con storyline included so many chances to draw characters in, and the only way to tell whether that’s actually Smokey Stover or just someone dressed as Smokey Stover is to talk with them. I do recommend going back looking over the art; there’s probably something you’re a fan of in there somewhere.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index bounced up seven points today as investors had a spare five bucks when they noticed the reverse-bungee ride at the mall’s food court was running for a change. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

207

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? December 2016 – March 2017


I started out this strikingly popular series of “What’s Going On In” story strips by describing how Dick Tracy had gotten pretty good. I stand by that assessment: the comic has been telling stories at a pretty good pace and with enough energy and excitement to demand attention. I discover reading my earlier piece that I didn’t actually describe the then-current storyline except to say it was going to have a guy get eaten by a hyena. Let me fix that and bring you to the present day.

Dick Tracy

29 November 2016 through 11 March 2017

So, the guy did not get eaten by a hyena. I apologize for the mistake, but it was after all only my best projection as to where the story was going. The fellow was a new Tracy-esque villain named Selfy Narcisse, whose gimmick was that he was always taking selfies. They can’t all be The Pouch.

Narcisse had been embezzling campaign donations to Representative Lois Bellowthon (herself proposing some anti-Lunar-people legislation); he was fleeing with a literal satchel of cash after poisoning the finally-wise-to-him Congressman. Yes, he used his selfie stick to inject the poison, so at least that keeps on-theme. He took refuge in the zoo where he had a friend willing to disguise him as a zoo keeper, which is a thing that happens in real big-city zoos.

Selfy Narcisse panics as police close in. 'This is all Vic's fault! He blew my cover and wasted all my poison ... if he weren't already dead I'd kill him!' Tracy discovers Vic's corpse. 'It's the missing zoo worker! He doesn't appear to have been mauled, but my Wrist Wizard isn't showing any of his vital signs. Get Baker to open the door, Lizz. I'll check for another way in.' Meanwhile Narcisse plans: 'Better stay put, Tracy. There might be enough poison left in the selfie stick for you!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 4th of December, 2016. While I admit I kept losing track in the climax of the difference between the Narcisse’s selfie stick and the electric prods used for pushing animals around, I don’t blame the artists: they’re hard things to differentiate. Especially when it doesn’t seem like that big a leap for a poison-dispensing selfie stick to also have an electric prod. Anyway, look at the center panel, bottom row: that’s a great rendition of a scene viewed through a window, and most of that texture is made by good color choice.

His cover fell apart when his hat fell off for a moment and zoogoers put pictures that happened to have him in frame on social media. So again, that’s good work by Mike Staton and Joe Curtis in being on-theme. His friend accidentally drank Narcisse’s poison stash, thinking it alcohol. Narcisse tasers Tracy and drags him into the water buffalo pen. One of the water buffalo, annoyed by the villain’s selfie-taking, gored Narcisse, but was scared away from Tracy when his Wrist Wizard handheld computer’s battery exploded. Yes, I wrote that sentence, and you read it. Go back and read it again until you believe it.

In December a major new story started and it involved a major crossover event because everything in Dick Tracy does anymore. Their Christmas strip was the characters singing Deck Us All With Boston Charlie, Walt Kelly’s great Pogo doggerel, for crying out loud. The main attraction for this storyline is The Spirit, the great superhero character created by Will Eisner in a line of books I never read. Sorry. I know, I know, everybody who’s stood in a comic book store more than ten minutes will tell you they’re the greatest things ever made. I’ve been busy.

Tracy: 'Spirit, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine, The Great Am.' Am: 'The pleasure is mine, Mr Spirit. I presume the object of your visit is to keep an eye on Perenelle Flammel?' Spirit: 'Yes ...' (Thinking: who is this guy?) Am: 'I've encountered her about five times through the years. In fact, the first time we met was at her funeral in 1397.' Tracy: 'So Perenelle Flammel is truly immortal?' Am: 'Yes, I am sure of it, Tracy.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 1st of January, 2017. This strip may not convince the casual reader about Perenelle Flammel. But it is delivering to us the Word of God that Flammel is indeed immortal. The Great Am will be recognized by devoted longtime readers of Annie, where he’s God. All right, he’s Ambiguously God. But that’s who he is because that’s the kind of thing Annie was up to when Harold Gray wasn’t ranting against social security or the minimum wage law or stuff.

