What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Seriously, do we not find out whether Daddy Warbucks killed his wife? June – September 2019


No, kind readers. Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy gave us a juicy mystery. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s wife disappeared in circumstances where he’s the only plausible suspect. They do not reveal what happened. But Dick Tracy has adopted the Little Orphan Annie cast. They may reappear and reopen the mystery. If that happens, I’ll share news at this link. That link will also have a more up-to-date plot recap if you’re reading this later than about December 2019, yourselves.

Dick Tracy.

16 June – 8 September 2019

The search was on for Gypsy Gay, the last thread of evidence prosecutors have in trying B-B Eyes for murder. The real evidence, Trixie Tinkle’s sworn statement, has gone missing. So has Tinkle. But it’s thought Tinkle might have described her statement to Gay. Without that, all the State has against B-B Eyes is that his name is B-B Eyes and that the corruption of his body shows the corruption of his morals. B-B Eyes’s lawyer Tim Jackel is racing Dick Tracy to find Gay first.

Oh, did I mention Trixie Tinkle was Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s second wife? And that she disappeared while the two were on a world cruise? And Warbucks won’t answer questions about what happened, but will admit how Tinkle was a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work? Also, that Annie and Oliver Warbucks are in on this story?

Sam: 'The security camera shows Gypsy and Annie leaving.' Tracy: 'Let's check for possible witnesses outside.' Doorman: 'He said he was their driver and they got in the sedan. License number something-1938. Same year as Action Comics #1.' Lizz: 'Action comics?' Tracy: 'I'm accessing the license database now.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of June, 2019. Now, it’s hard to believe, but I have heard that there are people in the world who do not remember when Action Comics #1 was posted. Some of them don’t even know why this would be a something they would care to know.

In it to the point of solving things: Annie, Honeymoon Tracy, and Ugly Crystal happen across Gypsy Gay. She works in the hotel where Annie and Oliver Warbucks are staying. Gay’s location and workplace are a slender lead to go on, but Tracy is able to follow it. Not fast enough to keep Gay and Annie from being kidnapped, but, c’mon. It’s Little Orphan Annie. If she weren’t being kidnapped she’d go off and kidnap herself, just to stay in shape.

B-B Eyes's hideout. B-B: 'Yeah, Gypsy Gay, I remember you.' Gay: 'I know you too. I was partying with my friend Trixie when that policeman O'Malley was brought in!' B-B: 'You got a good memory, Gypsy. So what happened to O'Malley?' Gay: 'YOU know!' B-B: 'AND SO DO YOU, GYPSY. Now, who's this kid?' Annie: 'ANNIE's the name. And I'm so tough, tattoos are scared of me!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of June, 2019. I grant this is not the most important strip of the plot. But I love Annie’s explanation of herself in that final panel. That’s giving you a character in one panel. It’s so good you almost don’t wonder why she brought up tattoos. Like, did B-B Eyes or one of the henchmen have a tattoo we haven’t been paying attention to? Or has she been workshopping this line so long she took the chance to deploy it regardless of whether it perfectly fit?

Turns out Gay actually did witness B-B Eyes killing Officer O’Malley. O’Malley had been sent undercover to … uh … investigate B-B Eyes’s tire-bootlegging gang back in 1942. So, you know, do not cross the Office of Price Administration if you ever want to know peace. Look, if we aren’t going to accept a weird flow of time then we’re in trouble. I’m still hung up on how Trixie Tinkle disappeared twenty years ago, as we get told, yet was someone whom Annie knew. Also that Annie only met Oliver Warbucks because of Warbucks’s first wife. Anyway, B-B Eyes figures his best bet is to kill Gay, and what the heck, Annie too.

Annie and Gypsy are trapped in B-B Eyes's hideout. Gay: 'Annie! What's that in the hallway?' (It's a space vortex; from inside emerges Punjab.) Punjab: 'Come with me! I cannot hold this pathway open forever! No matter what you see next, do not let go!' Annie grabs Punjab's hand, and Gay grabs Annie's. They journey through a ghost-lined tunnel of spirits that are ... kind of 70s-breakfast-cereal-esque in spookiness. They emerge in reality. Gay: 'W-what was that?' Annie: 'Leapin' Lizards, Punjab!' Punjab: 'I know. It was not the magical journey you expected, little princess. My apologies to you both!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of June, 2019. I remember this journey being a lot less sinister when the Pink Panther took it.

