Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: THE COMPLETE DICK TRACY, VOLUME 15: 1953-54 by Chester Gould (IDW/Library of American Comics, 2013)

It's hard to argue Max Allan Collins' points in the Introduction to this latest TRACY collection that (1) the villains on display are not exactly what you would call "inspired" and (2) Gould appears to be both repeating recent plot tropes and trying to make lightning strike more than once in terms of introducing exploitable new characters.  That's not to say that innovation, of a sort, can't be found here; you just have to be more diligent than usual in searching it out.

Our cover boy, 3-D Magee, doesn't seem to have a lot going for him apart from the "goofy glasses" that represent his only real connection to the contemporary 3-D movie fad.  He and his female partner Pony engage in a lengthy and occasionally tedious scheme to extort money from B.O. Plenty's rich oilman brother Uncle Kincaid (aka "Uncle Canhead").  (What was it about the early 50s that inspired comics creators to dote so heavily on wealthy characters?  First Uncle Scrooge, then Richie Rich, and now "Canhead.")  The fact that the subplot to this story involves "Canhead" (who resembles a cross between a shorn B.O., Popeye, and Harry Truman) building the Plenty family a bathroom tells you all you need to know about the level of inspiration involved.  However, Magee does merit notice in one respect: Despite the Irish surname and the appetite for giant mounds of spaghetti, he is pretty clearly the strip's first major (or semi-major, even) Hispanic villain.  He hails from Peru and is an expert knife-thrower (where did the idea that Hispanics excelled at chucking sharp cutlery originate, I wonder, and where did it disappear to?).  In a sense, the Magee continuity is a precursor to Gould's more elaborate Havana continuity of the late 50s.

Among Magee's nefarious deeds is an attempt to paralyze Sparkle Plenty and her new "sister" Little Wingy by sicking poisonous Peruvian ants on them.  Unfortunately, this is not the girls' only traumatic experience during this period.  Following an "eh" continuity starring jewel crook Open-Mind Monty (so-called because he carries a supposed piece of a knife stuck in his forehead) and featuring an attempt to con an inheritance out of a dying rich man (AGAIN with the rich people!), Sparkle and Wingy are swept away into the wild by a flood.  This is an obvious effort to replay elements of both the Crewy Lou/Bonnie Braids Tracy and Tonsils/Mr. Crime continuities from 1951-52, complete with a mysterious backwoods figure (in this case, the blind sharpshooter Rainbow Reilly) who helps the good guys.  Gould appears to have eventually had second thoughts about the repeated "child endangerment" plots, because they more or less fade away after this one.  Instead, he will pitch into a short period of "villain comeback" stories, starting with the resurrection of the supposedly drowned Mumbles.  Those stories could also be considered "cheaters" of a sort, but at least they're more energetic than the relatively pallid ones on display here.

There seems to be a noticeable amount of cheese-paring in this volume when it comes to the by-now-expected extras.  There is no text feature following the last strip, and the "Previously in DICK TRACY..." writeup leading into the first strip is also absent.  I'm more concerned about the latter omission, since it gives new readers (and there's always a chance that such individuals exist) no clue as to what came before.  At least Collins continues to provide interesting insights in his Introductions, which also feature a wide variety of TRACY ephemera.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anybody have any idea when Volume 16 will be available?