The Spirit’s in town because one Perenelle Flammel is auctioning off the immortality formula that’s kept her from dying since the 14th century. The auction brings together The Spirit, Dick Tracy‘s own super-science-industrialist Diet Smith, Oliver Warbucks (as Staton and Curtis are fostering the orphaned Annie cast), Mister Carrion (whom Wikipedia tells me is one of The Spirit’s recurring villains, and whom the story revealed to be an agent for The Octopus, which Wikipedia says is another of The Spirit’s recurring villains), and the Dragon Lady (allowed into the story via special passport issued by Terry and the Pirates). The preliminary auction helps convince bidders the formula might be legitimate because it checks out with a Doc Savage reference. Low-level con men Brush and Kitchen attempt to rob the preliminary auction’s treasury but get easily caught by Tracy and Spirit. And Tracy, doing some actual detective work for once, finds that Carrion brought cash from a bank robbery, so he’s out of the plot or so we think.

Early morning in Flammel's suite: 'Good morning, Mistress! Your Monte Cristo is ready. All the bidders will assemble at noon for the auction. Is there anything else you need, mistress? ... MISTER DOUBLEUP! COME QUICKLY! Mistress Flammel! Please, help her!' 'I cant. It's too late. Too late. She's DEAD. Go call Dick Tracy, Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of March, 2017. Repeating the last two words he says is Doubleup’s gimmick. I suppose he’d repeat more if the word balloons were bigger. The valet’s gimmick I’m not clear on, but he seems to only be a minor character there because Flammel needs a valet.

And then Flammel turned up dead, because the immortality serum doesn’t protect you against strangulation. Flammel’s bodyguard, recurring Tracy villain Doubleup, seems a poor suspect as he was being paid in Scarlett Sting comic books, so we’re on to Flammel’s valet and then check out anyone else who’s been in the story.

In miscellaneous plot threads, since there’s a lot of those planted in spaces between the main action: Sam Catchem’s wife has finished chemotherapy and been declared cancer-free. A crime boss name of Posie Ermine noticed Mysta Chimera, who had been his daughter Mindy before the mad science treatment that destroyed her memory and made her into a synthetic Moon Maid replica. He crashed his car into hers to try to recover her. This didn’t get him permanently back in her life, but he’s undeterred. I’m sympathetic to Posie Ermine here and not even being snarky about that. There’s some deeply emotionally messy stuff going on here.

Somewhere deep in an Antarctic valley someone who appears to be a Lunarian pledges to investigate “the halfling”, “my granddaughter”, which has to be Mysta Chimera. This matches a couple references in October with Mysta asking Honey Moon Tracy if she’s heard any telepathic contacts from anybody else. Tracy and the Spirit have been trading stories including The Spirit mentioning how he went to the Moon too. I think that’s all the stuff that sounds like threads ready to go somewhere, but for all I know that Pogo reference for the Christmas strip is setting up a scene late this year when Albert Alligator mistakenly swallows Gidney and Cloyd. We’ll see.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

While the Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another three points during trading nobody trusts the result and everybody is walking gingerly on the trading floor lest they tip something over.

127

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley?


[ Edited the 24th of May, 2017 to add: ] Hi, fans of Gasoline Alley looking for summaries of the plots. I’m glad to provide what I have. This post might be out of date, though. My most recent report on what’s happening in the strip should be at or near the top of this page. The rest of this essay is about what was going on as of February 2017, which it no longer is, and is becoming less so every day. Thanks for being around.


I, too, thought I was done with story strips. And then I realized I’d forgot one. And what a one to forget: it’s, I believe, the oldest syndicated comic strip that isn’t in perpetual reruns. Coming to us from the 24th of November, 1918, it’s …

Gasoline Alley.