Have to agree with his plan. But the cops have followed them, and they’re already holding a shootout. Annie leads Gay to making a break for it. In the hallway they find a magical vortex filled with demons, as will happen. Don’t worry. It’s Punjab, using the mystic powers of the inscrutable Orient to save his master’s ward and also that other person. With the hostages safe, Tracy’s able to move in with a heavier action sequence. And he captures B-B Eyes safe and sound and ready for trial.

There’s some time for calm reflection. Talk of how Warbucks has moved to a quieter town. How he’s finally adopted Annie for real and good. And, no, he’s not going to go answering any nosey police questions about the disappearance of his inconvenient wife. That, the 13th of July, concludes the story.


The next day Tracy gets gunned down in the rain. And yes, it was exciting to read this and think Warbucks had put out a hit on Tracy after all. It’s rough on Tracy, but he survives, thanks to his bulletproof vest and his latest would-be murderer’s unwillingness to shoot him in the head. His attempted murderer this time: Archie Comics’s Dilton Doiley cosplaying as the lead singer for the Buggles. Call him “Doc”. His participation got teased the 26th and 27th of June, in the midst of the previous gunfight. He’s the nephew of old-time Tracy villain Flyface. This is why there’s flies hanging around him. Flies respect primogeniture.

Grandmom, on the phone: 'How are your classes going, Little Doc? That college is lucky to have you as a student.' Doc: 'I'm not attending classes right now, Grandma. My job has to take precedence.' Grandmom: 'Yes, Doc. But that law library your uncle Felixweather left you is going to serve you well someday. Never forget that!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of July, 2019. Uncle Felixweather, Flyface, had a big collection of law books and was maybe an attorney. In one past storyline Flyface’s law books were coated with a material that produced a noxious gas when burned, which Flyface used to escape jail. This storyline revealed that the books themselves could be used to murder people by poison or as incendiaries or other stuff. And if that all sounds ridiculous please remember this is the comic strip where flappy-skinned balloon seller The Pouch used a popcorn maker to shoot someone dead.

Like many Gen Z’ers, he can’t just go to college. He needs a side hustle. His is trying to get revenge on Tracy for (I assume) killing his uncle Flyface. That’s failed, which disappoints him. Now he’ll probably only get three stars on Smuglr, the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets. Anyway, he can get back to his main job, being floor manager at the Patterson Playhouse.

The Patterson Playhouse is doing a production of Our Town, with Vitamin Flintheart as the Narrator. During rehearsals Mitchell, a Gluyas Williams portrait of Robert Benchley suffering a cold, drops off a thermos of “snow”. Mitchell made two mistakes dropping off this drug shipment. First, what he thought was an equipment bag was the camera bag of Kandikane Lane, Vitamin’s wife. Second, he used a thermos with the licensed brand image of The Scarlet Sting. This is an in-universe comic strip and comic book superhero.

Vitamin Flintheart's Home. Kandikane, holding a Scarlet Sting thermos: 'I thought this thermos was yours, Vitamin. I wonder where it came from.' Vitamin: 'One of the stagehands, perhaps?' Kandikane: 'It's not empty. Uh-oh! This is a bag of white powder!' Vitamin; 'Close it quickly, my dear! I'll contact the authorities!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of August, 2019. “I mean, this is a heap of Kraft Parmesan with a street value of easily … like … $2.49.”

So the appearance of a licensed bit of fan merch drew so much attention. Characters wandered over from Funky Winkerbean to admire that hey, here’s something nerds like! And yet it’s for sale just as if superheroes were part of pop culture or something. They look inside, find it’s a great pile of white powder, and call in Dick Tracy.

Dick Tracy does some swift super-detecting work. He’s learned that earlier that day was Mitchell asking to see Doc Limpp. Tracy checks the Dick Tracy Wikia and finds that Flyface — Felixweather Limpp — had a nephew named Little Doc. Somehow this isn’t enough to go on, though, so they set a trap. They return the thermos to the Flinthearts to carry on as if the cocaine wasn’t discovered and replaced with a decoy. (The Flinthearts had unknowingly taken the thermos home before noticing it. This is why Doc didn’t know the police were aware of the thermos.)

