Book Review: The Complete Dick Tracy, Volume 13: 1950-1951 by Chester Gould

Released by the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing, The Complete Dick Tracy, Volume 13 by Chester Gouldpresents the dailies and Sunday strips from March 22, 1950 through to September 15, 1951. The book has an introductory essay by consulting editor Max Allan Collins, “Blood and Diamonds,” which provides commentary on the strips and stories included, and concludes with contributing editor Jeff Kersten’s “Well-driven Nails,” about Gould and the world around him at that time.

The volume begins shortly after the anxious and agitated Blowtop and his associates were involved in a $2M dollar robbery. After reading about Dick Tracy’s home in the newspaper, Blowtop seeks revenge for the death of his brother, Flattop, roughly six years prior in real time. Gould suggest there is no loyalty among criminals frequently and that is demonstrated with Blowtop a few times. First, some of his cohorts stuck him with marked money from the job. Then, while determining how to deal Tracy’s dog, he makes his “pal” Joe eat drugged hamburger at gunpoint

A bomb explodes, and Gould’s drawings reveal how dire the situation is as a fire engulfs the house and Tracy’s hair is burned off searching for Junior. Readers know the kid escaped into the clutches of the criminals and ends up in another dire situation, placed in a metal drum that is intended to roll off a 250-ft cliff, but nature has a way of helping the good guys in Gould’s world.

Unable to stand one another, Joe ends his partnership in dramatic fashion. Blowtop crosses paths with eccentric actor Vitamin Flintheart, one of the many recurring characters who is better in small doses. Blowtop makes himself appealing to Vitamin by pretending to be a Broadway producer to get Vitamin to launder his money. Of course, Vitamin, or Fate, finds a way to keep that plan from properly happening. Vitamin buys a shrunken head and his obsessing over it frustrates Blowtop and also this reader. Of course, there’s so much fuss over the head it becomes instrumental in closing the case.

Three-year-old Sparkle Plenty reveals herself to be a talented ukulele player. Vitamin becomes her agent, so we have to deal with him and her father B.O., another character that has little to offer, working together. Into their lives comes, former wrestler T.V. Wiggles, a quivering fella drawn with wavy lines, is as odd as they come. His scheme is to blackmail taverns and the like, and if they refuse to pay protection for their TVs, he and his cronies pour corn syrup into the set and ruin it. He also muscles in on Vitamin’s agent fees under threat of pouring acid onto Sparkle’s face.

T.V. is dangerous with an ability to knock someone out by applying hard pressure to a nerve in the neck. There’s a great sequence of panels as Dick and T.V. fight in a coal storage bin, into a newspaper building, and onto subway tracks. It’s thrilling as T.V. stays a step ahead and leaves a few bodies in his wake. He could have gotten away but his desire for vengeance does him in. During the capture, B.O. is shot four times, the doctors can’t doing anything, suggesting his end is near. Unfortunately, Gould uses deus ex machina and has Tracy pray to the Lord to save the character.

While on a walk outside their new home, the Tracys meet Dr. Plain, who is anything but, and his wife. Showing a keen eye like Sherlock Holmes, Tracy notices a cigarette burning through the doctor’s fingers, determining the hand is a fake. And the doctor is quite a crook, setting his fake hand on fire in order to get people to stop and help only for them to end up getting robbed. When it leads to murder, Tracy gets involved, and when a woman shot at the scene is operated on by Plain, Tracy grows ever more suspicious and when has he ever been wrong? The doctor’s plan is rather devious and elaborate with the target his former employer, the wealthy Mrs. Forchune, who has Dr. Plain as a beneficiary in her will. The Plains are very good at covering their tracks, but not perfect. Leading to another spectacularly drawn fire and fitting finish to the case.

Empty Williams is a sadistic fella with a misshapen head after part of his skull was removed who prefaces almost every statement with “As a matter of fact…”. When he and his team hijack a truckload of diapers instead of furs as planned, Empty comes up with a scheme to sell them as car polish clothes, but that gets fouled up as well, leading to a murder. When one of the hoods is tailed by the cops, Empty makes him pay for his slip up in a rather funny manner if one has a dark sense of humor.

After getting a lead on Empty’s barber, Bonnie, Sam’s cover is blown and he is knocked out. Empty sticks Sam in a slot machine, which seems odd until you learn they are being destroyed at the dump under the mayor’s orders. Gould draws a number of panels illustrating the destruction. Bonnie marries Empty and goes on the run with him, which Gould shows to be a tragic mistake and involves another fire, which the artist was clearly fascinated by.

While the net closes around Empty, Tess gives birth to a baby. For some inexplicable reason, Gould has an absolutely annoying nurse dub the kid “Bonny Braids” after doing her hair. After repeatedly refusing it, Tracy went along with. I know people complain the about the Moon stories from the ’60s, but this nagging nurse was the worst thing I have read in the strip to date and I have read over half the series.

Once home, a photographer named Crewy Lou, named after her unusual hair cut, starts hanging about wanting to take pictures of the new baby. Turns out, this is to build a portfolio to get in good with the Knoxes so she can rob them with her safe-cracking partner Sphinx, who never speaks but writes. While setting their plan in motion, Carol Knox shoots her husband Fortson who was in the Crime Syndicate. The cast of characters increases, which makes the story unpredictable with the varied interests, and thus more enjoyable.

Other Syndicate members include its leader, “The King,” and Eddie, who was involved Carol. When she tells her story to cops, it makes the paper, which is bad news for Eddie. “The King” wants the diamonds back Crewy Lou, and the two become fast enemies. The plot has lot of twist and turns especially when the reader is surprised by the introduction of a doctor in search of justice, but will he or Tracy get it? The volume ends on a great cliff hanger with a gangster on the run and a Tracy family member in tow.

Chester Gould and Dick Tracy were riding high into the decade, proving 13 isn’t always unlucky. Over the 18 months covered in this volume, readers gets a lot of compelling crime stories, although the characters are as black and white as the drawings. The good guys never stray from being true blue to the law. The villains stand out throughout in appearance and personality, and it was nice to some women get as vicious as the men. Gould creates a lot of action in the panels, such as fist fights, gun battles, car chases, and fires. The panels are well detailed, and one of my favorites is May 28, 1950: Joe escapes (temporarily) out a window in a spectacular fashion.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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