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


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

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

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

Dick Tracy.

9 August – 31 October 2020.

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Next Week!

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

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who is Dethany and why does she look like a villain? May – August 2020


Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.

Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.

While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.

On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)

It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.

(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)

Dick Tracy.

17 May – 9 August 2020.

Actress Fortuna Dyer was getting into character for her Breathless Mahoney bio-pic. Thing is Breathless Mahoney was a villain. Dyer wants information out of B.O.Plenty, who back before his heel-face turn kind of got pretty near murdering her. Tracy gives Dyer an interview, recapping the Mahoney-Plenty story of the 40s. And asks her not to contact Plenty, who’s gone all good.

Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.

Shaky: 'Breathless, we've been at this for two weeks now. What would you say to dinner with no movie talk?' Dyer/Breathless: 'I wondered when you'd bring that up. Sure, we can go out. But tell me something ... do you shake *all* the time?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2020. “Because if you do shake all the time, well, this could be even better than that time I was dating Chef Wiggly!”

Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.

Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.

In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.

So a thing Ugly Crystal maybe never mentioned to Shaky when he mistook her place for a safehouse? Her dad’s Lafayette Austin, undercover cop. Also he has like a dozen belt buckles so it’s easy to find one’s missing.

On the movie set, Shaky, playing Original Shaky, says, 'Come on, Breathless. I said I was sorry.' Dyer, as Breathless: 'No, Shaky. I don't take that from anyone. We're through!' Shaky: 'Please, baby?' Dyer: 'No. I've filed charges.' Shaky: 'You what?' Dick Tracy: 'Shaky.' Shaky: 'Buzz off! This is none of your business!' Tracy: 'Oh, but it *is*. You're under arrest.' Shaky: 'Ugh ... Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of June, 2020. Having yet another instance where characters play Dick Tracy characters, particularly with Current Shaky playing Original Shaky for this movie cameo, made this a confusing strip to read when it came out. What we’re seeing here, through the first panel of the bottom row, is a movie scene being filmed with Shaky playing his uncle the Original Shaky, and Dyer playing Breathless. The last two panels are the real Dick Tracy intruding, breaking up the scene with an actual real-world arrest. This seems needlessly jerky of Dick Tracy. Like, he couldn’t have waited one minute for the scene to be clear? But, Shaky responding to something off-script so plausibly suggests that maybe his real calling was an actor. He’s certainly not a competent crook.

Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.

Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .

Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.


The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.

Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.

The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.

Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.

Alex Wilson: 'What have you tried to persuade Miss Dendrobia to leave?' Coney: 'The usual cat and mouse. But she won't scare. After the last try she brought Dick Tracy into the situation.' Wilson: 'We may be on borrowed time, Coney. You've had no luck finding Viller's Millions?' Coney: 'No, but too many of his old mob remember his bragging about it being hidden in that warehouse. It MUST be there!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of July, 2020. OK, yeah, but, like, Villiers was operating in the 30s. There was probably some candy bar named “Villiers’ Millions” and it was advertised as the combination bar that filled you up like a five-course dinner served to a member of the Sugar Trust. They sponsored Stoopnagle and Budd for three months in 1934.

Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.

Howdy gets some information from Bookworm, which might be a shout-out to the Adam West Batman. With that information he drives over to On The Fastrack and kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre. Howdy gives Dendrobia the ultimatum: get her boss (Rose Trellis) to let go of the warehouse and she gets Guy Wyre back.

And, the 9th of August, Sam Catchem meets up with Sleet. Catchem knew her back when she was a racketeer and paid $500 to kill him. So it’s nice they’ve gotten past that. What relevance it has to these proceedings is unknowable as of Sunday. (He was getting information about Wyre’s kidnappers.)

This catches you up to mid-August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020, or want what Dick Tracy news I come across, I may have something at this link. Thank you.

Next Week!

I look through a couple months’ worth of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, unfortunately still in reruns for the dailies. I believe at least some of the Sunday strips are new, but haven’t checked. I’ll let you know what I find.

And one last note. Over on my mathematics blog I’m spending the rest of the year explaining one mathematics term at a time. I’m leaving a lot of mathematics terms un-explained. But you might like what you see. Thanks for reading.