Friday, May 1, 2015

Dick Tracy: A Review of 1940

When last we left Dick Tracy at the end of the calendar year of 1939, Tracy finally caught up with Stooge Villar who turned the tables on the detective. Strangling the life out of Dick Tracy over the fire escape, Stooge failed to notice his young daughter picking up the gun and fearful of the end result of the scuffle, orders Stooge to let go of Dick Tracy or she will shoot. But the girl hesitates and comes to reality that she cannot pull the triggger. "I can't shoot my own father!" the girl cries. Then the following happens which is best described by reading the next panel for January 2, 1940.

Stooge, wounded, attempts to escape and Dick Tracy apprehends him. The villain dies in the hospital but not before he asks Dick Tracy to honor a final request. Don't tell his daughter that he died. Tracy tells her Stooge went back to the Big House.

In one of the city's largest department stores, Tracy is purchasing luggage for his boss, who celebrates his 30th anniversary on the force. There, the detective finds an abandonded baby in a wardrobe case. Trying to figure who the mother is, and why she would abandon a baby in the manner she did is a puzzle. The solution plays like a soap opera for a couple weeks until the truth be known: Mr. Kroywen (New York spelled backward) is a wealthy industrialist who sent his son (the father of the baby) to South America to work on a coffee planation. The mother is Toby, who rerturns after a two year absense from the comic strip. Mr. Kroywen, as Toby explains, wants to use their baby in an experiment. For years Mr. Kroywen has tried to perfect a serum that would cure Tropic sleep, a disase that takes hundreds of babies' lives every year on his rubber planation. Before Tracy and the police can stop him, Mr. Kroywen has already stolen the baby and infected it with the disease. Tracy, with no medical experience and against the will of any doctor in the city, facing a scandal, injects the infant with the experimental serum. Tracy plays Dr. Kildare for a while and throughout the month of February, Tracy faces a murder charge if the baby dies but the child pulls through and the late Mr. Kroywen is hailed as a genius. Tracy is relieved and returns to duty.

When an amnesia victim is treated with special care by Dick Tracy, who intends to help the beautiful girl figure out her identity, the young girl turns out to be a professional singer. Working with Rudy Seton (Notes speleld backward) on his live band remotes from a city night club, she gains the attention of radio listeners... untilsomeone take a shot at her and misses. The trail leads to Chief Brandon's old friend, Mr. Mason, who owns a machine shop outside of town. Mason looks like Charles Laughton and probably talks in the same manner, revealing Chester Gould was still using Hollywood movies and actors as models for his characters. When Tracy proves Mr. Mason was behind the shooting because he was afraid the amnesia victim would remember a murder committed in his factory, the arrest proves Tracy right an Brandon wrong.

Towards the end of April, we are introduced to two new characters, one larger than life. But by 1940, Gould began creating fictional characters who wore their sins through physical traits that would become Gould's trademark for the comic strip. With that reason, it stands to say that this is the moment we have all been looking forward to. Villains who were more memorable than the capers they created. Dick Tracy would never be the same.

The two characters in question are Jerome the midget and Mamma, a larger-than-life fat lady who has a sweet tooth when it comes to cholcolates. Jerome uses a giant dog as his means of escape because he can hold on to the dog's scruff and ride the animal like a joeky rides a horse. In the hopes of pulling off a number of daring robberies, Jerome orders his men to kidnap Dick Tracy and forcing the detective against a desk, breaks his right hand between a metal vice. Knowing the detective isn't quick with a gun with his left hand, the midget can feel confident that he has a chance of success.

Pat Patton uses the chocolate wrapper as a means of tracking down Mamma, but his efforts fail when the fat woman proves to be too strong for little ol' Pat. When Mamma happens to be in a store buying food and orders her dog to attack Junior's puppy, the young boy gives Dick Tracy a clue. 

Tracing her whereabouts, Tracy gets the upper hand. After smashing their crime spree operation and returning most of the stolen money, Dick Tracy takes Mamma in (after giving her a serious beating) and Jerome manages to escape. Riding out of town in a box car, Jerome finds himself accepted as a midget for a traveling circus and poses as a rodeo cowboy. Using this means of disguise, Jerome's act is caught on a newsreel camera where Mamma, now in the pen, watches the film and contacts Dick Tracy. Feeling betrayed by her sweetheart, Mamma gives the tip to Tracy who tracks down the whereabouts of Jerome. Mamma also escapes and sets out to exact revenge on the little man. Trapping the midget in an outside shower stall at a log cabin camp, Mamma uses hot water to scould the midget to death. Dick Tracy manages to out-maneuver the fat woman and take her into custody. Jerome, on the other hand, dies from the scoulding burns.

On board a train headed back into town, Dick Tracy meets Yogee Yamma, a fake hindu who uses an experimental chemical to control other people's will and minds so he can rob them during his performances. When Pat Patton and Dick Tracy attempt to arrest Yogee, they are exposed to the chemical (Yogee's nostrils are clogged) and soon find themselves hypnotized by the crooked mystic. 

The second time Tracy captures up with Yogee Yamma, at an airport, he falls for the same ploy and wakes to wonder what happened while Chief Brandon raises cain about the Yogee's second escape. Eventually Dick Tracy discovers how Yogee is able to pull off the stunt. The man responsible for creating the chemical is known as The Professor and as demonstrated in the panel below, the reason why Yogee keeps The Professor trapped under ground with ball and chain.

After trailing Yogee to the underground abandoned subway, Dick Tracy and The Professor find themselves victim to a death trap. The air compressor is shut off from the outside and with no way out, the quicksand and water start rushing in. A truck in the city streets falls through the asphalt which caves in and Tracy finds himself a rescue.

Yogee, however, faces a death from the hand of fate. Checking into a hotel, he gets drunk and falls asleep -- the bed catched on fire as a result of his cigarette and the man dies in a fiery inferno.

The second-to-last story arc for 1940 was clearly adapted (loosely) for Republic's 1941 cliffhanger serial, Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. Here, Pat Patton follows the trail of an explosive device in the post office to foreign spies who create a land tank that goes beneath the water and flies through the air. Hoping to demonstrate her new weapon to foreign countries who would like to purchase such as weapon, she forces Dick Tracy and Pat Patton as guinea pigs for the vehicle's first submersion. Under water, Dick Tracy finds cables leading outside and uses Morse code to communicate with the outside world. At the public water works system, a man overhears the code and sends for help. When the police arrive, Tracy and Pat join in the shootout and the criminals are apprehended.

The final story arc involves Junior and a get-rich-quick scheme. When a few crooks trick Junior into operating a parking lot for high school kids with bicycles, then arrange for a smash-up job, the crooks also provide new bikes at a discount that the parents cannot afford to turn down. But when one of the fathers discovers the bikes are stolen and painted, he sends for the police. Junior explains a plot to unravel the crooks and their scheme but they qucikly turn the tables on the boy, running him over with their truck as they make a getaway. Tracy returns to town to discover Junior is in the hospital.

Deafy, in charge of the operation, attempts to flee the scene when Dick Tracy and Pat Patton attempt to round up the crooks. Deafy finds himself caught in a shed and exposed to a skunk (how appropriate since he himself is a skunk). When he attempts to make a getaway by hiding in a truck filled with Christmas trees, Dick Tracy follows his nose and apprehends the crook.

Again, I highly endorse the Dick Tracy comic strip reprints from IDW Publishing, being offered chronologically. By now they have at least fourteen volumes printed and more coming soon!

Next time we revisit Dick Tracy we'll explore 1941 and the year that colorful characters start making their entrance.