Friday, July 18, 2014

Dick Tracy: A Review of 1939

Chief Brandon, wanting to see Dick Tracy recover from his harrowing ordeals of 1938, pays for the detective's vacation at Pop's Health Farm, a resort located 300 miles out of the city. Pop is an old friend of Jim Brandon, who welcomes Tracy with open arms. At first Tracy isn't happy with mud baths and soaking in hot springs, but he soon finds the comforts of the Health Farm to his liking... until he discovers the Health Farm is a front for diamond thieves. Pop's son, Mickey, is involved with a gang of cut-throat jewel thieves who stash their loot into a cast-iron box hidden on the Health Farm. When all the gang members succeed in filling the box, the loot is divided up among the crooks. Pop eventually reveals his secret to Tracy and the two discover the mastermind is Woolley who, in a desperate move pulls a Tommy gun on Dick Tracy, discovers his gun is empty and Tracy punches him to the ground.

During the month of March, Mickey, afraid to confront his father, escapes and meets up with Scardol, a notorious robber who uses cold water paint to mask his automobile so police are seeking the wrong vehicle during the getaway. Mickey earns his keep and for a while the two reap the rewards of crime. Scardol is the start of Gould's bizarre, deformed criminals (unless you count "The Blank" a couple years prior), who displays a high forehead and lots of pimples. During a daring getaway the two criminals kill a police officer and when Dick Tracy and Pop catch up to the gang in a barn, Mickey is unable to pull the trigger and kill his father.

The criminals catch Tracy and Pop and attempt to break a support meant for pouring concrete, hoping to bury the detectives so no one will ever know what happened to the bodies. Mickey, however, won't partake of the murder of his father and turns against Scarpol, who ultimately falls to his death and gets buried in cement... by the hand of his own making. Mickey's father, Pop, is seriously wounded and survives only because Mickey volunteers a blood transfusion. Mickey is sent to prison to serve a two-year sentence. He leaves behind a wife and child, but they will be reunited in two years. His service to the law was appreciated but his involvement in the crime still deserved punishment. Crime does not pay.

In the next story, which begins in May, two Bovanian princes arrive in town via a luxury liner. Crooks mastermind a clever scheme to sneak on board and using molds and makeup replicate the two princes. The real ones are kidnapped and the fake ones take their place in prominent society in town. After a couple weeks, the police discover that houses are being robbed along the same path where the two princes are guests at society parties. But fearing the repercussion with international affairs if they accuse the crooks of stealing, the two fake princes are on a robbing rampage. When Tracy finds evidence against them, the fakes flee and one of them attempts to escape by climbing down a theater marquee. The screech of metal pierces the air and one of the crooks falls to his death. 

The next story arc begins in July of 1939 and is perhaps one of the most surprising story arcs in the early Dick Tracy years. Tess Trueheart, disappointed that Tracy hasn't made a romantic move in many months, discards her love for the detective and falls head over heels for Edward Nuremoh, an ex-professional baseball player. Nuremoh is wealthy, charming and sophisticated. Did we mention wealthy? He proposes to Tess and their quick romance involves a marriage. At the Nuremoh estate, Tess has to prove to Margot, the wealthy old aunt who controls the entire Nuremoh fortune, that the marriage truly is for love. Edward, you see, is not to be included in the old woman's will unless he is married and the old woman believes he is just trying to use Tess to get to her fortune. Tess succeeds and the two get married. Soon after, Margot is found dead from a bullet hole and Edward's younger brother, who is mentally disturbed, is accused of the crime.

Tracy tries to shelve his personal feelings for Tess and prove that the village idiot didn't commit the crime. This doesn't take long and Tracy clears the innocent man from a potential hanging. Tess, meanwhile, finds evidence that proves Edward Nuremoh is the killer. It seems Edward loves another woman and was only using Tess to get to his aunt's fortune. When a long-long cousin arrived at the wrong time, Edward feared the old woman would will the fortune to his family relative. After killing Margot, Edward hoped to get a divorce from Tess and then marry the tramp he longs. Tess confronts Edward, who confesses his crime. She flees from the Nuremoh estate and at the top of a cliff, Tess discovers she is cornered. Edward pitches a rock to perfection, knocking Tess off her feet. Fleeing for her life, Tess attempts to run faster than Edwards, who catches up to her and even throws her off a log.

