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.

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The Heck Is Even With Poison Ivy: An Investigation


My love was working in the yard. I wasn’t. We have a well-agreed-upon divide of household chores. My love gardens, while I bring in all the groceries in one trip and offer to run back to the store for the butter we forgot. Anyway, my love encountered what we believed to be poison ivy.

That was natural enough. There’s been poison ivy in the yard before. We got rid of as much as we could last year in an expedition that brought us into the neighbor’s yard. A lot of ivy was growing through the fence. Somehow our neighbor was willing to accept our offer to dig a noxious weed out of his yard for free. It takes all kinds to make a neighborhood Most of that kind are neighbors.

But we got to thinking about poison ivy. Most poison you get into your body, and then you get very sick or die, and that’s that. The whole point of poison is to stop getting eaten by heaping a pile of dead animals around where they tried eating. But poison ivy? You get it in or on you and then maybe up to three days later you get an irritating rash that lasts up to three weeks. As poisons go this is pretty incompetent. It depends on animals brushing up against it and then, a couple days later, being pretty irritated. And then the animals are supposed to peruse their travel logs and review any suspicious plants they might have passed near. And then after extensive reviews determine the element in common to all these itching incidents is being up to seventy-two hours removed from the close proximity of a bit of poison ivy. That’s asking a lot from animals, who are lousy at tracking infection vectors, except the Malayan Golden Forensic Mousedeer.

So I put “the heck is even with poison ivy” into DuckDuckGo and right there on the first page of results is a link from something called “mamapedia” and I’m not going to touch a link with a domain name like that. My most optimistic guess is it’s like Wikipedia but with the charming parts of a southern accent. According to some non-scary-pedias the thing that makes poison ivy so kind-of poison-ish is called urushiol. Turns out nearly all the itch-based plants, like poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, sumac oak, oak ivy, and so on, get their itching by liquids called urushiols. Urushiol is a kind of compound known as an oleoresin, which is a kind of resin whose name you can yodel.

It’s not a poison, though. These plants use it somehow to retain water. That it irritates skin is a side effect. The plant doesn’t get anything out of it. It’s just the plants needed to retain water and they muddled on the best they could. There’s a lesson for us all in that. I like to imagine if we explained the situation to a session of the Poison Ivy Witenagemot, in a committee of the whole, they’d apologize. “We had no idea,” surely they’d declare. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” and then we could share with them water-tower technology. And we’d all have a good laugh about the misunderstanding that caused so much irritation over the centuries. They’ll mend their ways, limiting their irritation to watching old TV shows on modern HDTVs with the aspect ratio all wrong. I’m not saying that isn’t also irritating. But it’s a quicker kind. It’s an irritation you can resolve simply by jumping up and down and shouting, “What is wrong with you people? We spent fifteen years explaining letterboxing movies to you and you finally got it and now don’t you even notice how everybody on The Mary Tyler Moore Show looks like a pile of mashed potatoes wearing Seventies Plaid?!” and then being asked to leave the room.

It turned out our poison ivy wasn’t, anyway. It’s an easy mistake to make. Poison ivy comes in a lot of shapes and sizes, ranging from stringy vines crawling around dead trees up to functional self-service gas stations ready for the new chip cards the United States is getting in twenty years after everybody else in the world. All you can be sure of is that leaves-of-three thing, but it’s no surprise if you count up the leaves on a perfectly innocent plant it might happen to be a multiple of three. Something like a third of all the counting numbers are a multiple of three. Still, ours was a false alarm. The plant was a perfectly innocent Striated Woodsy Guiltywort vine, brought over from the old country by settlers who thought that was a good idea. And that emergency cold shower after applying all that urushiol repellant was just jolly good practice in being made miserable after poison ivy exposures.

Also besides not being actually all that poison, poison ivy isn’t ivy. At some point you have to wonder if the people who named it were quite sure what they were doing.

In Which I Do Not, Repeat Do Not, Poison Our Pet Rabbit


“This is poison, isn’t it?” said our pet rabbit, as he chewed on the leafy part.

I’d had the accusation before. “It’s Swiss chard again. There wasn’t anything poisonous about it last time either.”

He hopped up and shook out a little, which is the sort of happy thing rabbits do and didn’t match his tone at all. “Why are you trying to poison me?” He sniffed and then chewed some more at the leaf.

“Why on Earth would I even want to poison you? You’re too darling to poison.”

He pulled his head up, which is some new behavior he’s picked up and exposes this adorable dark-colored patch in the middle of the white-colored patches of his chin, and it’s only his quick reflexes that keep it from being tickled. “I can’t know your motivations. If I make the a priori assumption you’re a rational agent I could expect you to inevitably come to a sufficient moral awareness to keep you from choosing to poison me, but for all I know you’ve had a partial or a defective moral upbringing. And I know you’re not fully rational because I heard that awful movie you watched Saturday.”

So this explained why the bookmarks in my Beloved’s books of Kant keep getting moved around, and maybe why there was a nibbled corner of the Critique of the Power of Judgement. I should probably mention here that not all pets kept by philosophers end up acting like. Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, famously kept a pet squirrel who did little but kick the him in the shins, less because of the squirrel’s treatise on the origins of ethics and more because Wittgenstein was the sort of person who inspired people to kick him. Also in my defense I was watching Foodfight extremely ironically and felt a little bad for even doing that.

“I can’t prove to you that I’ve got a functioning moral compass” — and he interrupted with a sharp HA! — “but if you really suspect the chard is poison you don’t have to eat it.”

He stopped chewing and looked up indignantly. “You yelled and laughed when I ate that dog food!”

“We didn’t think you’d really eat it! We thought you’d sniff at it and refuse. That stuff contains meat, you know.”

“Then why’d you put a kibble out for me?”

“Well, it’s cute seeing you sniff at things you rear back from.”

“Because you figure I won’t eat poison!”

“Again, though, you haven’t suggested a reason for me to poison you. And just saying I’m irrational doesn’t excuse the need for a reason. You need an irrational reason.”

He huffed a bit, the way he does when he realizes he’s being pulled into the pet carrier. “You envy my superior lifestyle. I can just hop around the house and eat and nap all day.”

“That argument won’t obtain,” which sounds like a smart thing to say, because it’s a weird use of the word “obtain”, one I’m not sure is defensible. “I’m a telecommuter. Functionally we’re equivalent.”

“If you’re not envious then why don’t you ever name me when you write about me on the Internet?”

Ah, that. Probably best to go with the honest answer. “I don’t want people getting your name and ringing up fraudulent credit card charges. It protects you.”

“Oh.” And he started chewing on the stalk of the chard. “You could give me a stage name.”

“I can’t think of any that could capture your personality.”

And he did that little shaking hop.

“You know, when I bought that chard, the cashier asked if red or white tasted better.”

He let the stalk of the chard drop. “What did you tell him?”

“I told her I didn’t know. We just buy it for you.”

“And she asked why you’re poisoning me?” He picked the stalk back up and started inhaling it, like a log disappearing into a buzz saw.

“She asked whether you liked it.”

“And you said?”

“I said you were still working out your policy regarding Swiss chard” — he snorted again — “but you look so adorable chewing the stalk that we couldn’t resist.” And he finished the last of it.

“I name you when I write about you on the Internet.”

“I’m flattered.”

“If this isn’t poison why don’t you eat some?”

“The last time we ate any vegetables we bought for you you called it the end of the world.”

“Well, that’s honest at least,” and he flopped out on his side.