If you know anything about Gasoline Alley you don’t need me to tell you anything about Gasoline Alley. It’s one of those comic strips that’s been around forever even though the last child to grow up enthusiastically reading it went on to fight in King Philip’s War. Have to admit, a someone who only started paying attention to it in adulthood, the kids are missing something. That something is a lot of old-time radio references. I honestly wonder how artist/writer Jim Scancarelli wasn’t hired to draw the Lum and Abner comic strip.

So the comic strip is a slice-of-life serial comic. Its big gimmick, and the thing that’s let it last nearly a century, was the day in 1922 when protagonist Walt Wallet discovered the orphan Skeezix on his doorstep. Since then most of the characters in the strip have aged more or less in real time. People get born, they grow up, they move off, they move back, they marry, they have careers, they bring new people into the strip, they retire. The whole cast is impossibly vast and interconnected in ways that only Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury compares to.

Walt Wallet is still around, even though the progression of time makes him something like 115 years old. I imagine Scancarelli is a little too sentimental to kill the comic’s original star, even if there have been like four whole generations of plausible lead characters since then. He doesn’t even have to kill Walt. Scancarelli embraces a bit of magic whimsy in the comic (a lot, really), and one of the conceits is the Old Comics Home. It’s the boarding house for all the characters from the classic old comic strips. They have a visit every year or so. I can’t imagine anyone objecting if Walt, and maybe Skeezix too, were to pay their annual visit to Mutt and Jeff and Buster Brown and Smokey Stover or whoever and just … not come back.

But Walt Wallet does come back. And the current storyline, begun the 16th of January, stars him. He’s inspired by a newspaper advertisement offering “big bucks for your inventions”. After several days sleeping on it he has an inspiration. It’s a combination freezer-fridge-stove-grill-microwave-TV, the sort of thing you might create as a dubiously practical all-in-one contraption for a 60s sitcom. Wallet admits he got the idea from thinking about how in Dick Tracy the B.O. Plenty clan had a stove with a built-in TV set. I don’t know that this actually happened, but I believe it. Scancarelli shows a love for this particular kind of pop culture. He is not so reference-crazy as the actual current staff of Dick Tracy, but then neither is the writing staff of Family Guy. Still, he could hold his own in a highly referential conversation with them.

'Isn't this the invention of a lifetime? A combination freezer, fridge, stove, grill, and microwave! Well! Aren't you going to say anything?' 'I'm speechless!'

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of January, 2017. There’s an optional TV also. No, it isn’t connected to the Internet, because there is no non-ridiculous reason to connect your refrigerator to the Internet. Will say that’s a pretty good example diaram considering so far as I know Wallet hasn’t been trained in graphic design and he’s also older than graphic design.

Wallet’s idea underwhelms Skeezix and his nurse. But he attracts the attention of Gasoline Alley TV’s Shark Bait. So he goes to the TV studio to pitch his idea — or really the novelty of a 115-year-old inventor — to the jury of millionaire investors. He gets to the studio and meets, who else but Frank Nelson.

You know Frank Nelson. OK, you know that guy on The Simpsons who goes YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess? That’s Frank Nelson they’re impersonating there. He appeared in a lot of Jack Benny Program episodes as the clerk or ticket-taker or information desk guy or anyone at all that Benny would have to get information from. And he’d instead get “YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess” and “OOooOOOoooh” and insults. This may sound like thin stuff, but, again: character actor. And done for one or two minutes a week, two weeks a month, the character doesn’t exactly get old. It gets familiar, the way a fun running gag does. Frank Nelson’s reappeared in Gasoline Alley to torment Walt Wallet because, like I said, Jim Scancarelli’s an old-time radio fan. The comic probably reads fine if you have no idea what’s being referred to here. If you know how the lines should be read, I imagine they’re funnier.

