Friday, December 27, 2013

DICK TRACY: A Review of 1937

When we last left off, Dick Tracy was on the trail of the Purple Cross Gang, whose members could be identified with a purple cross tattooed on their tongues. The mastermind in charge of the gang remains a mystery (ala Republic Pictures cliffhanger serials) and plans a multi-city bank robbery spree that will rival anything put in newsprint. After discovering one of the criminals, “Baldy” Stark has been furnishing a little girl, probably his daughter, Tracy decides to follow the trail…


After the master criminal and the gang discover what Baldy has been up to, they attempt to eliminate him from the equation. Meanwhile, at the police station, “Shirtsleeve” Kelton provides a number of tips for the police to follow, the information turns out to be a dud… even when he offers the police a chance to nab the whole gang.

When the mastermind decides it’s time to eliminate men from his own gang who thought it would be easier to divide the bank loot in larger portions, the master criminal lines the men up in the form of a St. Valentine’s Day massacre and guns them down. Visiting “Baldy” in his hotel room, hoping to wipe every member of the gang off the books, the master criminal pulls a gun. As the two maneuver in the hotel room, “Baldy” turns off the lights and uses the light from the refrigerator door to shoot his boss dead. Tracy and Pat arrive to find the master criminal dead on the floor. Unmasked, the criminal turns out to be “Shirtsleeve” Kelton, who hoped to lead the police on wild goose chases while his gang committed crimes elsewhere. The story concludes with “Baldy” going to jail for his crimes. Even after all that he did, crime does not pay.

 
In the courtroom of Baldy’s sentencing, Tracy meets the beautiful Madeline, who claims to be a courtroom fan and Tracy drives her to her apartment. Tess, who was waiting along the road for Tracy to pick her up, gets jealous and won’t speak to the detective. Madeline, however, is among a group of female criminals who, using a small vacuum bottle strapped to her waist, steals perfume from department stores. Junior tries to uncover the facts behind the case and is almost killed by one of the ruthless women. Thankfully, the police come to rescue him in time. When Tracy gets too close to the case, he finds himself knocked unconscious and tied to a cot. In order to escape, Tracy bites Madeline’s hair and won’t let go until she unties him.


The women are arrested and Dick Tracy meets Johnny Wintworth, one of their playboy boyfriends. Johnny, as it turns out, is a reckless playboy who won’t accept any responsibility for his actions. His mother, Mrs. Mintworth, offers Tracy $25,000 if he can devote one year to make a man out of her son. Tracy gives the offer serious thought. Johnny, meanwhile, gets caught up in a number of nefarious criminal gangs and ultimately flees the city, joining a gang that has a wicked sense of humor: he’s to become a victim of a number of “accidents” for which they collect the insurance money. This involves a broken arm and almost drowns in the ocean.

Meanwhile, back in the city, the body of Mrs. Mintworth is found and Tracy investigates the apparent murder. After discovering his mother was murdered, and his employer is the man responsible, Johnny sets out to find Tracy and report the name of Danny Supeena. Danny recovers from his wounds and agrees to masquerade as a woman in a movie theater in order to help the police find and arrest Danny Supeena. When the theater is tossed into darkness, Tracy uses a gun with a tracer bullet to find and shoot the criminal dead. 


Once again, Junior plays an important role in assisting Dick Tracy in the apprehension of another master criminal. And once again, a notorious gang puts a price on Junior’s head and the young boy soon finds himself kidnapped. Junior is tied and bound in a garage where an automobile is left running, while Supeena’s men leave, hoping the young man dies of carbon monoxide. What the criminals did not expect was a visit from “The Blank,” who rescues Junior and leaves the criminals behind to face the fumes.


This faceless figure has a strange sense of vendetta, devoting his life to catching crooks… but acting as judge and jury and sentences criminals to death. Dick Tracy follows the trail of dead bodies, left behind by The Blank, who later fakes his death so the police would stop trying to find him. Getting too close to the identity of The Blank, Dick Tracy follows the trail to a private boat on the waterfront where he apprehends “Stud” Bronzen, whom The Blank blows up with sticks of dynamite.

Tracy survives, forced at the point of The Blank’s gun, into a specially designed decompression chamber for divers. While suffering from the ill effects of the decompression chamber, Tracy waits for outside help. Pat boards the boat and knocks the criminal unconscious. Stud escapes overboard but Tracy and Pat have the criminal they were really seeking… and removes the flesh-colored cheese cloth to reveal the identity of the criminal known as “The Blank.” Frank Redrum in the flesh -- a man whose face was horribly disfigured that he wanted to seek revenge against old gang members for the crime. (Yes, Redrum is murder spelled backwards.)


“Stud” Bronzen, in the meantime, finds the second floor suite of a rambling frame building not far from the waterfront. He pleads for Lee Ting, a notorious smuggler of human cargo, to help hide him until the heat is off. Dick Tracy contacts the U.S. Coast Guard for assistance in apprehending the men responsible for human trafficking… unaware of where his next case will lead him in 1938.

By the way, I recommend the IDW Publishing reprints of the Dick Tracy comic strip, reprinted in chronological order. The first fourteen volumes are now available in hardcover format.

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