As the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing continue to collect The Complete Dick Tracy by Chester Gould, Volume 20 presents the dailies and Sunday strips from February 20, 1961 through to August 26, 1962. The book has an introductory essay, Max Allan Collins' "Fate Does Funny Things" about the strips collected and about Gould "dealing with the changing times" of the '60s, and concludes with Jeff Kersten's "Echoes" about efforts to expand Dick Tracy into television. There is also a corrected version of the February 28, 1960 Sunday strip from the previous volume.
Volume 20 begins with the continuation of the storyline featuring Fresh Upp and her infant child, Boy Beard, who are taken for a ride in more ways then one by her Aunt Soso, who is upset that Fresh pushed her mother Burpie, Soso's twin sister, to her death. Tracy and fellow officers Sam Catchem and Lizz Worthington through the use of their ingenuity and technology are able to figure out Soso's crime.
As a writer, Gould keeps the reader engaged and looking forward to what comes next by linking the stories together. After what seems like the end of Fresh's story, she continues on by being hired as a secretary by Happy Voten, the not entirely blind ex-Mayor who now works as a dog trainer. Unbeknownst to Voten, panthers are being trained at his facility as purse snatchers, though it's suggested they might be a feline-dog hybrid, which is not only unnecessary but also impossible, so it's curious why Gould started with the idea. The story gets amusing as the panthers turn on the crooks, such as when they tear up the fancy apartment where they are being hidden. Unfortunately, the animals are more interesting in this storyline than the bad guys, who are rather pedestrian for Gould.
Also a bit of a bore is the annoying Baby Beard, who is constantly destroying things with his immense strength. Maybe Gould thought the kid was a form of comic relief, but the frequent inclusion of his ridiculous antics are a bit too much to take, especially in the second story when he is able to control the panthers. This reader was certainly happy when the character faded away.
The next case involves the formerly fat "Spready" Spensive and his former prison mate "Duke" who each have scars because envelopes have been inserted inside them that will lead them to one million dollars. "Spready" has a hat-wearing lawyer named Mona who gets poorly treated by her client and even worse by Gould who writes her as a smart, strong character upon introduction only to allow her to become weak, which seems to stem for her being a female.
The mansion where the million is stashed is featured in two stories. In the second, the strip turns personal and sad for the Tracy family as readers meet Junior's birth mother, Mary Steele, but only for a brief time as she soon dies in a very odd, seemingly impossible manner. Although he is unaware of the victim's relationship to him, Junior's detective work breaks the case open. Mary's death is not in vain as it leads to the discovery of a miscarriage of justice, and Gould has a way of allowing Fate to right the wrong. The tender moments of concern for Junior and Mary by Tracy and the gang are what make this tale stand out.
Next up, Tracy takes on The Brush, whose face is a covered in hair like the Addams family's Cousin It. The villain is running a great scam, taking advantage of people's good nature, like that of P. O. Smythe, as they donate to the cause of dealing with radioactive fallout. Brush has chimps opening the mail. As employees, he them "honest and efficient...and they don't talk," but they aren't as reliable as he thinks. The loot the Brush makes off with links to the final story as the laundry bag it is hidden in makes its way to the farm of a little old lady where it causes quite a bit of trouble as she tries to hide it. Lizz goes undercover to see if she can find the money.
While there may be an element or two in a story that misses the mark, Gould's writing over the 18 months collected here is still entertaining. There are plenty of thrills and laughs as the crooks frequently cause their own undoing. The art remains first rate, conveying the action and violence is evocative ways. Fans should still be satisfied by these cases and how Tracy and his team go about solving them, and although 30 years into the strip at this point, The Complete Dick Tracy, Volume 20 is as good a place as any to jump in.