Dick Tracy: The space era revisited

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

The blog, during an ice storm this past weekend, got caught up on recent developments in the Dick Tracy comic strip.

It turns out the strip’s current creative team, artist Joe Stanton and writer Mike Curtis, revisited one of Dick Tracy’s most unusual eras — the Space era, which began in the early 1960s and appeared to be done by the late 1970s.

Background: Tracy creator Chester Gould (1900-1985) abruptly took the intrepid detective into the space age in the early 1960s.

As one story line was ending, Tracy got a call from industrialist Diet Smith, whose company supplied the police with two-way wrist radios and other gadgets. He had something he wanted to show Tracy.

That something was the space coupe, which traveled via magnetic power. Well, the space coupe quickly became the target of criminals. They stole it and used it to commit crimes. One strip showed the stolen space coupe dumping a victim into Earth’s obit.

Tracy recovered the amazing machine. Meanwhile, Diet Smith sent a crew to the moon in the space coupe. Moon Maid, a humanoid woman with horns, stowed away and came to Earth. She was part of a group of Moon People who lived in a part of the Moon (Moon Valley) with an atmosphere.

Chester Gould’s original version of the space coupe.

For a strip which had its beginnings during gangsters and Prohibition, it was a huge departure.

Eventually Tracy’s adopted son Junior fell in love with her and they got married (albeit with a lot of complications). The couple eventually made Tracy a grandfather.

Eventually Gould dialed things back. He retired from the strip, with his last contribution appearing Dec. 25, 1977.

His first successors, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Rick Fletcher (who had been Gould’s art assistant), seemed to close the door on the space era.

Big Boy, the strip’s original villain was dying and put out a contract on Tracy. But Junior’s wife (dubbed Moon Maid by Gould) was killed by a bomb meant for Tracy. The Moon People broke off diplomatic relations with the Earth. The last remnant of the space era (or so it seemed) was Junior’s daughter, Honeymoon.

2012-2013: Many years later, under the Stanton-Curtis team, a woman who appears to be Moon Maid reappears. She is seen at Wildwood Cemetery where Moon Maid (aka Mysta Tracy) is buried. She smashes the tombstone.

This is a part of “Moon Maid sightings.” But initially this is a subplot. Nevertheless, Tracy — with the help of Diet Smith — takes Honeymoon to, well, the Moon, as a sort of Christmas present.

However, Moon Valley, where the Moon people lived is deserted and there’s no atmosphere. Honeymoon, who had anticipated meeting her other grandparents is heartbroken.

The Moon Maid saga becomes the strip’s main tale in the spring of 2013. The mystery is whether Moon Maid is really back, is a clone or something else. It is not revealed until October 2013 that she was genetically altered using the original Moon Maid’s DNA and programmed to believe she was the original.

In between those events, classic Tracy villains BB Eyes and Mumbles show up as part of the proceedings as supporting heavies. There’s an attempt to steal Diet Smith’s remaining space coupe by the main villains (Dr. Tim S. Sail and Dr. Zy Ghote). But the crafty industrialist programmed it to fly into deep space.

Given the choice, and knowing the truth, the “new” Moon Maid remains to retain her appearance. She takes the name Mysta Chimera.

2017-2018: The Stanton-Curtis team decided to revisit the Space Era once more.

The Moon Governor, father of the original Moon Maid, shows up on Earth. He meets with Mysta Chimera’s real father.

Meanwhile, Diet Smith has evidence of a signing of one of the space coupes the Moon People had. Smith had built a few for the Moon People. “There were a few minor differences between the space coupes, Smith says. “And the Moon Governor had a fleet of five.”

Another classic Gould villain, Bribery, is involved in yet another plot. He wanted to get to the Moon via a space coupe so he could steal gold that had been at Moon Valley. But Bribery wasn’t aware the Moon had been abandoned. Shortly there after, Tracy moves in to arrest Bribery.

