Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip debuted on October 4, 1931 named after the lead character, a square-jawed, yellow-hat-and-jacket-wearing police detective. In 2007, the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing began publishing The Complete Dick Tracy. The penultimate book in the series, Volume 28 presents the dailies and Sunday strips from July 7, 1974 through to March 14, 1976. The book has an introductory essay by consulting editor Max Allan Collins, “Freedom from Crime is No Job for Cowards,” which provides commentary on the strips included, and concludes with contributing editor Jeff Kersten’s “Real Weapons” about Gould’s political subtext and the business of Dick Tracy.
The book opens as Tracy and his team tie up the loose of ends from the previous case, which takes quite a few twists for about six months. Onyx Fencer, a partner of the late “Big Brass,” empties their shared safety deposit box then returns to his house, which is loaded with stolen goods. A tornado destroys Onyx’s house and all the loot, but the ocarina-playing Brain, who wears a hat that looks like a brain, still wants what he is due, and won’t let anyone keep him from getting it.
After Groovy is beaten with a blackjack and sent to hospital, Tracy learns Brain has been “twice convicted of murder – twice paroled!” This leads Gould, through Tracy, to break the fourth wall and ask readers, “Are parole boards like this, motivated by sociological stupidity, bribery, or just an inferiority complex that puts them on a level with the murderer?”
Gould frequently bemoans through the characters about the state of the legal system. Speaking to a neighborhood meeting, Tracy states, “Fettered as he is with restraining rules and regulations, the policeman needs every citizen’s help!” During a different case involving attempted murder, Sam asks, “What chance has law enforcement got in today’s judicial climate?” Months later, Lizz looks at the reader and asks, “Have the courts become an ally of the underworld?” Gould even has Tracy interact with a trio protesting police violence towards criminals. They are embarrassed when he asks if they would not use violence against Hitler, the Japanese after attacking Pearl harbor, or against the South during the Civil War.
The next case runs almost as long and starts with the complaint of an obscene phone caller. The creep even bothers Lizz, Gertie (who amusingly isn’t bothered by all of the caller’s remarks), and Sparkle. Vera is angry Sparkle had to hear this. During his search, he finds a worker connected a telephone pole. Like an absolute moron, Vera picks up a gun laying at the foot of the pole that killed the telephone worker, so of course, he is arrested for the murder.
The dead man’s father, Earl Welz, seeks revenge. After a quick-acting Lizz stops him from killing the person who confessed, Earl goes after her with his partner Chilly Hill. They kidnap her, throw her into the trunk of a car, and set it ablaze. The criminal pair go to Chilly’s sister, Nellie, a barber, who alters their appearance. Earl decides Nellie is going to help them escape with her van. She outsmarts them whereas the previous case concluded with Brain outsmarting himself while in a vehicle.
Gould then offers two shorter cases. A dead body is found at a drug store phone booth with a knife in its back. A note is found with “concrete head” written on it. A rock formation on Rock Ridge Mountain bears that name so Tracy heads there to investigate. They speak to the farmer who owns the land it sits on. The formation hides smuggling equipment. The farmer’s daughter does not like her father working with criminals and the way he mistreats her, so she makes him pay in a spectacular manner that puts Tracy and Sam in danger, but leaves “plenty of loose ends to tie together on this case.” One of those ends is a drug peddler named Hairy who used the farm and now needs to move narcotics, and a mortician named Maude.
Sparkle grows jealous of Vera working with a female gag writer named Bunny, although he gives her no reason she should. Bunny’s “special friend” tries to force Vera to buy all her submissions. Defending himself, Vera strikes the man with an ashtray, knocking him out and giving him amnesia. Another crook arrives on scene, and Vera is held hostage. He uses his drawing skills to provide Tracy a clue, providing they can be found
Before 1975 closes out, there’s a double murder bank holdup involving a ruthless gang of girls. The lisping Lispy is their leader. Her male pal, Pucker Puss who looks like a man that interviewed Vera on TV a while back, assists them. He is the only one who escapes…into the final Complete Dick Tracy.
While Gould getting on his soapbox can get a little tiresome, he still delivers crime stories that entertain and thrill in this volume. The characters remain consistent in their behavior. Gould also has a good, albeit at times dark, sense of humor. It was hysterical to see bystanders cheer Onyx into committing suicide and jump off the bridge.
A highlight of Gould’s art are the action scenes, from crashing cars and falling helicopters engulfed in flames to a massive explosion. Of course, there’s a lot of gun battles, and no one has an aim as true as Tracy. Gould’s drawings of women seem more provocative during this period. A few are seen wearing revealing, low-cut blouses, lots of leg gets shown, one lady dominates the panel as she bends over provocatively on all fours in a short dress, and there’s a full silhouette of Sparkle naked in the shower. Not sure the intention or if it was just a case of running out of idea, but a number of the criminals, men and women, suffer from harelips.
One bit of trivia: on Sunday, October 6, 1974, the Crimestoppers panel is moved from the top line of the strip and made the final panel turned left at a 90-degree angle. It was likely easier to read when only having to handle a sheet or two of newspaper rather than this book.