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? 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!

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