But I don’t know what it reads like to someone who doesn’t get the references. Scancarelli likes them, and will keep making them. Even if they’re a little baffling. A while back he introduced Molly Ballou, radio reporter. Who’s carefully introduced as the sister to Wally Ballou, famously mis-cued reporter for Bob and Ray. And shortly after that he introduced Polly Ballou, Wally and Molly’s other sister. I understand wanting to do a little Bob and Ray fanfic because who would not? And it’s simple professionalism to do it with your own character, because that way, if you screw up nobody’s qualified to tell you you’re wrong. (Frank Nelson’s appearances have, I believe, avoided coming right out and naming him, allowing for some deniability if the character goes completely wrong. At the cost of confusing people who realize there’s a reference to something here that they don’t have enough stuff to Google.)

But why make them Wally Ballou’s improbably young-looking sisters? In the comic strip that defined “comic strip that passes more or less in real time”? Why not make them his daughters, or granddaughters? And why Molly and Polly, when it seems like one would do? Maybe it’s pure self-indulgence. As cartoonist self-indulgences go this seems quite tolerable to me. Or maybe I just like that I get the references.

'Uh, excuse me! Where do you want me to go?' 'Oooh! I'd love to tell you ... but I can't.' 'Why not?' 'This is a family newspaper!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of February, 2017. Fine, call it a dumb old joke. It was my best laugh of the day from the comics. Also I hadn’t thought of it before but now I realize Scancarelli could totally slip in Harold “The Great Guildersleeve” Peary in too. He’s got the basic design down.

So, as of this week, Walt Wallet’s gotten onto Shark Bait. It’s going out live because Gasoline Alley TV just does that. You can roll with it or you can read something else, okay? There’s an odd bit of confusion in the show’s opening about whether the jury is a panel of millionaires or billionaires and that might be a hint there’s some mischief up. I make no predictions for how it’ll resolve except that at the end of it Walt Wallet will not be a millionaire. The strip doesn’t break reality that much, plus, think of the biographies of every inventor you know. How many of then end with “died in poverty after long court fights with the companies that ripped off his/her patents”? Yeah.

This is the storyline running Monday through Saturday. On Sundays the comic strip runs separate gags. They’re usually one-off panels, not connected to any storyline. And they’re usually the sort of big dumb old-school sketch comedy stuff that was old when old-time radio was new. And Scancarelli draws it in this warm, friendly, very gentle style. It works for me. I like that kind of comedy. Don’t know that it communicates today.

'I'm the Genie of the Lamp! I'll grant you 3 wishes for letting me out!' 'Can I have 10 billion dollars?' 'Your wish is my command!' 'How about world peace?' 'Easier done than said! What's next? This is your last wish! It better be a good one!' 'Make me lose 200 pounds and look like I did when I was 20!' 'Gad-zooks, man! I don't have that kind of power! I'm only a genie!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of February, 2017. The typical sort of Sunday business for Gasoline Alley. Since the joke is old, take the chance to look at the art. This is some pretty lively stuff, especially considering the scene is just two characters talking and would play just as well without any visuals. There’s not enough good art on the comics pages; good on Scancarelli for insisting on it in his work.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell eight points following uncertainty as to which of the paczki is the strawberry and which is the red raspberry. This might have been weathered but similar doubts were raised regarding the blueberry and the prune ones.

98

What Is Going On With Dick Tracy?


So something weird has happened with story strips lately. I suppose it’s coincidence, properly. But something’s happened to them since last year’s Apartment 3-Gocalypse. I figured to take some time and write about them. I’m going to start with the strip that had the most dramatic and first big change of the lot, one going back far before the end of that comic.

Dick Tracy.

I’m not sure when I started reading Dick Tracy as an adult. I know it was in the 2000s, and that it was encouraged by partners in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.strips. And that’s because the strip was awful. Not just bad, mind you, but awful in a super-spectacular fashion. The kind the most punishing yet hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes are based on. In the last years of his tenure on the comic Dick Locher’s storytelling had collapsed into something like a structuralist parody of comics. Nothing would happen, at great length, endlessly repeated. I observed that if you put together a week’s worth of the daily strips — which the Houston Chronicle web site used to make easy to do — you could read the panels top down, first panel of each day of the week, then second panel, then third panel, and have exactly as coherent a story. It was compelling in its outsider-art insanity.

