The “Mars Maid” is a character in the J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip, which Vera Alldid draws in the continuity of Dick Tracy. Trustworthy is a riff on Tracy, yes. Alldid created the Mars Maid after reading an article about Mysta Chimera, the false Moon Maid.
This should catch you up to mid-July in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about October 2021, or if any news breaks out about the strip, I’ll have an essay of perhaps more use to you here. Thanks for reading.
18 April – 10 July 2021.
Our last visit with Dick Tracy was one week past the start of a story. Abner Kadaver, retired horror-movie host turned assassin, had recovered from tumbling down Reichenbach Falls with Dick Tracy. He broke his old partner Rikki Mortis out of jail and set about his old contract to kill Dick Tracy. But he’s also got a job from a shadowy figure, the Ace of Spades. Ace represents The Apparatus, the big crime syndicate in Tracyburgh. The Apparatus wants to cancel its contract to murder Tracy, in favor of killing Charlie 21. Kadaver accepts, but Ace knows, he’s gonna try killing Dick Tracy anyway.
Charlie 21 is a bookkeeper for The Apparatus, turned State’s evidence. Tracy and Sam Catchem have the extended escort mission of keeping him alive long enough to testify. They hate the job, since the only thing worse than an escort mission is an extended escort mission. Plus Charlie 21 keeps wandering off.
Kadaver’s first assassination attempt fails. The poison dart hits Sam Catchem’s hat instead. Mortis blames the downdraft from the building Kadaver was shooting from. Kadaver blames his trembling arm, and the complications of his advanced plot disease. He has Mortis pledge to carry out the contract if he dies.
Meanwhile, Charlie 21 wants to see Vitamin Flintheart in The Tempest. Flintheart is starring in The Tempest, opening next week, so that part’s easy. But bringing him to opening night would be incredibly stupid. Flintheart suggests he could watch the closed dress rehearsal instead.
Kadaver is also up-to-date on Tracyboro’s theatrical community. He reasons Tracy would never miss opening night of a Vitamin Flintheart show. When Mortis goes to buy opening-night tickets she sees Charlie 21 arriving for the rehearsal. He rushes down and they get into the theater … somehow. Not sure.
Tracy spots Kadaver in time to push Charlie 21 out of the way. The dart hits Tracy’s arm instead. 10 of Spades, a shadowy figure we presume to be affiliated with Ace of Spades, is there. He scolds Kadaver for disobeying The Apparatus’s order to kill Charlie 21, not Dick Tracy, and won’t hear how Tracy got in the way. Kadaver’s shot before the cops can break the scene up. Mortis takes his mask off and whispers something “I have to tell you” that’s not any of our business.
And so Abner Kadaver seems to be dead. Charlie 21 completes his testimony and goes off to Other Protective Custody. 10 of Spades appears to be arrested. And with the 6th of June, the story of Abner Kadaver ends.
The current story starts with a tease that 6th of June. Vera Alldid creates the Mars Maid for his J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip. And he hires Mysta Chimera to play the Mars Maid for publicity. (The Dick Tracy Wiki notes there was a 1964 contest to find a “real life” Moon Maid. In case you question whether an attractive woman might actually dress in costume to promote a comic strip.) That goes well, despite everyone warning Chimera that Alldid is a womanizer. She doesn’t need much help to find him creepy and even electric-shocks him when he’s getting too much.
No hard feelings, though. They accept an invitation to meet Brock Archival, a comic historian and collector. Archival would like to buy an Art, if it’s up to his exacting standards. And take some pictures of Chimera as the Mars Maid. When that’s all done he mentions how his guests should stay overnight, and also for the rest of all time. And he’s got Mr Bribery’s ring, which repels the Moon Maid’s powers, so what are they going to do? And that’s the cliffhanger we left Saturday on.
There’s some other stuff in the meanwhile. Particularly, Honey Moon Tracy has been going more and more steady with a kid named Astor Boyd. Going to movies, holding hands, that kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s setup for a future story or simply life. I mention so if this does become plot-bearing I’ll have this reference.
But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.
Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.
That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.
The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.
It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.
It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)
Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.
And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.