Sunday, November 23, 2008


I wouldn't accuse Chester Gould of resting on his oars, exactly, but January 1938 - July 1939, the period covered in this volume, wasn't a prime time for Gould or Dick Tracy. Sure, the volume starts off with a bang (once we've gotten the obligatory intro by Max Allan Collins and a brief piece on Tracy collectibles) as Tracy helps the Coast Guard bust Stud Bronzen, a depraved seaman who's in the dirty business of smuggling emaciated Chinese men into the country. Thereafter, however, we're forced to thrash through a few racketeering capers, spend time with a hideous gas-station stick-up man named Scardol (could he be considered Gould's first truly "grotesque" villain, insofar as the featureless "Blank" of a few years earlier was less ugly than unnatural?), and tap our thighs with impatience as a crooked pilot named Whip Chute tries to impersonate a visiting "Bovanian prince" and abscond with some loot. A wispy-haired, slightly decadent poison-gas manufacturer named Karpse is the only truly interesting villain in the lot besides Bronzen, and that's only because (as Collins notes) he spends a good part of his story posing as a thoroughly respectable citizen -- even engendering a little sympathy after he gets badly scalded while working at Mrs. Trueheart's bakery. (As it turns out, that little incident presages Karpse's dreadful demise after his fraud is uncovered.) Alleged "comic relief" appears in the guise of the slightly twee Brighton Spotts, an amateur detective who fancies himself capable of helping Tracy with his cases; Spotts pals around with Junior Tracy for a while before Gould drops him, but he doesn't improve with additional exposure. The "Bovanian" story and Karpse's peddling of poison gas to other nations reflects Gould's increasing concerns about the international crisis and impending world war, but the artist still has one foot in the "tommy guns" era and isn't quite ready to ditch the Dillinger/Baby Face stuff in favor of the rogue's gallery that would make him famous. The next couple of volumes will mark the shift into Tracy's peak period, and I can hardly wait.

No comments: