Thursday, April 07, 2011

Try the Tracyverse

As most of you already know, Bob Kane was not the single most original author or artist of all time. But they also serve who only sit and synthesize. His sources of inspiration were many, but one was surely Dick Tracy (particularly his host of colorful gangsters and villains). For those of you not familiarity with the lunacy of the Tracyverse, here’s a sample plot synopsis of one storyline (taken from the Dick Tracy wiki):
Almost a year after Tracy married Tess, a horrible explosion burst Tracy house into flames, burning it down to the ground and burning Tracy's hair off. After the fire, it turned out that Junior was missing, the Tracy's were scared that he had perished in the fire, it turned out that Blowtop rigged an invention of Tracy's (an automatic dog door) to set off twenty sticks of dynamite and kidnapped Junior. Blowtop and his goons sealed Junior in a drum and attempted to drop him off a cliff. Junior was rescued and drew a picture of his captor which hit the papers. Blowtop's henchman and moll turned on him and shot him, only to be accidentally discovered by an acquaintance of his late-brother Flattop, Vitamin Flintheart. He managed to fix up Blowtop, and was convinced that he was a wealthy man, not knowing that the money was from a Boston Express Robbery. Flintheart (who unwittingly was fencing the hot money for Blowtop) had traded one of Blowtop's shirts for a shrunken head (unaware that the shirt contained money from the fencing). This was the turning point, Blowtop fled in anger, but was followed by Vitamin who was promised funding for a show from Blowtop. He shot Vitamin and tripped on the same shrunken head from before. Vitamin was hospitalized and Tracy had Blowtop in custody.

Keep in mind this one of the more normal plots, in that it doesn’t involve extraterrestrials, circus freaks, or cloning. Heck, I’m still hung up on the fact that Tracy invented an automatic dog door. And I would really like to go to a Swap Meet in the Tracyverse; “I’ll give you this old shirt for that shrunken head.” The Tracyverse is so bizarre, I’m beginning to wonder whether Dick Tracy isn’t actually set in Apex City.

I first fell for the “Tracyverse” when it was under the pen of Max Allan Collins. Collins, a mystery writer and longtime Tracy fan, took over from series creator Chester Gould, who had been running out of steam during his final years on the strip, whose quality was suffering. When I was a teenager Collins et al. were revitalizing and extending the Tracyverse with crazy plots and sharp powerful art. I can still remember the return of the scarred circus menace Haf-and-Haf, the climactic battle with criminal wigmaker Angeltop on the reproduction of the Santa Maria, and the collusions of evil surgeon Dr Carver and Mumbles, the murderous guitarist.

While I was reading Tracy at that time, I paid no attention to the creators behind it. It was only in the last week or so that I realized it was Collins, whom I had thought of only in the context of his work on Batman, where he created the (reviled by some but adored by me)
Mime. Thanks, Max, for making Dick Tracy fabulous again for many years!

After Collins left he was replaced by others, who authored the strip for some 30 years. The quality of the strip was not maintained, particularly during recent years, when Dick Tracy had devolved mostly into an internet snarking target (a “snarget”, if you will). With muddled art and fuddled storylines, it became an object of ridicule rather than a showcase for American imagination.

But history is now repeating itself, with a long decline under older creators ending with a sudden revitalization of the strip under new creative management. As of March 14, with its new creative team of Tracy fanboys Joe Stanton and Mike Curtis, Dick Tracy is setting the comics page ablaze. It has sharp and solid art with interesting composition, fast-paced plotting, outlandish characters with real-world issues and viewpoints, and a palpable respect for the rich history of the Tracyverse at its disposal.

If you’ve never given Dick Tracy a try,
now is the time.


SallyP said...

Well, I do remember reading it in the comics section of the paper as a kid, but we alas, do not get the strip in the Hartford Courant.

I WAS awfully fond of Fearless Fosdick however.

Scipio said...

Well, click on the link and you can follow it on line, Sally.

Redforce said...

Wow, you were right Scipio.
I just read all the strips back from the 14th of March. I like the art- it looks like what I remember of Dick Tracy style (which isn't much, never was into the strip) but personalized.
I also like the fact that the stories are compressed, and the pace moves along without stopping to, say, tell us who Fly-Face or The Fifth are.

Bryan L said...

I got distracted by the 20 sticks of dynamite. I'm no demolitions expert, but I'm pretty sure Tracy would lose more than his hair. So would everyone else on his block.

That said, the current strip does look pretty sharp. I haven't seen a Tracy comic in decades. I didn't even realize it was still being published.

Anonymous said...

Like Batman, Tracy went through a wacky sci-fi-inspired phase in the sixties. Junior Tracy married "Moon Maid," and the cops flew around in levitating buckets. That's what was going on when I first saw the strip. My parents got me a great birthday present in the early seventies, a thick volume called "The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy," which contained a good number of complete serials from across the strip's publication history. Worth tracking down at a used-book store if you want a good sample of classic Tracy at a reasonable price.


Redforce said...

Wasn't there a Dick Tracy cartoon sometime in the 70's? I vaguely remember stilted animation and Dick Tracy flying around in giant Burger King cups.

Odkin said...

Staton, not Stanton.

Anonymous said...

SCIPIO! SCIPIO! They've found Anthro! said...

Loving this current Tracy run (The previous storyline featuring pretending to be homeless Tracy was actually pretty good, though). I'm a sucker for anything Joe Staton does - he was the first artist I was able to pick out and recognize and appreciate thanks to those old AllStars and E-Mans. I could NOT, however, bring myself to buy the adaptation of Ayn Rand's Anthem he just illustrated.

Matt said...

Sorry to post this here, when it is totally unrelated (I would send an email, or something, but I dont know how), but I just finished Peter David's Supergirl run, and guess how it ended? With acceptance of the inevitability of fate and despair at existence. I started laughing so much, it's just like what you talked about.

Scipio said...

LMAO, that's good to know, Matt! No one can escape the inevitable meaning of Supergirl!