Book Review: The Complete Dick Tracy, Volume 18: 1957-1959 by Chester Gould

As the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing continue to collect The Complete Dick Tracy by Chester Gould, Volume 18 presents the dailies and Sunday strips from December 15, 1957 through to July 11, 1959.

The book’s opening few panels are a little heavy handed and preachy as Tracy’s adopted son Junior explains he and some friends want to go into law enforcement and gives a slightly nauseating speech about how much better things would be “if parents stayed at home more with their kids and helped teach them good manners – taught ’em to pray, and tanned their little hides when they disobeyed.” Thankfully, it only goes on for four strips.

The first story involves a mystery about the loot from a million-dollar steamship line heist and the directions to it hidden on LPs. The main bad guy is the goatee-sporting Pantsy, whose downfall is a result of the distrust he has for his fellow criminals. Not allowing anyone to hear more than one bit of information at a time allows Tracy and his team to find the stash first. According to the introduction by Max Allan Collins, this storyline is similar to the Spinner Record story, which appears in Volume 14. Having not read that previous case, I found the Pantsy story enjoyable.

Next up, Tracy’s dealings with Miss Egghead involve cock-fighting, the Cuban secret service, and murder. Miss Egghead, whose appearance Gould based on actress Bette Davis as Richard Pietrzyk reveals in his closing essay, loses her prize gamecock because of her assistant’s kind-hearted daughter and it ends up on the farm of B.O. Plenty. The bird’s retrieval doesn’t go smoothly, leading Miss Egghead to flee to Cuba with Tracy hot on her trial.

Tracy should have been killed when he found himself at the end of an assailant’s rifle, but Gould inexplicably has the bad guys decide to drop Tracy off on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. In the moment it’s a poor plot twist, but it is entertaining seeing Tracy play Robinson Crusoe for a few weeks.

The last case begins with Headache, an engineering genius of slot machines who is tired of the business. Unfortunately, he sold his company to a Mrs. Jones, who works as a front for a slot-machine syndicate, and is trapped working there.

Things get odd when Headache breaks free and he begins to receive the affections of Jones’ daughter, the lollipop-licking Popsie, whose age is unclear but seems to be under that of consent, making it a bit creepy. Popsie makes clear they are ready to run off together, but then for no apparent reason, and after egging him on, she rejects his interest, claiming he is a married man and father of a two-month-old, which her mother supposedly told her before she got kidnapped by the syndicate. It makes one wonder why Gould made such an abrupt change in Popsie’s character.

After the case is solved, the story goes on for quite a while in a humorous vein as Kent Hardly deals with his inheritance from his criminal brother, nearly $2 million in nickels, dimes, and quarters, which he refuses to put into a bank. With all the people he involves trying to keep the money safe, it’s not long before some with ill intentions arrive on the scene.

Although Gould’s characterizations continue to be simplistic in terms of good guys and bad guys and the outcomes for the latter are limited to either jail or death, his writing entertains because of the unpredictable twists the stories take along the way to their expected conclusions. The only instance of the good guys breaking the law is when they bugged a place without a warrant, and only then in the service of catching criminals. There is a little story overlap which occurs because Gould didn’t create the days in order.

Gould also continued to achieve a high standard for his art. In particular, the Miss Egghead storyline features some of the best of the entire book. There’s a great panel of a wild goat in silhouette falling off a cliff after Tracy shot it. Later, Tracy and others jump off a damaged plane floating in the water because cockeyed Chicory, fearful of getting caught, fails to consider the leaked gasoline when he fires his gun and causes a huge explosion. Towards the end of the story, a hurricane hits Cuba, and heavy rain streaks across many panels in a way that conveys the intensity well.

No matter whether one enters Gould’s universe at this point or continues the journey, The Complete Dick Tracy, Volume 18 offers thrilling crime dramas. As a bonus, the source material used for the ’59 dailies is in a wider format, allowing readers a better opportunity to appreciate the art of the four-panel strips.

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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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