One of the most well-known Newspaper Comics of all time, Dick Tracy, created by Chester Gould, is about the cases of a tough as nails police detective. Inspired as a Take That towards organized crime in the 1930s (indeed, the strip's first major villain, Big Boy Caprice, was an Expy of Al Capone) the series followed Detective Dick Tracy as he fights crime, as a modern day Sherlock Holmes but with a lot of emphasis on forensic methods/police procedures and the occassional space-age gadget (most notably the character's famous two-way wrist communicators).The strip had its golden age dating roughly from the late 1930s to the late 50s when it became famous for its strange-looking villains, whose villainy was marked with a Red Right Hand. Imagine characters with names like The Blank, Flattop, Pruneface and The Brow and you'll know what they look like.Furthermore, the strip pulled no punches with an intensity of bloody violence for its time that would impress Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino. For instance, Tracy would often shoot for the head, but the villains often had a Karmic Death; the fate of Gargles being chopped to pieces in a glass factory by falling broken pieces of sheet glass shattered in a gun battle is a good example.However, the strip went awry starting when Gould misread his readership's sense of taste and introduced the repellently nauseating Flyface and his family who had flies swarming them constantly, which caused papers to starting dropping his strip. It got much worse in the 1960s with Tracy getting a spaceship called the Space Coupe and eventually going to the moon to meet the Moon People. When the series returned to Earth, with futuristic Moon people technology like ray guns and air cars that look like flying trash cans, Gould struggled to adapt the strip to modern times. Concessions included introducing a hippie sidekick for Tracy and briefly having Tracy grow a mustache; the former stuck around for nearly a decade before being killed off, the latter was forcibly shaven off within several months of it being grown.However most damaging was the strip's tone drifting to become bitter and cynical as the times changed. For instance, Gould used Tracy to mouth Author Tracts to condemn Supreme Court rulings that expanded the rights of the accused, condemned as handcuffing police officers from beating the shit out of criminals and suspected criminals in order to force them to confess. While younger artists would be inspired to create heroes reacting to such sentiments like Dirty Harry, Gould was a cranky old man struggling to deal with the realities of the newspaper strip medium, such as the shrinkage of the comic strip space allotments that hampered his storytelling pacing.Finally, Gould retired in 1977 and mystery writer Max Allan Collins took over writing and did his best to restore the best of the strip's past. Silly characters like Moon Maid and the above mentioned hippie sidekick were Killed Off for Real, legacy versions of popular (and deceased) villains were introduced (and in the cases of some, like Pruneface, flashback stories were written to bring them back) and the gadgets were scaled back to a more reasonable level. In addition, he also had Tracy get his complaints about reforms to due process out of his system when he temporarily resigned from the force to become a private detective.Sadly, Collins was forced off the strip in the 1990s, leading to the series descending to being So Okay, It's Average under succeeding writer Mike Kilian, and then going completely and totally insane when Kilian died and longtime artist Dick Locher took over the writing duties. In 2011, Locher retired and a new team headed by writer Mike Curtis and DC/Marvel artist Joe Staton took over the strip. The restart already has fans talking of a renaissance due to the duo's attempts to mimic the Collins era.The strip has been depicted with numerous media adaptations: movie serials, the 1961/1962 TV series, The Dick Tracy Show, cartoons, and a full-length 1990 theatrical film starring Warren Beatty, whose specific tropes are discussed here.The strip can be read online at the GoComics website.
Anyone Can Die - Moon Maid, Groovy Grove, Model Jones, Jean Penfield, the Summer sisters, Brilliant.
Collins once said that, since he's the main character, you know Tracy will make it out alive, but you could never be sure about anybody else. He believed this was essential for a credible sense of drama.
Arguably, you pretty much only knew two things- that Dick Tracy would live, and, between the 1940s and 1970s, you were fairly sure that the villain would die. Always.
Arm Cannon - Dr Plain had a small flamethrower built into his artificial arm.
