No, that title doesn’t refer to the denouement of a newly-discovered continuity (though wouldn’t it be great to unearth a lost Chester Gould work featuring a heretofore unknown grotesque antagonist?). Instead it marks a minor milestone, as with our upcoming July release Dick Tracy becomes the first Library Of American Comics series to require a tenth volume. In many ways this next Tracy installment, reprinting eighteen months of continuity from September 1945 to March ’47, is my favorite of the run. While no criminal in Volume 10 is as wily as Flattop, as sadistic as The Brow, as shocking in appearance as Pruneface, time and again this group strikes close to home in ways that are tense and sometimes disturbing.
Which Tracy rogue is as amoral and tenacious as Itchy? He pursues the late Shaky’s ill-gotten gains, threatens both Junior and Tess, then teams up with a distaff member of the criminal element to ensnare Tracy in a fiendish trap. During this sequence, a great panel showcases Tracy’s indomitable will: when all seems hopeless, Tracy nevertheless manages to snarl, “Itchy – – – I promise you one thing – – – when we leave this house – – – I’ll WALK out, but they’ll be carrying you!” Look for it in the December 12, 1945 daily.
This volume also features the rotten apples hanging from a few family trees. The innocent boy-scientist Brilliant is done wrong by his relatives. Nilon Hoze and her cousin Rod connive to get their hooks into their rich aunt’s moolah, while what happens to spunky little Themesong is a reminder that in Chester Gould’s world, no one is truly safe (relevant today, when people are quick to surrender civil liberties for vague promises of “security”).
The book’s final sequence is its most spine-chilling, as Vitamin Flintheart—that overwrought thespian and “capsule receiver” (as Themesong christens him)—returns in time to cross paths with the eerie Influence, who has the power to bend others’ wills to his own. Mental take-over stories always creep me out—as a kid, I didn’t even find it funny when Dr. Boris Balinkoff used his robot rings to take control of Gilligan and the other stranded castaways! So my flesh crawled as Influence systematically seized mind after mind, cementing his unscrupulous plans, toying with people like a cat at a mouse convention. Brr-r-r-r!
I’ll admit there’s one more reason I’m a Tracy booster besides Chet Gould’s crackling good stories and the exceptional behind-the-scenes insights offered by Jeff Kersten and Max Allan Collins: I’m the guy who writes each volume’s “Previously in the Case Files of Dick Tracy” feature. It’s a challenge to compress over two hundred pages of continuity from the previous book into two pages of text and images, but what great fun to write first-person commentary in Tracy’s voice!
It’s a pleasure to salute The Master Sleuth on the advent of his tenth LOAC volume, and it’s delightful to know there are plenty more to come…