At the end of the story, it’s revealed the Moon People, indeed had fled to Earth. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how the story’s conclusion reflects 21st century issues — climate change/environmental issues and immigration.

“When we realized our oxygen was dissipating, we launched a vigorous campaign to replenish it,” the Moon Governor (actually now former Moon Governor) says. “But despite our technological advances, it was too late.”

He adds the following: “So we emigrated to the Earth, where our location will remain secret.”

Thus, the Moon People walk among us. Undocumented immigrants, indeed.

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Dick Locher, editorial and Dick Tracy cartoonist, dies

Dick Locher, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and the third primary artist on the Dick Tracy comic strip, died earlier this month at 88, according to an obituary posted by the Chicago Tribune.

Toward the end of Locher’s run, he also took over the scripting duties while continuing to do editorial cartoons for the Tribune.

Locher was an art assistant to Tracy creator Chester Gould (1900-1985) in the 1950s. He later found success as an editorial cartoonist at the Chicago Tribune, the home newspaper for the Tracy strip.

Gould retired in late 1977. His initial successors were writer Max Allan Collins and artist Rick Fletcher, another Gould art assistant.

Dick Tracy meets Pruneface after the Nazi has been thawed out, 1983. Drawn by Dick Locher.

When Fletcher died in 1983, Locher took over the art duties on Tracy. That same year, one of Locher’s first highlights was a story line where Nazi spy Pruneface (one of the most famous Gould villains for the strip) was revived from suspended animation by Dr. Freezdrei, a former Nazi scientist.

Initially, Tracy believes it’s a hoax. A few years earlier, the Collins-Fletcher team had a story where there is supposedly a Mumbles clone. But it turned out it was the original villain with a face lift.

However, in the 1980s story, it turns out Pruneface really had been in suspended animation. Tracy is not happy upon hearing the news. “Back in those days, we had an electric chair to thaw him out,” Tracy says.

Pruneface attempts to get revenge on Tracy. But a mysterious figure intervenes.

Locher drew the Tracy strip until 2009 and wrote it until 2011, according to the Tribune obituary.

Somewhere, the Spy Commander has a Tracy cartoon drawn by Locher that was the subject of a silent auction to benefit the Society of Professional Journalists.

1967: Dick Tracy vs. spies

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Producer William Dozier had a hit with 1966’s Batman television series and sold a second series with The Green Hornet, based on a radio show. So, in 1967, he tried to extend his streak with a pilot for a Dick Tracy series.

The final product ended up being influenced by ’60s spymania.

To write the pilot, Dozier hired Hal Fimberg, who wrote or co-wrote the two Derek Flint movies starring James Coburn. Rather than use an established member of Tracy’s gallery of villains, Tracy’s foe in Fimberg’s script was Mr. Memory (Victor Buono).

Mr. Memory is kidnapping various ambassadors as part of a plot to disrupt NATO on behalf of an unspecified froeign power. They’re being abducted in Washington and taken to Tracy’s unnamed city. In the comic strip, the city wasn’t specified either, but seems like Chicago. Cartoonist Chester Gould, Tracy’s creator, lived near the Windy City. Gould’s successors, on occasion, drew the city to closely resemble Chicago.

The Tracy of the pilot was influenced by Dozier’s Batman show. While there was no “Tracy Cave,” the detective has a sophisticated lab in the basement of his house, accessible only by a secret entrance. Evidently, the city’s police lab wasn’t up to Tracy’s standards.

Besides Mr. Memory’s plot and the presence of writer Fimberg, there are other influences of 1960s spy entertainment.

One of Mr. Memory’s goons is played by Tom Reese, who played Ironhead in the Matt Helm movie Murderers’ Row. Fimberg’s script also lifts a bit from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In that spy show’s second episode, The Iowa Scuba Affair, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) is locked in while poison gas is being pumped into his hotel room. Solo gets out by setting fire to a container of shaving cream and blowing the door open. In the pilot, Tracy ends up in a hotel room. Mr. Memory injects poison gas and Tracy pulls the same trick.

