Comic Strip Review: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 13: 1950-1951
IDW, through the Library of American Comics imprint, has been reprinting the long-running Dick Tracy comic strip in over-sized volumes, starting from its 1931 beginnings. This volume covers the turn of the decade from the 1940s to the early 1950s.
We begin with a callback to the classic Flattop story, by introducing the criminal’s equally criminal brother Blowtop. (The family name is Jones.) As the name suggests, he’s got both an explosive temper and a fondness for demolitions. When we meet the Lee Marvin lookalike, he’s already pulled off a brilliant robbery with one hitch–the money is marked. While figuring out how to launder the funds, Blowtop figures out a plan to avenge his brother’s death.
This leads into a terrifying sequence in which the Tracy house goes up in flames, and Junior is missing, presumed dead.
Blowtop is followed by T.V. Wiggles, a disgraced former professional wrestler (this was back in the day when at least some people believed pro wrestling was unscripted) who has turned to running a protection racket involving bar televisions. He decides to move up to the big time by extorting money from Vitamin Flintheart, who was then the agent for child star Sparkle Plenty.
Wiggles puts on a show of being charming and likable, but his heart is black indeed, and he has no compunctions about killing children if they get in his way. There’s a long and melodramatic sequence in which one of his nearly-dead victims struggles for life.
This is followed by Dr. Plain, who doesn’t look too grotesque–until he reveals his flamethrower arm. In his short career, Dr. Plain manages to rack up a comparatively high body count.
“Empty”, M.T. Williams, returns to the easily spotted deformity style of villain, with a literal hole in his head where part of his skull has been removed in a lifesaving operation. He is very much the small-time hoodlum working out of his depth, as he attempts to hijack a truckload of furs and ends up with diapers instead. Each move he makes after that just digs himself deeper until he meets his grisly end.
After the low comedy surrounding the birth and naming of Tracy’s first biological child, Bonnie Braids, a new menace is introduced, Crewy Lou, a baby photographer and early adopter of the mullet. Tracy’s run into gangs that use photography as a cover before, so he’s instantly suspicious, but Crewy Lou and her partner the Sphinx have a bit better plan than most.
The story gets complex from there, with marital discord, organized crime, stolen diamonds..and it doesn’t end in this volume, as Crewy Lou winds up kidnapping Bonnie Braids.
Lots of exciting action, good Gould art, some excellent villains–about the only disappointing part is that the Sundays are in black and white for production cost reasons. Highly recommended along with the earlier volumes in the series.
For my review of the more recent version of the strip, see http://www.skjam.com/2013/01/26/comic-strip-review-dick-tracy/