As the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing continue to collect The Complete Dick Tracy by Chester Gould, Volume 22 presents the dailies and Sunday strips from August 13, 1964 through to December 26, 1965. The book has an introductory essay by consulting editor Max Allan Collins, "Moon Struck," about the strips collected, which present "the most controversial era" in the strip's history as the lunar-related adventures of Dick Tracy continue. It concludes with contributing editor Jeff Kersten's "The Mystery of the Age (or The Gospel According to Chet)" about matters relating to Gould and the strip during this time period.
The relationship between Junior and Moon Maid dominates the strip over these 16 months, and with the involvement of her disapproving father, the Moon's governor, there's a lot of trips back and forth. In fact, the governor is an odd character as he alternates between adversary and ally. One strip he toasts the first interplanetary marriage (between Junior and Moon) as well as interplanetary commerce and trade, and the next strip takes Tracy, Junior, and Diet Smith prisoner and seizes their ships. Over the course of the book, Junior and Moon Maid marry and later have a child, both events are national news events.
But being Dick Tracy, there are still crimes to be solved. Sam starts a case involving a tree with a skeleton inside it that leads to the introduction of comic strip creator Chet Jade, who writes Sawdust, which deals with tree and wood puns, with his team of artists. A woman's body is found encased in Alaskan ice. It may be missing aviatrix Lita Flite, Amelia Earhart stand-in, but her planned route wouldn't have taken her to the Arctic.
Moon Maid starts selling jokes to Jade and unintentionally starts a war with Matty Square, owner of a funny, cigar-smoking cat, and his gang, all of whom are oddly fixated on their constitutional rights. Tracy and the police are mystified as bodies of crooks pile up. When Matty thinks the end is near, he seeks financial help from Mr. Bribery, one of the nuttier villains of the strip, which is saying something. Bribery picks the pockets of people he works with, shrinks the heads of people who ignore him, and confides in a rose. He plans to kill Tracy and the newlyweds, with funny results if you enjoy dark humor.
The police force gets fantastic equipment upgrades. Diet invents the 2-way wrist television and the Governor presents magnetic air cars. On Dec 20, 1964, when Tracy appears on the TV program Meet Your Police to talk about Flite, he offers "words of caution" during the holidays, which are essentially larger versions of Gould's "Crimestoppers" panels.
While the artwork is as quite good as expected in terms of character design, shadows, and setting details, the drawings don't always appear with the same clarity, though it's unclear if it's a source or reprint issue. For example, a globe seen in Smith's office on April 20, 1964 has defined land masses, but two days later, North America can barely be seen. This unfortunately happens with frequent regularity throughout this book. Another art problem is Liz's hair fluctuates from black to blonde multiple times during the latter half of 1965.
I can understand readers being put off by the all relationship/moon drama contained within these pages, but I found it a fun change of pace from the past 10 years of serious crime stories that I have read and enjoyed. While not the best volume to be introduced to Gould's Dick Tracy, it is entertaining and contains a lot of what made the strip a success.