Several slightly connected panels in which in a major storm Tracy's wrist-wradio finally starts working but the building he's in is threatened with collapse and Sam Catchem finds things going on and the story was over within a week.
Dick Locher and Jim Brozman’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of February, 2011. The lurching end of a long, long storyline in which the masked villain Mordred has lured Tracy to a crumbling house and there’s rats and a storm. It’s not just the hurried, clip-show nature of the Sunday installment. The panels really don’t quite make anything that happens relate to anything anyone’s doing.

That came to an end (and I’m shocked to realize this) over five years ago. From the 14th of March, 2011, the team of Joe Staton and Mike Curtis took over. The change was immediately obvious: the art alone was much more controlled, more precise, and easier to read than Locher’s had been. And the stories had stuff happen. My understanding is Staton and Curtis were under editorial direction to have no story last more than a month; Locher’s last years had averaged about three to four months per storyline.

So finally we had a story strip with pacing. You know, the way they had in the old days. There were drawbacks to this. Four or five weeks at three panels a day — more can’t really fit — plus the long Sunday installments still doesn’t give much space. To introduce a villain, work out a scheme, have Tracy do something about it, and wrap it up? Challenging work. The first several stories I came out thinking that I didn’t know precisely what had happened, but I’d enjoyed the ride.

They’ve had several years now, and are still going strong. They’re allowed longer stories now. They’ve gotten to be astoundingly good at planting stuff for future stories. They’re quite comfortable dropping in a panel that doesn’t seem to mean anything — sometimes with the promise that it will be returned to — so they have the plot point on the record when they need it a year or more later. And they’ve brought a fannish glee to the stories. I still don’t understand exactly what’s going on, but the pace and the art and the glee are too good to pass up.

Staton and Curtis show all signs of knowing everything that has ever appeared in pop culture, ever. And they’re happy to bring it in to their comic. Some of this is great. They brought [ Little Orphan ] Annie into the strip, resolving the cliffhanger that that long-running-yet-cancelled story strip ended on. And has brought her back a couple times after. They’ve called in Brenda Starr — another long-running-yet-cancelled story strip — for research. They spent a week with Funky Winkerbean for some reason, which might be how Sam Catchem’s wife got cancer.

And they’ve dug through the deep, bizarre canon of Dick Tracy. I mean, they brought back The Pouch, a minor criminal who after losing hundreds of pounds of weight sewed snap-tight pouches into his acres of flesh, the better to be an informer and courier when not selling balloons to kids. I love everything about how daft that is.

Back in the 60s the comic’s creator, Chester Gould, went a little mad and threw in a bunch of nonsense about Moon People and magnetic spaceships and all that and wrote funny stuff about how this was just as grounded in fact as the scientific investigation methods of Tracy. One might snicker and respectfully not disagree with that. But it was a lot of silly Space Race goofiness, fun but probably wisely not mentioned after the mid-70s.

Diet Smith, Dick Tracy, and Sparkle Plenty voyage in the Space Coupe to the Moon. Tracy reflects on Apollo 8's Christmas 1968 message, blessing all of you on the good Earth.
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of December, 2012. Something of a quiet, Christmas-time interlude in the story that brought the Moon Maid back from the dead. Well, the Orignal Moon Maid is dead and there’s a replacement created by super-surgery and it’s all complicated but it’s also related to the current ongoing plotline of this actual month, which looks like it’s going to see a guy get eaten by a hyena.

So they brought this back, and mentioned it. Not just in passing; a major theme in the comic the past five years have been struggles for Diet Smith’s Space Coupe technologies and the mystery of whatever happened to the Moon Valley and the making of new, cloned-or-whatever Moon Maid with electric superpowers and everything. I suppose it’s plausible if we grant this silliness happened that it would become big stuff, certainly for Tracy’s circles. But could we have let the silliness alone? Space-opera antics are fun, and there’s no other comic strip that can even try at them, but Dick Tracy is supposed to be a procedural-detective strip about deformed people committing crimes and dying by their own, if detective-assisted, hands.