Meanwhile Doc and his partner Sally try to figure how to get the cocaine back. Sally goes in disguise as “Kassie Richmond”, reporter for the Daily News, to interview Kandikane. Kandikane takes a quick picture of Sally alongside Jack Magnus. Magnus played J Straightedge Trustworthy, spoof of Dick Tracy, in the musical comedy A Chin To Die For, in-universe spoof of Dick Tracy, earlier. The “interview” happens over the course of a full dress rehearsal, so far as that’s possible, of Our Town.

Tracy: 'You've got something in your coat.' Susan: 'It's a lens adaptor Kandi needs.' Tracy: 'I need to see it.' Susan, unbuckling her belt: 'Okay, but I have to warn you ... my nickname in college was Commando!' (She flashes her coat wide.) Tracy, eyes popping out: 'Ye gods!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of August, 2019. I know what you’re thinking: with that last panel we can declare a winner in the Funniest Story Comic Panel Of 2019 contest. I agree this is a strong contender. But let’s please not forget that the current Mary Worth story is about Dawn Weston trying to get a guy who’s incredibly not interested in a lasting relationship to commit to her, and that’s probably not even going to be the last Mary Worth story of the year. You’ll see that here in a couple weeks’ time.

Sally goes snooping around and finds Tracy’s there, which she warns Doc about. She also finds The Bag, and grabs the thermos. Tracy moves in. Sally has an excellent uncover story: “I wear swimsuits!” Tracy arrests her, as Doc enters the building. He sneaks into the rafters or whatever they have up high above stage from a theater and shoots. Then he chuckles at having killed Dick Tracy, because Doc somehow doesn’t know what comic strip he’s in.

Tracy wasn’t shot. Jack Magnus was. He was borrowing Tracy’s hat and coat to give some fans pictures of him as J Straightedge Trustworthy. Tracy’s going after Doc au naturel, wearing nothing but his three-piece suit. Also, I have to read it like this, setting up Magnus to be the unwitting target of Doc’s attempted murder. Magnus pulls through. “It’s just a nick”, the kind that would just screw you up for years in real life but that genre convention is you just kind of walk off. It is good for Magnus, but still … I mean, maybe Tracy didn’t know Doc was going to shoot him right then and there? But he’s got to have seen this as plausible, too.

Tracy arrests Doc. And we learn Doc’s also a cocaine user and Tracy felt kind of bad breaking this to Doc’s grandmother. So the story’s resolved, and it closes with a week of scenes from Our Town.

Oh, also they arrest Mitchell, who surrenders to the cops after eight minutes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans quoting at him.


And on the 1st of September started a new Minit Mystery. This one is, if I’m reading it right, written by Staton and Curtis. The guest artist is Andrew Pepoy. It starts with a murder at a photo studio. As I write this, on Saturday the 7th, it’s been introducing suspects and motives, so if you want to jump in to solving matters, this is a good chance. It’s a nice story break point for me.

Next Week!

I have seven days to remember exactly what’s going on in
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley.
It’s involved Rufus and Joel a good bit, that I’m pretty sure about.

Meanwhile I continue looking at mathematics in comic strips on my other blog. I also have the Fall 2019 A-to-Z Sequence, explaining one concept for each letter of the alphabet, running. You might enjoy that. Thanks for considering it.

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Robert Benchley: A Christmas Spectacle


Did you miss Robert Benchley in “The Reluctant Dragon” on Turner Classic Movies last night? Possibly. Whether or not you did, please, enjoy this bit from Love Conquers All about the Christmas shows the kids put on.

A CHRISTMAS SPECTACLE

For Use in Christmas Eve Entertainments in the Vestry

At the opening of the entertainment the Superintendent will step into the footlights, recover his balance apologetically, and say:

“Boys and girls of the Intermediate Department, parents and friends: I suppose you all know why we are here tonight. (At this point the audience will titter apprehensively). Mrs. Drury and her class of little girls have been working very hard to make this entertainment a success, and I am sure that everyone here to-night is going to have what I overheard one of my boys the other day calling `some good time.’ (Indulgent laughter from the little boys). And may I add before the curtain goes up that immediately after the entertainment we want you all to file out into the Christian Endeavor room, where there will be a Christmas tree, `with all the fixin’s,’ as the boys say.” (Shrill whistling from the little boys and immoderate applause from everyone).

