Friday, February 15, 2013

James Cagney Meets Dick Tracy, 1933

With Warner Brothers and their gangster pictures so popular, it comes as no surprise that Chester Gould, creator and artist of the Dick Tracy comic strips, created a character molded in the image of James Cagney -- including the mannerisms and dialogue so commonly heard in a James Cagney picture. His name was Jimmy White, the son of a wealthy industrialist living outside of town on Ballard Boulevard. Mr. White's bonds and securities were stolen and Jimmy was responsible for the theft... but I'm getting ahead of myself. 

IDW has been doing a bang-up job reprinting the entire five decades of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy comic strip. Volume two centers on the years 1933 to 1934 (they touch on he first week or two of 1935 just to conclude a story arc) and featuring Junior on the dust jacket is certainly appropriate. He dominates the calendar year of 1933 saving Dick Tracy's life three times, Tess Trueheart's life twice and helps apprehend numerous criminals -- as well as going through a lot of pain in the process. I recommend you purchase the IDW hardcover reprints today and start enjoying them as much as I do.

Picking up where we last left off (CLICK HERE if you missed a review of 1931-32), in January 1933, Dick Tracy uses a lie detector to prove Larceny Lu's guilt, then reveals to Dan the Dope Peddler how lemon juice makes a good invisible ink that becomes visible when the paper is held over a flame. The lie detector is also applied on Tess Trueheart to learn how she feels about Dick Tracy and the two make plans to get married and raise Junior up as their own. It was in 1933 that Gould made it a habit of applying scientific tricks in his comic strips, including advancements in law enforcement and investigation techniques.

Opening the new year with a new criminal, "Stooge" Viller, a professional pick pocket, is hired by the remainder of "Ribs" Mocco's ring of criminals to frame Dick Tracy for a crime. Stooge plants phoney currency in the pockets of Dick Tracy, and in his house, to frame the detective so the police department believes Tracy is operating a counterfeiting racket on the side. The way Stooge sets up the whole scenario is brilliant and Tracy is promptly fired from his job. Tess, for a short while, leaves Tracy in tears. Stooge, believing he could one-up on Tracy, falls in love with Tess Trueheart, romances her and momentarily sweeps her off his feet. When Stooge slips and Tess discovers the truth and phones the police with the knowledge he learned, Stooge shoots her and attempts to flee the country. 

Tess Trueheart is shot by "Stooge" Viller when she tips off the police.

Junior, however, having a superb memory, remembers seeing Stooge more than once and at the train station where both Tracy and Junior are leaving for Western Kansas to start a new life and run Tracy's Uncle's big ranch. Junior spots the pickpocket and Tracy takes appropriate action. Tracy clears his name (thanks to Tess) and the detective is reinstated and the Chief apologizes to the best detective on the force. (Stooge attempts to slice his throat with an ink pen when he realizes he is going to jail, but police restrain him before he finishes the job.)

In March, 1933, Tess is healing from her wounds but Tracy, having discovered she was unfaithful for a spell, chooses to spend more time at the police station than her apartment. In the March 1 panel, Tess is down on her knees praying to God that Tracy doesn't drift away from her because she truly loves him. Steve the Tramp, meanwhile, stumbles on the mountain ranch of blind "Hank" Steele, who needs a hired hand. It doesn't take long before Steve discovers Hank's past and the blind man's $5,000 reward for anyone who can find his son, who was taken away from him nine years prior when his shiftless wife abandoned him. Steve remembers how Junior had no father and is about 9 years old and plots to return to town, kidnap Junior and reunite father and son for the reward money -- hoping to convince Junior to play along and fool the old blind man.

Steve successfully kidnaps Junior and forces the youth through a long journey by train, coal cars and stolen vehicles while Dick Tracy takes to the air to find Junior. In an abandoned gain elevator in a small country town, Dick Tracy falls into a trap and momentarily loses Steve and Junior's whereabouts. At the Steele ranch, Junior is introduced to Hank Steele and Dick Tracy exchanges both gunfire and brawn with Steve the Tramp. Della, the negro cook, is shot and wounded and ultimately dies. Steve stabs Tracy in the arm with a pitchfork. Steve jumps off a cliff in an attempt to escape but Tracy ultimately follows his trail and puts him behind bars. As one on-looker comments, while Steve is putting up a fight with the police, "He's a hard looking egg, isn't he?"

Back on the Steele Ranch, Junior remains with the blind man who, as it turns out, really is his father. The panels below from May 7, 1933, explain Junior's background.

Junior's true origin is revealed by Hank Steele, his father.