A matter of taste. There’s something to be said for embracing, as far as plausible, the implications of world-breaking stuff the comic did in the 60s.

Less disputable, though: everything in the strip is a freaking reference to something else anymore. Everything. There’s less referential seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not just to Dick Tracy‘s long history, or even to other story strips. They made the Jumble word game part of a storyline. Last year they went to a theatrical production of A Christmas Carol with Mister Magoo for crying out loud. Think about that. Earlier this year villain Abner Kadaver lured Tracy to the Reichenbach Falls with just a reference to meet him at “the fearful place”, because of course Tracy would pick up on that reference. And yes, they struggled at the falls and went over the side. I don’t think we’ve seen his body, although Kadavner’s even more immune to death than normal for compelling villains in this sort of story.

Tracy got rescued, of course. By an obsessed fan. Not of Tracy; he’s already been through that story in the Staton-Curtis regime. An obsessed fan of Sherlock Holmes, who insists on thinking Tracy is actually Holmes and won’t listen to anything contradicting him. An obsessed fan named Dr Bulwer Lytton. Good grief.

Tracy wakes in the care and custody of Dr Bulwer Lytton, a Sherlock Holmes superfan.
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 1st of September, 2016. Tracy would get out of this with nothing more than autographing some of Dr Bulwer Lytton’s first-edition prints of Sherlock Holmes adventures, which should create a heck of a problem for the signature-collection and forgery industry.

I was set for a little Misery-style knockoff, but Staton and Curtis faked me out. They do that often, must say, and with ease and in ways that don’t feel like cheats. That’s one of the things that keeps me enthusiastic about the strip. Instead of an intense psychological thriller about how to make his escape, Tracy just stands up and declares he’s had enough of this. Mercifully sane. But part of me just knows, Staton and Curtis were trying to think of a way to have Graham Champan wearing a colonel’s uniform step on panel and declare this had all got very silly and they were to go on to the next thing now. I figure they’re going to manage that within the next two years.

It’s quite worth reading, if you can take the strangeness of advancing a complicated story in a few moments a day and that not everything will quite hang together. But the more attention you pay the more you realize how deftly crafted everything about it is.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points. Trading was hurried as everyone had forgotten to do anything until market analysts came in just before deadline to ask how things had turned out so they could say why that happened instead of something else entirely. Now analysts are trying to figure out if any of this happened for a reason or if traders were just throwing any old nonsense together. They’re suspicious.

98

What’s Going On In Apartment 3-G


Prepended the 11th of November, 2015: Hi, many folks who’ve found this page while looking for information about Apartment 3-G. I do update what’s known about the strip under the category tag of Apartment 3-G, so you can always find the latest by following this link.

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be much more latest to report. The comic strip has, reportedly, been cancelled, and the last new strip is to appear the weekend of the 21st-22nd. Rumor is that vintage (rerun) strips will be appearing at least on the Comics Kingdom web site after that. Whether they’ll be distributed to newspapers that want reruns of a soap opera strip I don’t know. Whether they will finish off the current story before ending … I don’t know, but I am skeptical they even could. I’m sorry not to have better information.


I have noticed the recent surge in people searching for Apartment 3-G information. I’ve written about the comic strip a couple of times, because it’s been going through a stage of fantastic quantities of nothing happening lately. But it’s been getting worse, or at least more baffling. Yes, worse than the stretch where artist Frank Bolle and writer Margaret Shulock spent without exaggeration six weeks of nothing but shots of two people talking about how they had to talk with no relief or any actual subject in mind except for the world’s most hideously deformed kangaroo-deer-night terror.

So to answer the question of what’s going on in Apartment 3-G as sincerely and honestly as I can: nothing comprehensible. No. Not anything.

Margo exists in the least diner-iest diner you have ever seen. It just looks like a generic apartment with no hints of tables or chairs or food or customers or anything.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 1st of February, 2015.

The overarching plot as it stumbled into the year, back around February or so, was that Margo’s father and the woman she’d always thought was the maid but was in fact her biological mother were finally getting married. Margo had been hired to organize their wedding, but was emotionally confused and furious that her biological mother had been taking advice from some kind of psychic who’s warning about evil at their (planned? considered?) wedding location. That takes us to about February.