Beauty Equals Goodness - Generally played straight, though there have been exceptions (the various Mahoney women for instance). Dick Locher also tended to draw much more normal-looking villains than the other artists did.
Big Bad - It changes every five years or so. Prominent enemies that lead nationwide syndicates include Big Boy Caprice, George Alpha (Mr. Crime), Mr. Intro, and Davey Mylar (Mr. Crime II). Prominent villains of lesser gangland status include Flattop Jones, Mumbles, and B.B. Eyes (who is becoming more and more recurring in recent years).
Book Safe: Flattop is hiding out in a boarding house and decides keeping his loot on his person is too risky. So, when he sees an old thick photo album under a table that looks rarely used, he decides to cut out the inner pages and hide his money in it. As it happens, the kid blackmailing Flattop has drowned while ice skating on expensive skates bought with the shakedown money. Those skates led Tracy to the boarding house where he requests the boy's mother to get a photo for the newspaper and so they go to the photo album and the money is discovered. When Tracy asks where this money came from, the mother guesses it must be from her boarder and Tracy proceeds to Flattop's room while the crook is frantically trying to escape.
Canon Discontinuity - The strip's moon period of the 1960s was quickly consigned to this by Max Allan Collins after he took over as writer, and remained so under Mike Kilian and Dick Locher. However, Joe Staton and Mike Curtis began making small references to it after they took over in 2011, and fully reintegrated it into the canon the following year.
Captain Ersatz - 1970's art thief Art Dekko looks an awful lot like Lupin III. On the other hand, an anime homage way back in the 70's is pretty cool in and of itself.
Canon Immigrant - Staton and Curtis recently did two storylines featuring Cueball, the villain of the 1946 film Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball. They also made passing reference to Dick's late brother Gordon, who had only appeared in the first Dick Tracy film serial.
Captain Obvious - the narration box. In 2009 the narration box over a drawing of a character playing solitaire blared, "SOLITAIRE".
Carnival of Killers - 'Big Boy' Caprice created one by offering a one million dollar open contract on Tracy's life.
Cartwright Curse - Although Junior did eventually settle down with Sparkle, he had to endure the violent deaths of both his first girlfriend, Model Jones and his first wife, Moon Maid.
The Chase - Many of the classic stories involve elaborate manhunts. The chase to catch the Brow, once he went on the run, is one of the most memorable.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Introduced during the Flattop story, ham actor Vitamin Flintheart played a supporting role fairly regularly until the TV Wiggles story of 1950, after which he disappeared and did not return again for the duration of Gould's run. Future Tracy writer Max Allan Collins, who was fond of Flintheart, asked Gould in 1975 why he dropped the character, to which Gould cheerfully replied "Oh, we had him in there not too long ago!" Regardless, when Collins took over the strip the last week of 1977, he immediately brought Flintheart back.
The Clan - B.O. Plenty's big, goofy, but mostly benign extended family. Also Flattop's family of crooks.
Although Flattop's family is split. His kids and grandchild are the ones that go to crime, while his brothers and (unnamed) sister are civilians (Blowtop had to reform, though).
Cloning Blues - After faking his death (for the second time!), Mumbles returns years later with a shady biologist in tow, claiming to be a clone of the original Mumbles. It's all an elaborate scheme to swindle research money from Diet Smith. Tracy exposes it and Mumbles goes to jail, naturally.
Contract on the Hitman - Fearing the police's eventual retaliation when Big Boy Caprice offered a one million dollar open contract on Tracy's life, other criminals offered a similar contract on the life of whoever claims the prize on Tracy's life.
Creator Cameo: Dick Locher made an appearance in his final strip as artist, thanking Tracy for "32 years of high speed excitement." Whether this counts as a heartwarming moment or egotism depends on whether you prefer to remember Locher for his good artwork until 2005, or his terrible artwork and worse writing from 2006 onwards.
Chester Gould once created a villain named Pear-Shape who was a parody of himself.
A tree surgeon, after committing murder, hides the body inside a tree trunk that had been split by weather. The tree heals around it and the body goes undiscovered until the tree is cut down, decades later, when the murderer is an old man.
