Book Review: The Complete Dick Tracy Volume 29: 1976-1977 by Chester Gould

Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip debuted on October 4, 1931 named after its lead character, a by-the-book police detective who lives to bring down bad guys. In 2007, the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishing began publishing The Complete Dick Tracy. Volume 29 is the final book in the series and presents the dailies and Sunday strips from March 15, 1976 through to December 25, 1977.  The book has an introductory essay by consulting editor Max Allan Collins, “Sad and Wonderful,” which provides commentary on the strips included, and concludes with contributing editor Jeff Kersten’s “A New Song” about Gould’s political subtext and the business of Dick Tracy.

The book opens with hitman Pucker Puss killing “Greenback” Eddy at a packed baseball game with an ingenious weapon that is hands free. In a ridiculous coincidence, Lizz takes her niece on a trip south, which is clearly Florida although never named, and finds Pucker lounging at a beach. Gould’s art gets risque during this story as Pucker tears Lizz’s clothes, leaving her in just a bra and ripped-up skirt. She makes the mistake of going it alone twice, and once again, Tracy finds himself singed from a fire. He looks rough and unshaven for a few weeks.

While he recovers in the hospital, he encounters singing family trio, the Gallstones. The group has a shady manager, who the two brothers don’t know is romantically involved with their sister. They also have a problem with bootleg copies of their album in record stores. A stash of them are found in the car of a young man who steals Tracy’s wristwatch. These interlinked elements weave together for the mysteries to be solved, and do so in a way that never feels forced together by Gould, showing a deft writing touch at this late stage of the strip.

Perfume Plenty comes to stay with her relatives while working a trade show. Two men she works with trick B.O. and Gertie into thinking they won a week’s vacation at a hotel. The reason is to get them out of the so the bad guys can run their bootleg perfume operation out of the Plenty home. When Perfume has a change of heart and turns on her partners, she puts her life at risk. Before the perfume case closed, Sam, whose presence was limited on the past couple of cases, gets caught up in a shoot out and requires facial reconstruction. A big production is made out of the reveal but it falls flat when it finally occurs, coming off like needless filler

Perfume starts working for the Spirit-Lifters League, basically the Salvation Army, ringing a bell to raise money for the hungry and needy. She meets producer Victor DaMill, who acts like a jerk at first. She starts working in commercials and is a hit. However, Victor’s ex-leading lady Tanya isn’t happy about being replaced. She comes to the studio drunk, scratches Perfume’s face and shoots Victor, but runs off before police arrive, leaving Perfume as a suspect.

Tracy gets a job on the number one TV network delivering a “Police Memo,” a weekly, two-minute PSA on crime prevention, similar to the Sunday strip’s Crimestopper panel. One appearance is photographed off the TV by Leyden Aigg, unknowingly for a criminal Zero Nought, who wants revenge from those who sent him to jail. Judge Barrs is killed after being kicked in the head from a horse, although things don’t add up at the scene. Tracy figures out the connection rather quickly considering how many cases he has worked on over the years.

The strip takes a break from police work for action. As Tracy approaches the building of a potential Nought victim, his magnetic flying car is shot and damaged, sending it up into the atmosphere. With help from its inventor, Diet Smith, Sam and Groovy chase after him before he makes a return visit to the moon.

When Leyden is shown on TV wanted for questioning, he and his domineering mother head to police station to tell what he knows. Not sure if these type of details make it to the press, but the newspaper reports Leyden is cleared by a lie detector. This sends Zero to Leyden’s house where he holds Leyden and his mother hostage. They are handcuffed together, although in what seems like an error in the art, they change positions when the trio are in the kitchen. Tracy arrives at Leyden’s house and corners the bad guys. Fate saves Tracy once again.

Transportation system users are harassed by thieves. Lizz and Tracy go undercover and one thief nearly gets Lizz killed. Turns out he’s Perfume’s cousin, Dade Plenty, and is a talented dress designer. He is allowed a desk and drawing materials in his cell. A dress he sketched is picked by the governor’s wife for the state’s anniversary in part because her husband believes in rehabilitation, which Gould can’t help make known does not. Dade is taken to meet her, and she thanks with a kiss on the cheek. A photo makes the papers, and the governor’s approval rating plummets.

The guards don’t pay attention to Dade and he escapes by designing an outfit that resembles the choral group that entertains the prisoners. He goes to the Capitol to see what happened to his dress. When the wife is found dead, Dade is the prime suspect, but when a tiny jar of “lethal dope” is found in her hair bun, questions arise about what happened. After a lie detector test, Tracy gets a lead that is confirmed by the governor.

Dade is finally sentenced for his past crimes and the judge gives him life. With his maid in his ear (and lap), the governor grants Dade a pardon. Dade hopes the governor will give him a job but is refused. However, the maid, established as a shady character, hides Dade in a fallout shelter. The governor finds out and is not happy. An accidental death leads to solving the governor’s wife’s murder. With the governor now unencumbered, he pursues Perfume while a pair of hoods pursue him, wanting a pardon for their brother. When he refuses, they hide the governor and Perfume in a closed down amusement park during a snowstorm. Gould sees the governor receives some justice for his actions.

The strip’s last story runs about two weeks and is anticlimatic. No crime or any reunion of past and present characters, although Xmas Eve 1977 is a reprint of the very first strip with Dick and Tess looking very different. Instead, it’s about the search for a hat to be used in a DaMill commercial. The final strip is Sunday, Xmas 1977. Tracy and the gang only appear in one panel, at home watching TV. The rest are mostly about hat-maker Mme. Hempff, Perfume and the Keno Products commercial, concluding with the obligatory Merry Xmas message.

As I finished this volume, it is bittersweet knowing that Gould’s run, and this LOAC series, had come to an end. Even though his creative peak as a writer had come many years prior and his right-wing politics come off simplistic and narrow-minded, the strip remains enjoyable in this era. The stories range from great to good. It’s fun seeing bad people being bad before eventually being caught, if not punished, by Tracy. And even towards the end, the artwork remained consistently of high quality. From the panel of Pucker Puss receiving gunfire to the snow-filled scenes of the governor and Perfume trapped atop a Ferris wheel, the strip was a visual treat.

While this isn’t the volume to be introduced to Dick Tracy and the strip doesn’t say goodbye as Max Allan Collins and longtime Gould assistant Rick Fletcher would take over, there are entertaining stories to enjoy and art to appreciate in this book.

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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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