As the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing continue to collect The Complete Dick Tracy by Chester Gould, Volume 23 presents the dailies and Sunday strips from December 27, 1965 through to July 2, 1967. The book has an introductory essay by consulting editor Max Allan Collins, “Now Back to Our Story,” about the strips collected. It concludes with contributing editor Jeff Kersten’s “Hard as Hell – Act One” about matters relating to Gould and the strip during this time period offering references to allusions Gould makes to the JFK’s assassination and Washington Post publisher Phillip Graham’s divorce. He also covers readers’ letters, Gould’s personal life, and images from the Dick Tracy TV pilot.
Continuing from the previous volume, Tracy and his team are after psychopath Mr. Bribery and his conspirators, whom he disposes of when they become a risk to him. One man ends up in Earth’s orbit, which was a surprise as Gould had recently used this plot device to dispose of a body. Later, $100,000 in cash also ends up circling the globe and it stays there for longer than expected. After 10 months, Bribery is apprehended, which includes a dramatic hunt in the mountains that is disrupted by a fiery plane crash.
A few strips later, a deadly stabbing occurs at a park. The investigation leads to the return of Clybourne the crow, who has been trained to steal handbags by Haf-and-Haf, a man who had half his body scarred by chemicals. For no apparent reason, Gould draws him wearing a tattered half-suit, making him resemble Batman’s Two-Face, though he claimed no knowledge of the comic book villain. When Haf-and-Haf’s wife discovers there’s another woman in his life, he kills her, but in covering his tracks, he draws the attention of Tracy.
Bribery makes a brief return at the end of the book, assisted by the villainous pair Chin Chillar and his wife, who have matching chin whiskers. They help him escape and grab the orbiting money, but like many of Bribery’s partnerships, this one ends quickly. Tracy will surely be on the case in the following volume.
For those with dark senses of humor like Gould, and myself, Diet Smith’s test pilot Maay tries to impress his society model date by driving his convertible car up to 180 mph, only to send both of them flying out of the car when he hits the brakes. There are also unintentional moments of humor, such as Diet constantly bragging the Moon’s temperature is 88 degrees, so Gould draws the men shirtless while they work. Even odder is Gould repeatedly including a narrative box that states “The Nation That Controls Magnetism Will Control The Universe,” a belief that didn’t take hold with the science community no matter how many times it appeared.
The strips occurring on the moon in Volume 23 are less frequent than the previous volume, so those who prefer their Dick Tracy Earthbound will be pleased as will anyone who enjoys crime stories filled with sex and violence. The art remains top notch. The line work and shading of Gould and his assistants is impressive, presenting a lot of visual information in the small panels.