The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy

By Ahmad Chaudhary

Today is a little after my first-year anniversary with Amish Otaku, but this article is in celebration of my first year nonetheless. Dick Tracy has been my avatar since those first few days, and I have not discussed the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Detective” even once. I did write on Torso, which believe it or not is markedly related to Chester Gould’s fictional crime stopper, who created Tracy in 1931 as a solution to the depression-era headlines that formed the successful part Elliot Ness’ career as a G-Man and at least the murder but not sexual aspects of the Cleveland Torso murders that ended Ness’ career.

If per se, your only perspective of Dick Tracy is (not quite as lantern jawed but pretty-damn close to) Warren Beatty in a yellow rain slicker yammering on his two-way wrist radio, hunting down grotesque criminals wearing not-so-subtle colors with minimal bloodshed being shown, you’re in for a surprise. The collection – anything but PG-13 – is very gruesome and is closer to Bonnie and Clyde, the film in which Beatty starred with Faye Dunaway, than the Dick Tracy motion picture, even though Celebrated Cases is in black and white and is composed of comic strips.

It takes a little bit of acclimating to get used to the violence in Dick Tracy. I haven’t read comic strips in any format in a long time but read them religiously until I was about thirteen and remember them being fairly tame. The first time I checked out the comic page in the newspaper in quite some time was on April 22, 2008, which I remember clearly because it was Earth Day, which I knew because all of the strips were topical. For better or worse, the sampling of strips that I read were nowhere as brutally violent or entertaining as Dick Tracy, justification possibly being that kids play GTA or Halo instead and get their violence elsewhere. In the days when computers were room sized at best and even before TV use became widespread, kids had Dick Tracy to depend on.

Criminals often faced gruesome deaths, like being shot in the face several times, being mauled by lions or being bullet riddled when Tracy sprays the tool shed in which the criminal is hiding in an “X” fashion with his Thompson submachine gun. Keep in mind that the Miranda warning was mandated by the Supreme Court in 1966. All of these stories were written anywhere from fifteen to more than forty years before Dick Tracy would have had to read a criminal his rights before blowing him away, so Mr. Tracy had a right to pretty much do as he pleased. Not that he did that without provocation, but there was an occasion where Dick wanted to lock someone up based on what essentially amounted to a “hunch.” It upset me, but I suppose it was nowhere near the ridiculousness I have encountered in Silver Age Superman story lines, compared to which Dick Tracy reads like the Oxford English Dictionary. Gould deserves credit for having created story lines credible enough for this educated twenty-five year old to not have found generally incomprehensible.

Dick Tracy is not all cops and robbers with Tracy dishing out all of the punishment. The stories are often thrilling and suspenseful and are full of Dick Tracy and many other characters in the strip thinking of ingenious ways to survive and accomplish goals like hiding underneath a row of soil, writing with invisible ink and threatening someone with acid when you’re short on your rod (pistol) and the cops are watching.

Featuring about 4400 days worth of strips, this collection will take some dedication to read in full. If you’re into hardboiled crime, Dick Tracy – and especially this collection – is hard to beat. But be ready – Gould’s stories are very tightly wound and warrant substantial attention in order not to miss plot-altering details. Even if you’re just curious, I think it’s worth the price of around eight bucks between Amazon and Ebay that my quick search yielded.

Chester Gould
Hardcover: 294 pages
Publisher: First Glance Books