Chester Gould’s The Complete Dick Tracy Voume 28: 1974 to 1976 represents the second to last collection by the original creator of the comic strip. This volume is well into the era when Gould was known for injecting his politics at times in downright annoying fashion. It is also a volume with a number of well-remembered stories, and which illustrates the large supporting cast Dick Tracy often brought with him.
A short introduction by Max Allan Collins discusses this time period in the comic strip, noting that it once again has more of the rapid fire strange and grotesque villains that Dick Tracy was known for, something that had been in a bit of a drought in prior years. It also makes note of the badly aged, and at times even in the ear of bizarre or borderline fascist politics that the strip seems to espouse, admitting they are rarely what will grab an interested reader. Collins is an absolute expert on the crime genre, and was fortunate enough to know Chester Gould personally.
Of the primary antagonists in this volume, The Brain is by far the more enjoyable, although Lispy is perhaps the more interesting from a socio-political point of view. Lispy claims to be a strong woman and seems to slightly reflect the negative stereotype of the feminist, down to using a shotgun on a mouse in being called out for overkill. Her high blood pressure feels like an extension of this, although that has a narrative function more relatively important. Ironically, her lisp seems to play lesson to this and more into Chester Gould’s general desire to stack multiple strange traits onto his antagonists.
By contrast The Brain, who appears much earlier in the volume, is merely a criminal mastermind who wears a hat which appears to have a brain on it. He earns the cover of this volume, and the reader gets to see Dick Tracy and his compatriots perform more unusual and clever types of police work in tracking him down.
Much like a soap opera, the storylines in this volume bleed steadily from one into another. This happens to such an extent that the cover villian for the next volume (Pucker Puss) appears a few times and has a small narrative part in the last story of this volume. While this is more multi-layered storytelling than many expect from this strip, it also might serve to make some readers feel locked out if they have not read the preceding volumes.
After the collected strips proper comes a fascinating article by Jeff Kersten discussing the various political implications of the many stories, strips, and references in the volume. He collects quotations from various individuals, Chester Gould as well as political figures who believed they were being lampooned or attacked. It is an impressive little feature, and does a great deal to contextualize much of the more obviously topical content.
For a collector of Dick Tracy this volume is not to be missed. For anyone studying the character, this volume is similarly valuable. The good and bad elements, as well as the supplementary materials and excellent presentation, serving to make it the definitive presentation of the stories inside. If one can handle the flaws, it is an easy volume to recommend to someone curious about the character, although probably not the first one is a reader should pick up
( IDW, 2020)