In one final attempt to shoot Tess, Lola, Edward's true sweetheart, gets shot when she jumps into the path. Edward, realizing he cannot live in prison without his true love, picks up her body and jumps off the cliff. Tess is taken back to the Nuremoh estate and she is obviously in shock. John Lavir (Rival spelled backwards), the brother of Lola, attempts to kill Tess when he blames her death on widow Trueheart. Still in shock from the caper, Tess falls in love with John and discovering how beautiful she is... well, John falls in love with her. John even shows Tess how he makes his living, training dogs to become guard dogs. His talent hides a horrible secret -- he gets his dogs from off the street and asks no questions to those who sell him the dogs. At first Tess tries to return the dogs when advertisements in newspapers report "lost dogs" but John figures her scheme and attempts to eliminate the lovely betrayal. A violent confrontation between Tess and John results in the madman's death and the police first assume Tess sliced John's throat with glass. But Tracy digs into the details and proves one of the trained guard dogs tore John's throat open. Tess, upset because of the way she treated Dick Tracy, begs for forgiveness. Tracy does... but it won't be right away that the two lovebirds are back together again. But the patch of friendship has been applied.

In October, Dick Tracy stumbles onto a new racket, that of fox fur thieves who steal valuable pelts from a farm so they can sell it on the black market. Dick Tracy even shows Pat Patton how dry plaster of Paris will dry the mud just enough so a mold reproducing the tire tracks can be used to help track down the culprits. Tess Trueheart, meanwhile, arranges for an attorney to convince a judge to eliminate all paperwork involving her marriage to Edward Nuremoh.

Tracy enlists the aid of fur trappers and even gets into a disguise to trap the culprits. But before he succeeds, he has to escape a fire trap when the criminals spill oil all over the road to those giving chase will slide of the road and crash. Tracy has to pull Pat Patton out of the flaming wreck. A legit fur dealer allows Tracy and the law to hide behind a fake wall in his house, which leads to the arrest of the lawbreakers.

Just a few days before Halloween, Stooge Villar is released from prison and joins forces with The Professor to mass market gimmicks and scientific gadgets used to fight the law, and criminals across town are buying up all the items. Small portable acetylene torches that fit within the palm of the hand that can cut into metal quicker than you can draw a line with a pencil. Guns that eliminates all ballistic markings from bullets. In the wrong hands, this can be troublesome to Dick Tracy. While Villar makes a killing in sales, Tracy follows the trail of a piece of pig skin used to rig a murder weapon to The Professor's hideout. Stooge overpowers the detective and decides this is his final confrontation. Tracy is tied and gagged, lowered into a well and left to die. Relocating The Professor's shop, Stooge Villar picks up where he left off. Tracy, meanwhile, takes his wrist watch apart and uses the sharpest edge to cut through the ropes and escape. Tess Trueheart and a gang of Girl Scouts find the unconscious body of Dick Tracy, who had just enough strength to get out of the well and flee the scene. 

Stooge, knowing Christmas is coming up, wants to do something nice for his daughter, who lives with her grandmother. Young Binnie, however, despises everything her father represents. When Dick Tracy discovers Stooge has a daughter and has been trying to make her Christmas a very special one, he uses his to his advantage and tracks down the criminal, who kidnapped his own daughter. During a violent confrontation, Dick Tracy and Stooge fight through the window and out onto the fire escape. Stooge has Tracy at a disadvantage and seconds before pushing the detective over to his death... Binnie picks up the gun and holds it against her father... tears streaming down her cheeks. 

Will she pull the trigger and shoot her own father? Remember, this is Chester Gould and he loves to do what you wouldn't expect. But since this panel is December 31, 1939, we'll have to wait until 1940.

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