By June 1933, "Stooge" Viller and Steve the Tramp form an unlikely bond and friendship, cleverly plotting an escape from prison using a can of naptha and a red-holt bolt to blow a hole in the prison wall. The two succeed and the crooks race in a stolen car to the Steele farm to get revenge on Junior, both of whom would not be in prison if it wasn't for the kid. Dick Tracy knows exactly where they were going and races out to the farm to meet Hank and Junior and warn them of the approaching danger. Hank and Junior take the first train back into town, thanks to Tracy, while Stooge and Steve arrive on the farm and begin torturing Hank's hired hand.

Dick Tracy orders Pat to accompany Hank and Junior on an ocean cruise where the criminals would never think of looking, while Tracy remains behind to find Stooge and Steve. Stooge visits his sister, Maxine, who recently masterminded the robbery of expensive jewelry. Maxine agrees to hide Stooge for a short while, but presently has to get the jewels to a fence. Using her dog "Satan" as a means of communication, using hidden messages in the dog collar, she orders the fence to deal with Steve the Tramp when he arrives later in the day. Dick Tracy gets his arm bitten in an attempt to read the message and uses this information to get both "Gyp" Reed, the fence, and Steve the Tramp.

At Gyp's hideout, Dick Tracy falls through a trap door, finds himself in an underground room and is sprayed with gasoline from the pipes in the wall. Gyp then attempts to set Tracy on fire. 

Gyp attempts to set Dick Tracy, covered in gasoline, on fire.

Tracy, with lightning speed, raises his foot and thrusts it down on the flaming stick of wood. Knocking the gun out of Gyp's hand, Tracy punches Gyp through the door while Milligan apprehends Steve the Tramp who arrived at the fence's house.

After the crooks are put behind bars, Tracy and the police raid Maxine's house and Milligan falls for a poison gas bomb made to resemble walnuts. Maxine and Stooge make a getaway while Milligan and Tracy fall to the floor unconscious. Realizing it's been a long time since Tracy left, the chief orders his men to Maxine's residence and rescues the two cops in time. On the high seas, meanwhile, the boat carrying Junior, Hank and Pat is dashed to pieces in a storm. Everyone exist via lifeboats and makes for Halifax... the same seaport Maxine and Stooges are flying into during their getaway. Stooge recognizes Junior and against Maxine's protests, forces the three heroes into a warehouse. Attempting to defend Junior, Hank raises his cane and Stooge shoots Hank dead. 

The death of Junior's father.

Angry, Pat gives chase and Stooge jumps into the water as Pat takes shots with his gun. Stooge fakes his death in the bay and swims back to the waterfront where he is shanghaied onto Old Mike's boat and being two old friends, strike up a new partnership. Old Mike is presently smuggling goods within the hidden compartments of his ship and Stooge agrees to help Old Mike in return for a little "revenge." Disguising himself as an old seaman, Stooge visits the residence of Tess Trueheart and tells her that Tracy was met with a serious accident on a boat and was calling for her. Tess willfully goes along, unaware she is being kidnapped. While the police comb the waterfront, Tracy and Pat receive a threat to back off or Tess will be seriously injured. Junior is disguised as a waterfront street urchin in order to infiltrate the correct ship where Tess is being held captive. But Junior's disguise only fools the crooks momentarily and escapes just in time. The crooks are caught with their hands up. Tracy, apprehending the criminals on deck above, is unaware that Tess, below, makes a daring escape. Old Mike discovers what Tess is escaping in a lifeboat and shoots holes into the boat. Tess is screaming for help and Dick Tracy and Junior races out in a speed boat to rescue her. Old Mike is captured when he discovers that fish nets and propellers do not mix, thanks to quick thinking on the part of Dick Tracy.

Old Mike has an ace up his sleeve. He makes an offer to Dick Tracy that will expose three new underworld characters -- provided he can stand on the deck of his ship one last time, where he spent so many years of his life. But Old Mike detonates an explosive and everyone on board except Old Mike jumps overboard to save their necks.

Old Mike plots to kill as many police officers as possible, including Dick Tracy.

In September 1933, Junior stumbles on an automobile racket. Tracy promptly makes the arrest. "Slicer," one of the criminals, pleads for a shot of "snow" in the arm and Tracy decides to trick the criminal into receiving what is in reality, truth serum. Tracy hopes to learn the identity of the political big shot or fixer in back of the auto-stealing ring and protection rackets. Someone in the Mayor's office is crooked. In an attempt to smoke out the man in charge, Tess disguises herself as a new store owner to lure the crooks through the front door. The scheme works as members of the protection racket introduce themselves and the trail leads to Jim Herrod, the retired politician. Herrod is caught in the cross-fire, shot and killed. Tracy's war against racketeers rivals that of the real exploits of Elliott Ness, with one crime smashed after another and his war against racketeers climaxes when someone throws a pineapple (that means a bomb) into the front window of his house and blows it up. (Oddly, except for that one panel, no further mention of Tracy's house being bombed or Tracy's continued war against racketeers is brought back to papers. Could Gould have been influenced to back off depicting newspaper headlines?)

