As the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing continue to collect The Complete Dick Tracy by Chester Gould, Volume 21 presents the dailies and Sunday strips from August 27, 1962 through to April 12, 1964. The book has an introductory essay by Consulting Editor Max Allan Collins’ about the strips collected including the public reaction to Moon Maid and other lunar characters that appeared later, which “remains the most controversial element in the history of the Tracy strip.” It concludes with Contributing Editor Jeff Kersten’s “Pulling the Whiskers Off,” who regales readers with what was happening at the time in the the country and with Gould.
As many of the time were, Chester Gould’s imagination must have been influenced by the Space Race considering the adventures Dick Tracy gets involved with during this volume. Space travel comes to the strip by way of inventor Diet Smith, who builds his Space Coupe, a rocket ship that makes “use of the magnetism found in the planets” to travel around the globe and to.the moon.
The first storyline finds members of the 52 Gang, “controllers of the world crime syndicate,” making use of the Space Coupe. After hijacking a pilot and working from their base in the Dakota Black Hills, the gang uses the vehicle to do away with their enemies, such as a gambling czar and a Bolivian newspaper editor. But they aren’t a disciplined crew. When the Six of Diamonds (all members wear hoods that cover their face so their identities aren’t even known amongst one another) shoots at a passing airplane, he suffers a severe penalty, the drawing of which will amuse those with a dark sense of humor. With their location revealed, Tracy is able to infiltrate, but posing as the 10 of Spades proves complicated as 10 is a member of the upper tier Royal Flush and is involved with the Queen of Spades. It gets wild as the authorities drop napalm on the gang in an attempt to subdue them.
The book concludes with some more sci-fi with the introduction the Moon Maid, an alien that characters frequently and inexplicably refer to as a human although her appearance and powers clearly demonstrate she is not. There is no crime and little mystery for Tracy and the team to solve, but there is a budding romance between Junior and Moon Maid. That is unlike an earlier story where Junior dating a woman, Thistle Dew, is a ruse her Uncle Punky devises to find out who identified her father Spike, which led to him getting the electric chair. Punky proves to be a real nut as he thinks a cigarette-smoking raven in the zoo is sending him messages.
Also on the docket, Dick Tracy gets one case involving art forgery, drug smuggling, and a chimpanzee named Li’l Dropout, and another that starts with a bomb scare that leads to illegal heart-transplant experiments four years before Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s notable achievement.
In Volume 21, Gould’s stories tended to be sillier more often than previous volumes I have reviewed. Having read ten years’ worth of strips, the extra humor made for an acceptable change of pace, but I hope for a return to serious, grittier stories in future volumes.
Gould’s art continues to look great in his use of line and shading as well as his character design. However, I would quibble with what Li’l Dropout is. When Gould previously drew chimpanzees, as associates of The Brush, there was no doubt as they looked like chimpanzees. Li’l Dropout is hairy but that’s where the resemblance ends, as he looks more like a Bigfoot creature rather than a chimp.
I wouldn’t recommend Volume 21 as a starting point for those new to Gould’s Dick Tracy, but it is an enjoyable continuation of the series.