Published on April 29th, 2015 | by JCDoyle0
Complete Dick Tracy Volume 18 Review
Volume 18? “Wait a minute”, I hear you cry, “where are the other 17 volumes?” Well, they’ve already been out a while, most long before this site existed, so we’ll start here at the back end of the 1950’s and maybe, just maybe, in the future we’ll look at the past volumes. After all, arguably Chester Gould’s best work was produced in before 1950 so it would be a shame if we didn’t look at it sometime.
But to the here and now, or rather the later end of 1957.
The first story of this volume features the easy to forget antics of Pantsy, a villain whose greatest asset is his wavy goatee beard. Although the story does contain some quirky humour and the winter scenes look wonderful in Gould’s expressionistic art style, it doesn’t have much else going for it. Worth a read but only for the purpose of completion sake.
I guess that one of the drawbacks to Pantsy’s story is that it is followed by the immensely entertaining Miss Egghead continuity. This story is a classic Dick Tracy adventure. It starts at one place, in this case with B O Plenty finding a gamecock on his land, and swerves through comic and then grisly storytelling to illustrate the snowball effect of criminal lives. This is a narrative favourite of Chester Gould, one that he used again and again but it always served him well and some of his best villains followed this track.
Miss Egghead starts as a petty criminal, running a cock fighting stable to honour the memory of her father (from whom she inherited the business) but as is pointed out early on, she has no financial need to do it. It’s an obsession and, like all obsessions that go unchecked, it ultimately leads to her down fall. The search for a missing bird leads to a murder then a kidnapping and finally a chase that crosses through Cuba. Like most of Gould’s villains, Miss Egghead meets a rather gruesome death but her story is a long and exciting one.
Throughout all this Dick Tracy himself, manages to get trapped in a hole on an island, grows a beard, meets someone worse off than himself and there is a shocking (and moving) death of a goat. I kid you not. The whole adventure featuring Miss Egghead and the fallout from her cock fighting stable is thrilling. Miss Egghead isn’t widely known but her character and story are as classic as the Brow or Flattop and as much fun to read.
One of the problems with this volume, however, is that it starts to become apparent that Gould’s glory days are coming to an end. It’s well documented that he used to believe that if he didn’t know what was going to happen in a story then the readers wouldn’t either. Back in the early days and all through the forties, this approach served Gould well and it allowed him to play with and adapt characters to the reception they received week after week. Unfortunately towards the end of the fifties this lack of planning started to show through some of the stories. It didn’t help that the Sunday editions were written before the dailies and in a collection like this errors tend to show up more. However, while the characters were still strong and the overall story lines were still entertaining, these little inconstancies are easy to ignore. And if you’ve worked your way through even a small number of the previous volumes then you will have adapted to this narrative format in the same way readers adapt to Manga style comic books.
There are some further continuities that feel more like ‘fillers’ when collected in a volume like this. Similar to the opener, they are worth a read but I think only a select few would return to the stories to read again. However, one of the more interesting continuities reprinted is that of the reluctant Syndicate stooge Headache. The poor guy is in constant suffering from the world’s worst migraine that just won’t quit. On top of this his plans to leave the criminal underworld and go straight are scuppered when the Crime Syndicate take over his business and keep him around to run things, all under the watchful glare of Mary Jones and her hanger on of a daughter Popsie. Chester Gould incorporates more consistent comedy into this story and some of it works well while some of it falls flat on its face. A few of the characters he introduces throughout this story are dubious at best. Popsie is an interesting character to begin with and, as is pointed out in the introduction to this volume, much of her character appears to be based on Lolita, a novel which was published a few years earlier. Unfortunately it would appear that Gould had a change of heart about the character and her relationship with Headache (why this change of heart came about is not clear) and as the narrative progresses Popsie’s character starts to lose cohesion as her script succumbs to a conservative mind set. For the most part the story of Headache is very well produced and entertaining but a shorter, punchier story may have saved it from drifting near the end.
And speaking of ends, this volume of Dick Tracy draws to a close with the introduction of Rhodent, a villain I am not familiar with. It also means that the 1950’s strips will come to an end in the next volume and the questionable 60’s storylines will start. This volume, for me, marks the end of Chester Gould’s classic Dick Tracy and it is with trepidation that I wait for the space race tales that are to come.
Title: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 18
Publisher: IDW Publishing