Actor Ray MacDonnell certainly had the Tracy look. If you ever seen Victor Buono playing a villain, you know what to expect. The proceedings aren’t subtle but they’re not as campy as Batman was.

Dozier’s failure to secure a buyer for this was an indicator his hot streak was coming to an end. Also in 1967, ABC canceled The Green Hornet after one season. The network also cut Batman back to a single episode weekly as it limped into its final season.

The pilot is embedded below (though there’s always the risk the video will get yanked). There’s a snappy theme song from The Ventures.

One oddity in the closing credits: There’s a credit the show is “based on and idea and characters created by” Gould and Henry G. Saperstein. Saperstein owned the UPA cartoon studio that made some bad Tracy cartoons in the early ’60s. All of the primary characters (Tracy, Sam, Lizz, Junior, Chief Patton) in the pilot are from Gould’s comic strip. Also, at the very end, you can hear Dozier in his best “Desmond Doomsday” voice.

Happy birthday, Dick Tracy

Happy 83rd, Tracy.

Happy 83rd, Tracy.

On Oct. 4, 1931, the Dick Tracy comic strip debuted in the Detroit Mirror newspaper.

The newspaper no longer exists. Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, died almost 30 years ago. But while the strip isn’t widely distributed it’s still around, with Joe Stanton and Mike Curtis carrying on the tradition.

This blog has written before about how Tracy shares elements of James Bond and Batman, especially colorful villains and dabbling in science fiction. Gould devised villains such as Flattop, Pruneface and Mumbles. His successors have come up with their own villains in that tradition and (where they could) brought back Gould favorites who hadn’t been definitively killed off.
chester gould strip

Tracy, like Bond and Batman, has his own eras. The most offbeat, starting in 1962, was when Gould introduced the space coupe (a magnetic-powered craft that could travel into space) and a race of people on the Moon. Gould was 62 when that era began, an indication he wasn’t afraid of trying new things. Eventually, that was dialed back and a more down-to-earth approach took hold.

Sound familiar, Bond fans?

Anyway, here’s Chester Gould in a 1965 appearance on the game show To Tell The Truth in the midst of the space coupe/Moon people era. Gould, at this point, was still more than a decade away from retirement. He died in 1985.

Happy birthday, Tracy.

The 007-Dick Tracy-Batman mashup

dicktracy

James Bond fans often discuss how Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories compare with literature or comment about the 007 movies (in particular the 2006-2012 movies) shape up as cinema.

There’s often little commentary about how they compare to pulp stories or to comic strips such as Dick Tracy or comic books such as Batman

In fact, 007 shares many of the same elements as Tracy (who made his debut in 1931) and Batman (whose first appearance was in 1939).

All three characters encounter larger-than-life villains: Flattop, Mumbles, Pruneface and many others for Tracy; Goldfinger, Dr. No, Ernst Stavro Blofeld for Bond; and the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face and the Catwoman for Batman. All three characters dabble in science fiction: two-way wrist radios/televisions/computers/space coupes for Tracy; high-tech Batmobiles, Bat-computers and other devices for Batman; various gadgets (especially in films) and tricked-out cars for Bond.

The comparisons between 007 and Batman have been out in force this year after Skyfall director Sam Mendes said Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy influenced Skyfall. The Tracy comparison doesn’t get talked about as much for obvious reasons. There hasn’t been a Tracy movie since 1990, when Warren Beatty directed and starred in a Tracy film.

Still, Tracy, created by Chester Gould (1900-1985), had many of the same elements of 007 and Batman and was out earlier. Tracy doesn’t get much attention these days but if you CLICK HERE you can catch up on his newest exploits.

The main difference among the characters: Tracy married Tess Trueheart on Christmas Day 1949 and raised a family.