There will then be a wait of twenty-five minutes, while sounds of hammering and dropping may be heard from behind the curtains. The Boys’ Club orchestra will render the “Poet and Peasant Overture” four times in succession, each time differently.

At last one side of the curtains will be drawn back; the other will catch on something and have to be released by hand; someone will whisper loudly, “Put out the lights,” following which the entire house will be plunged into darkness. Amid catcalls from the little boys, the footlights will at last go on, disclosing:

The windows in the rear of the vestry rather ineffectively concealed by a group of small fir trees on standards, one of which has already fallen over, leaving exposed a corner of the map of Palestine and the list of gold-star classes for November. In the center of the stage is a larger tree, undecorated, while at the extreme left, invisible to everyone in the audience except those sitting at the extreme right, is an imitation fireplace, leaning against the wall.

Twenty-five seconds too early little Flora Rochester will prance out from the wings, uttering the first shrill notes of a song, and will have to be grabbed by eager hands and pulled back. Twenty-four seconds later the piano will begin “The Return of the Reindeer” with a powerful accent on the first note of each bar, and Flora Rochester, Lillian McNulty, Gertrude Hamingham and Martha Wrist will swirl on, dressed in white, and advance heavily into the footlights, which will go out.

There will then be an interlude while Mr. Neff, the sexton, adjusts the connection, during which the four little girls stand undecided whether to brave it out or cry. As a compromise they giggle and are herded back into the wings by Mrs. Drury, amid applause. When the lights go on again, the applause becomes deafening, and as Mr. Neff walks triumphantly away, the little boys in the audience will whistle: “There she goes, there she goes, all dressed up in her Sunday clothes!”

“The Return of the Reindeer” will be started again and the show-girls will reappear, this time more gingerly and somewhat dispirited. They will, however, sing the following, to the music of the “Ballet Pizzicato” from “Sylvia”:

“We greet you, we greet you,
On this Christmas Eve so fine.
We greet you, we greet you.
And wish you a good time.”

They will then turn toward the tree and Flora Rochester will advance, hanging a silver star on one of the branches, meanwhile reciting a verse, the only distinguishable words of which are: “I am Faith so strong and pure —– ”

At the conclusion of her recitation, the star will fall off.

Lillian McNulty will then step forward and hang her star on a branch, reading her lines in clear tones:

“And I am Hope, a virtue great,
My gift to Christmas now I make,
That children and grown-ups may hope today
That tomorrow will be a merry Christmas Day.”

The hanging of the third star will be consummated by Gertrude Hamingham, who will get as far as “Sweet Charity I bring to place upon the tree —– ” at which point the strain will become too great and she will forget the remainder. After several frantic glances toward the wings, from which Mrs. Drury is sending out whispered messages to the effect that the next line begins, “My message bright —– ” Gertrude will disappear, crying softly.

After the morale of the cast has been in some measure restored by the pianist, who, with great presence of mind, plays a few bars of “Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?” to cover up Gertrude’s exit, Martha Wrist will unleash a rope of silver tinsel from the foot of the tree, and, stringing it over the boughs as she skips around in a circle, will say, with great assurance:

“ ‘ Round and Wound the tree I go,
Through the holly and the snow
Bringing love and Christmas cheer
Through the happy year to come.”

At this point there will be a great commotion and jangling of sleigh-bells off-stage, and Mr. Creamer, rather poorly disguised as Santa Claus, will emerge from the opening in the imitation fireplace. A great popular demonstration for Mr. Creamer will follow. He will then advance to the footlights, and, rubbing his pillow and ducking his knees to denote joviality, will say thickly through his false beard:

“Well, well, well, what have we here? A lot of bad little boys and girls who aren’t going to get any Christmas presents this year? (Nervous laughter from the little boys and girls). Let me see, let me see! I have a note here from Dr. Whidden. Let’s see what it says. (Reads from a paper on which there is obviously nothing written). `If you and the young people of the Intermediate Department will come into the Christian Endeavor room, I think we may have a little surprise for you. . . ‘ Well, well, well! What do you suppose it can be? (Cries of “I know, I know!” from sophisticated ones in the audience). Maybe it is a bottle of castor-oil! (Raucous jeers from the little boys and elaborately simulated disgust on the part of the little girls.) Well, anyway, suppose we go out and see? Now if Miss Liftnagle will oblige us with a little march on the piano, we will all form in single file —– ”

At this point there will ensue a stampede toward the Christian Endeavor room, in which chairs will be broken, decorations demolished, and the protesting Mr. Creamer badly hurt.