Margo demands to know who some guy who doesn't answer her is. She wonders why this keeps happening.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 21st of February, 2015.

Margo sees a stranger? He says, 'Am I a stranger or an old friend? Or maybe just a ghost in the fog.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 4th of July, 2015.
Yes, this was published over four months after the previous strip and it reiterates the same tiny plot point.

Since then, Margo has been wandering around what are allegedly spots in alleged Manhattan, shouting at people that I guess we’re supposed to conclude are her friends. Meanwhile, she’s being haunted by people who seem to know her, but that she doesn’t recognize. Some of them she drives away; some of them just vanish on their own. These haunting people don’t look like the same person, but given the shakiness of Apartment 3-G lately it’s not possible to say whether that’s intentionally unclear. I suspect that these are meant to be the ghosts of boyfriends or male entanglements of the past. However, none of that has been established on-screen, and nobody who’s read the strip has popped up with any identifications of, oh, “the guy haunting her in April was her fiancee from the 1984-86 story they were talking about that one Golden Girls episode”.

A strange face asks Margo if she wants to know his name. She replies, 'That's a heck to the no!'. This is one of the more wonderful things I've seen this year.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 7th of July, 2015.

A man on the street asks Margo if she's all right. She declares, 'This is Manhattan --- you're not supposed to care about people.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 8th of July, 2015.

And about two weeks ago Lu Ann declared that she was fed up with everything, and she was quitting the gallery and selling her third-share in Apartment 3-G’s building. Also she worked at a gallery, and owned a third-share in Apartment 3-G’s building. The only reason that’s been given for this is that she wants to get out of Manhattan and see the big time. This seems to be correlated to a Mister Clean cosplayer named Mike Downey apologizing I guess for something he maybe did at some point, but how has not been said.

Lu Ann forgives a Mister Clean cosplayed and then hasn't talked to Margo lately.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 7th of June, 2015.

No, none of what motivates any of this has been clarified. Believe me. I have been reading the strip daily, and I have gone back reading it weeks and months at a time to see if it connects more clearly when you look at a block of story at once. There is no story here. There are a couple of plot points — Margo is distressed by her parents’ wedding, Margo is haunted by familiar but unidentifiable figures, Lu Ann wants to change her life — but they exist in island universes, separated from one another and receding ever-faster. And after nothing happened between February and June, then the third of those plot points was dropped into this shapeless melange. You are not missing something, dear confused reader.

Lu Ann explains she's selling out of Apartment 3-G because 'there is a big world out there, and I want to see it all!'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 28th of June, 2015.

I know it’s always easy to make fun of the story strips, since they usually don’t do story well and they’re never funny on purpose. But something seriously bad has happend with Apartment 3-G the past several years. What plotting and narrative the strip used to have has evaporated, and the artwork has collapsed. The only thing I can compare it to is the last years of Dick Locher’s run on Dick Tracy. At that point all narrative collapsed. What few things happened were repeated over and over, as far as you could make out from the artwork. Without exaggeration it was possible to take a week’s worth of panels, scramble them, and read exactly as coherent a story.

That’s fine for some ironic thrills, for a while. Truly incompetent storytelling carries this exciting, outsider-art appeal. But it’s an unhealthy diet. It’s especially so for syndicated newspaper comic strips, an already sickly relative of the pop culture; and it’s extremely dangerous for the syndicated story strip, which might be the most endangered part of the newspaper.

I would like to think there’s hope. After a seemingly endless mess of nothing Dick Locher retired from Dick Tracy. The new team — Joe Staton and Mike Curtis — brought to it fresh artwork and exciting plots carried out with energy and direction. While the strip is flawed (there’s a lot of fanboyish determination to reference and cross-reference everything, and plots have rarely required Dick Tracy to do actual detective work), it’s recovered to being a good story strip again. While I wish no harm to Margaret Shulock or Frank Bolle, I do hope the strip can regenerate. It would be terrible if this is the long sad prelude to cancellation.