As the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing continue to collect The Complete Dick Tracy by Chester Gould, Volume 26 presents the dailies and Sunday strips from December 24, 1970 through to September 24, 1972. The book has an introductory essay by consulting editor Max Allan Collins, “The Old Values Are No Longer Relevant,” which provides commentary on the strips included, and concludes with contributing editor Jeff Kersten’s “Bushed and Ugly-Requiem,” about Gould’s political subtext and the business of Dick Tracy.
The book opens with Pouch, cohort of the recently deceased Diamonds, still on the loose. He gets his nickname from the folds of neck flesh where he hides things. He works with quick-change artist, the “Chameleon,” who dumps loot into Pouch’s pouches so he doesn’t get caught with anything. After a few jewel robberies, Tracy sets up a sting at a hotel. The “Chameleon” changing clothes from maid to man a few feet away from Tracy and Sam is much more believable than his escape from the hotel, which should have been surrounded by police. But then Gould needed him to in order to create a thrilling snowmobile chase. Gould’s use of ink to create silhouetted figures racing through a snowstorm is a standout this volume.
Pouch is brought in for questioning because the “Chameleon” stopped at his car, but back at the station he’s told he’s has been brought in for questioning for “running from the scene of a crime and refusing to stop on command,” neither of which readers are shown happening as he is caught sitting in his car. This makes it laughable when Tracy later complains, looking directly at the reader, that “under today’s interpretation of the laws, it seems it’s the police who are handcuffed.”
Presumably, it’s a continuity error because Gould showing the police bringing in suspects on phony charges undermines them as heroes. As does the Chief being wistful about his time on the street “when…a steady .38 would have put an end to a lot of garbage moving around on 2 feet.” This cavalier attitude about police being judge, jury, and executioner runs counter to American ideals and even in 1971, had to turn off some readers. Another continuity error occurs the following year. Tracy is set to take part in a training film and after not appearing in the strip for three days, he sports a mustache, first seen on February 24, 1972. He keeps it for about two months, and on April 15, shaves it off at the request/order of his wife Tess, who doesn’t appear in this collection. On June 26, it returns for the remainder of the strips in this Volume, with no reaction by any character to it spontaneously appearing.
After Pouch gets released, Tracy’s team continues to keep an eye on him. He is passing diamonds to Molene, the granddaughter of the Mole, out of jail after 19 years. The police are unable to keep the trio under arrest because they can’t prove the gems they have are stolen. Their underground lair is blown up by a man later revealed to be Johnny Scorn. The panel of the park grounds exploding looks fantastic as Tracy and Sam are knocked off their feet and nearby lamp posts are damaged.
It’s not entirely clear why, but the Mole kicks Molene and Pouch out of his apartment. Trying to avoid the police, Scorn picks them up and sends the latter to Switzerland with $200k worth of diamonds in his neck pouch. Scorn has access to the police TV network to stay a step ahead. He also works with Uruguain revolutionary El Tigress, which makes Molene jealous, a failing that leads to her downfall, much the same way greed is Scorn’s downfall in a memorable plot twist.
A parachutist, who falls to his death when he lands on Groovy’s car after a dinner date with Lizz, leads to return of Sparkle and Vera because he was their skydiving instructor. The dead man had two 60-lb bag of marijuana with him, and turns out to be an undercover narcotics agent. The main baddie is drug dealer Retsen Nester but the story and its conclusion are unusually anti-climatic for Gould. He seemed too focused on having an anti-drug message.
Gravel Gertie discovers a map tattooed onto the top of her head, which was put there when she was nine and in an orphanage. It leads to millions in gems and when the story of the map makes the papers, she is kidnapped by those in the know. After the thrills of the crime drama, B.O. Plenty provides comic relief trying to collect.
The volume ends with an extended story that runs six months. An attempted burglary of cesium at Diet Smith’s factory leads to many mysteries. When an employee of Diet’s is killed, his family gets bad news. The man’s son is Homer, a smart aleck, nine-year-old boy with a negative attitude towards police and a positive attitude towards peanut butter, which Tracy bribes him with for help. That’s because the kid was very involved in what his father was up to, including helping criminals. Three of them frequently sit outside Diet’s factory. Homer helps reveal their identity, so they kidnap him. Why they hung around for so long risking capture doesn’t make sense nor does the need for two of them to be drug pushers selling to school children, which is more propaganda from Gould. The trio pays the ultimate price in Gould’s usual spectacular fashion.
The stories in Volume 26 find Gould at the strip’s helm for over 40 years. While the characters and stories remained entertaining as they delivered thrills and laughs, the author’s hand was an even heavier presence, whether forcing the plot in directions that weren’t believable or replacing his concern about magnetism with drug use. Along with the errors mentioned above, it’s not a surprise that he had only five years left before retiring at in 1977 at the age of 77. Yet, it’s still interesting to see Tracy and Gould navigate through a new decade, and the art continued to be captivating.