In October 1933, "Big Boy" is still behind bars and offers a $1,000 reward for anyone who sends lead into Dick Tracy. This prompts two men to take desperate action. While Tess Trueheart and Junior are waiting outside the police station for Tracy, two crooks force them out of the vehicle and across the street where Tess is ordered to strip down to her underwear. Disguising himself with Tess's dress, one of the criminals returns to the car and waits for Tracy to come out of the station. Tracy is fooled for a couple minutes and then discovers the gun pointing in his ribs. Forced to drive to a shack in the woods, Tracy is tied up to a wood post in the center of the shack. Barney, one of the crooks, pours oil on the roof of the shack. Junior and Tess are forced into a car and the crooks make for the same shack. "Big Boy," meanwhile, has gotten a gun and forced his way out of prison. Junior puts up a fight and is thrown out of the car and over a bridge. Tess is taken to the shack and tied to another post. "Big Boy" arrives and laughs. The shack is going to be set on fire and the great detective and his girlfriend will be burned alive. 

Could this be the end of Dick Tracy and Tess Trueheart? Wait, is that Junior alive and well and coming to the rescue?

Junior swims out of the river and follows the automobile tracks, races into the shack and unties Tess and Tracy. "Big Boy," observing the actions below, races down to the shack with his men and forces Tess and Tracy to face the burning wall. Before he can shoot them, the police arrive and "Big Boy" makes his escape. Junior, meanwhile, has been badly burned by the fire and a surgeon does what he can for the boy.

Throughout the month of November, as if the fire burning his entire body wasn't enough, Junior suffers more than any 9-year-old would normally stand. "Big Boy" wants to leave the country and sends "Confidence" Dolan to the city to fetch $10,000 from his shady lawyer, Ben Spaldoni. Spaldoni, however, phones a few friends and arranges for Dolan to be slugged and the money stolen -- a problem Dolan now has to solve and quickly. Every attempt to raise the money puts Dick Tracy closer on his trail -- including the discovery of $20,000 in stolen bonds. Sandy Maguire and "Confidence" Dolan attempt to steal a young boy out of the hospital, who messed up the delivery of the stolen bonds. They make a mistake and kidnap Junior instead. Junior gets hold of a gun and forces the two crooks out to the streets so he can call the police. The crooks get the upper hand thanks to two additional crooks (but not before the police are tipped off) and Junior is taken back for a little torture.

While Dick Tracy and the police set out to find Junior, Dolan and Maguire force the boy into an old hot water tank and solder the bottom closed so the boy will suffocate inside. The water tank, insulated, will prevent anyone from hearing him scream and shout. The crooks leave the building and accidentally leave the blowtorch on, burning the bottom of the tank. (It was at this point that I had to leave for an out-of-state business trip and spent an entire week pondering how the boy would escape... boy, did that annoy me.) Unaware of their mistake, the torch melts the solder and Junior is able to roll the tank on its side and make an escape from the bottom. Tracy arrives but is knocked from behind. Attempting to throw the detective into a coal hole, Sandy Maguire is shot to death by the approaching police. Dolan is identified as the crook that stole the bonds.

Another attempt to eliminate Tracy goes foul and another criminal killed.

In December 1933, Dick Tracy visits the house of Joseph White, a wealthy industrialist who is pleased to hear his bonds have been recovered. Jimmy, Joseph's son, is a spitting image of screen actor James Cagney, and the true mastermind behind the theft of the bonds. 

James Cagney look-alike in the form of Jimmy White, master criminal.

Jimmy befriends Junior and realizing the youth could prove valuable in his schemes, introduces Junior to the "25" Club, which maintains a bad reputation for petty theft and burglaries. Junior doesn't know the Club is crooked, believing the gang members are a swell bunch of guys that like to play pool and listen to the radio. Junior is sworn not to tell anyone about the Club... it'll be their little secret. So every night, Junior sneaks out of the house and hangs out with the guys... until he discovers the real motive for the Club. Forced to help the gang break into the back room of a store, Junior is concerned that he was tricked into helping them steal the contents of a safe, but can speak nothing to Tracy about his nightly adventures... if Junior talks, Tracy will be exposed as the father of a young criminal and Junior knows just what would happen to Tracy if the truth became known. Day after day, Junior creates distractions while the "25" Club steals money out of cash registers and other petty crimes. (It should be noted that Junior, throughout the month of November and December, is still wearing bandages from the shack fire.)

How will Junior be able to escape the clutches of the James Cagney look-alike? We'll find out in 1934...

1 comment:

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