Book Review: The Complete Dick Tracy, Volume 19: 1959-1961 by Chester Gould

As the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing continue to collect The Complete Dick Tracy by Chester Gould, Volume 19 presents the dailies and Sunday strips from July 12, 1959 through to February 19, 1961. The book has an introductory essay, Max Allan Collins’s “Dark Comedy and Careening Imagination” about the strips collected, and concludes with Richard Pietryk’s look at the appearance of Gould’s villains “Foes, Fashion, and Flies” and Jeff Kersten’s “In Pursuit of Sanitation and Sanity” about the reaction from the public and newspapers to Flyface and about Dick Locher joining the strip as Gould’s assistant, which involved inking strips as well as merchandise and advertising work.

This volume begins with Dick Tracy and his team on the lookout for the rat-faced thief Rhodent who was involved in a murder depicted in the previous installment. In Gould’s world, there are no shades of gray when it comes to heroes and villains. This is made clear rather quickly as Rhodent steals $400 from his sleeping father’s wallet. The crook also sends a hit man to eliminate the only witness, a frighteningly scrawny, 90lb. gal named Fatty. Wisely, Lizz poses as a decoy and takes care of the hoodlum in dramatic, detailed fashion. Speaking of dramatic, Rhodent’s ultimate fate certainly is. Not wanting to reveal too much, let’s just say it involves a freight train.

The aforementioned hit man leads into the next story. It turns out his brother is the gangster Willie-the-Fifth, whose name stems from his incessant mumbling of a certain Constitutional right, and he wants revenge. A lawyer named Flyface, who earned the name because of the insects buzzing around, an unfortunate family trait, assists Willie.

What’s fun about how Gould’s stories unravel is that they don’t always end when expected. After Willie and Flyface are apprehended, it seems their storyline is over as a new crime is committed when Haku Kou, a large Hawaiian man is assaulted. Yet the story circles back when revealed that Willie is partially involved and they escape to Hawaii, which became a state a few months prior. While there, readers get to see Tracy out of his solid colors and in a traditional print shirt.

Also, a new storyline starts as Tracy leads the search for the family of a young orphan girl. Naturally, some criminal has to try to take advantage of the situation and his name is Spots, a man who sees spots before his eyes yet Gould has given him no eyes. Providence M. Ogden, who frequently speaks in poetic styles attributed to different poets, some real like Keats, some fake like Shakesbeer, is his assistant. Before they get caught, they get involved with another young child when Fresh Upp, at the forcing of her mother Burpie, abandons her baby outside their hideout, although the reason for doing so being that the kid has a tiny beard, actually a goatee, seems the oddest of reasons.

Although Tracy always gets his man (or woman), it’s good that the bad guys aren’t total idiots and are able to foil the cops from time to time. Reading the book in large chunks rather than one a day makes it more noticeable that the story overlaps at times between the Sunday and dailies. Not sure if the error occurred with the original strip or the reproduction for the book, but the Sunday Feb 28, 1960 strip has a duplicate panel.

The Complete Dick Tracy, Volume 19 is yet another wonderful addition to the collection. Gould’s combination of crime and comedy in his stories matched with his marvelous drawings and artistic choices make clear why the strip was so captivating for so long.

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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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