This will bring to a close the first part of the entertainment.

Statistics Saturday: Robert Benchley Book Titles, By Length


As this is the final weekend to prepare submissions to the Robert Benchley Society’s 2014 Humor Contest, I offer some data about the great humorist’s writings.

  1. Of All Things
    (1921)
  2. Pluck And Luck
    (1925)
  3. The Early Worm
    (1927)
  4. Inside Benchley
    (1942)
  5. Love Conquers All
    (1922)
  6. Benchley–Or Else
    (1947)
  7. After 1903 – What?
    (1938)
  8. The “Reel” Benchley
    (1950)
  9. Benchley Beside Himself
    (1943)
  10. Chips off the Old Benchley
    (1949)
  11. My Ten Years in a Quandary, and How They Grew
    (1936)
  12. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, or David Copperfield
    (1928)
  13. No Poems, Or Around the World Backwards and Sideways
    (1932)
  14. Benchley at the Theatre: Dramatic Criticism, 1920-1940
    (1985)
  15. From Bed to Worse, or Comforting Thoughts about the Bison
    (1934)
  16. The Treasurer’s Report and Other Aspects of Community Singing
    (1930)
  17. The Athletic Benchley-105 Exercises from The Detroit Athletic Club News
    (2010)
  18. Robert Benchley’s Wayward Press: The Complete Collection of His the New Yorker Columns Written as Guy Fawkes
    (2008)

Titles published after 1945 were posthumous. Titles published before 1889 are prehumous. Titles not listed can very well fend for themselves.

Railroad Track Villainy Updates


The blog Movies, Silently addressed recently one of those questions you never realize you always wondered about until after you hear it asked: in silent movies, who was the villain who was always tying women to train tracks? Basically, who was Snidely Whiplash a parody of? The answer’s surprising and I don’t wish to spoil it, so I’ll not say.

In another article on the same topic, Movies, Silently points out a curious phenomenon: the “heroine tied to the railroad track” gimmick is much more evident in parody — Mack Sennett films particularly, or in homages or tributes or just jokes about how they used to do things — than in the original record. (Admittedly there’s a problem studying the original record in that so much of it has been lost.) That is, the heroine gets tied to the railroad track because people think they’re riffing on the cliche of heroines getting tied to the railroad track, when the actual source is a lot less … well, visible, at least.

There seems to me a conceptual parallel in something that sounds unrelated: impersonations of Elvis Presley and (since Elvis has faded some, at least in my social circles) William Shatner. You know how they sound in parody; what’s shocking is to go back and listen to an actual Elvis record, or the original Star Trek, and compare to the source. At some point impersonations started doing comic exaggerations of one another, with any reference to the original forgotten, and now there’s this thing that is “a William Shatner impersonation” that hasn’t got anything to do with the source. Of course, since it communicates, and entertains, and amuses, it’s serving some purpose, but it’s still, really, a weird phenomenon.

Squirrel Improv Update


I was impressed when the little squirrel improv troupe that’s been running out of our backyard got named by the local alternate weekly as one of the “20 Great Things Under 20 Inches” in their entertainment column this week and I went out to congratulate them. Of course it’s not that simple.

See, for visual interest, they included a photo of one of the squirrels — Alan — in a spiv outfit, and that was from a sketch that they thought was just “hack” and “too Monty Python pastiche, not enough us”. They’d been planning to drop it from the revue altogether, but with the press attention now they feel like they’re stuck with it. Worse, Alan doesn’t like being on stage; he’s happy developing characters and doing other backstage work and only ever went on in the first place because they needed somebody and the rest of the performing cast was already committed.

Well, I was sympathetic, of course, but isn’t it some kind of cosmic rule that when the public decides they like you, it’s going to be for the stuff you’d rather they didn’t like you for? Anyway, maybe in a couple weeks they can drop the whole sketch and Alan can go back to the work he really likes.