Deathtrap - Only Tracy often needed rescue to fully escape them
Everyone Knows Morse - Tracy escapes from Flattop by tapping out Morse code with his foot to communicate with the WAC-in-training living in the apartment below.
Informed Judaism - Dick's partner Sam Catchem was introduced as a Jewish guy, which was pretty progressive for the 1940's. It rarely has any bearing on the storylines, though, and so isn't mentioned much.
It has been getting a bit more play in the new Staton-Curtis strips, though.
In the Blood - Flattop's big extended family, though some of them reform.
Joker Immunity: A notable aversion. Gould created all sorts of bizarre, unforgettable villains through the decades, most of whom he'd have Killed Off for Real after just one story. His single most famous and popular villain, Flattop, is the best example of this. After a sensational three month run, Flattop was caught, promptly broke out of jail, continued to elude Tracy for another two months, and then drowned. His body was found, recovered, positively identified, and buried.
Lantern Jaw of Justice - One of Tracy's distinguishing features, to the point where Warren Beatty took heavy criticism for refusing to wear the prosthetic makeup to give him Tracy's profile in the 90s film.
Of course, other accounts state that Beatty wanted to wear the makeup, but the studio wouldn't let him cover up his famous mug.
Large Ham - Aged thespian Vitamin Flintheart is a good guy and one of Dick's best friends, but his charm comes from being an enormous ham.
Legacy Character: This was one way Gould and his successors have brought back some aspect of popular villians who'd been Killed Off for Real. Some equally evil family member would later show up either to avenge their family or simply be up to serious criminal activities.
The biggest example is Flattop. Not only do we have his father (Poptop), his siblings (Sharptop, Blowtop and an unnamed sister) and his KIDS (Flattop Jr. and Angeltop) but now we have his freaking GRANDSON (Hi-Top). In 2012, Curtis & Staton intorduced his equally evil wife, Mrs. Flattop!
It should be pointed out that Poptop was a law-abiding, albeit alchoholic and abusive father who was ashamed of his kids' (Flattop and Blowtop) and granddaughter's (Angeltop) criminal career (he hasn't been seen to comment about Hi-Top). Sharptop and the unnamed sister were also honest, although Sharptop did go on a crime spree when possessed by the ghost of Flattop.
The earliest example is the rather bland villain Jacques. No sooner was he killed, then his brother, the grotesque B-B Eyes, showed up to avenge him. Later, Gould had another of his grotesques, Itchy, team up with Mrs. B-B Eyes. Still later, Collins created Itchy's brother Twicthy teamed up with Jacques and B-B Eyes' other brother, B-D Eyes. Curtis found a way to bring B-B Eyes Back from the Dead.
Pruneface. After his capture and death, Gould created his avenging widow, Mrs. Pruneface. Curiously, Collins brought Pruneface Back from the Dead and still created another evil Legacy Character, the Prunfaces' granddaughter, Prunela. Kilian created Prunela's daughter, Prune Hilda. Eventually, Kilian wiped out the entire Pruneface clan. It's unknown if Curtis will ever try to expand on them.
Shaky created a bizarre, two-way legacy. After beind Killed Off for Real, Gould created Shaky's totaly dissimilar yet equally evil stepdaughter, Breathless Mahoney. Collins carried on Shaky's legacy with his niece, Quiver Trembly, while Kilian created Mahoney's sister, Heartless Mahoney.
Within his first year of writing Tracy, Curtis created his own evil family legacy. First Curtis created a lady drug pusher named Hot Rize. Just a few months after she was Killed Off for Real, Curtis created her just as evil twin sister (not an Evil Twin trope since both sisters are just as bad) Blaze Rize.
Meaningful Name - Pretty much everybody. However, a few minor characters who got promoted to series regulars wound up permanently stuck with names that only related to the plotline which introduced them. Poor Vitamin Flintheart!
Money, Dear Boy - Whenever the intros to the Dick Tracy books and articles regarding Tracy talk about Chester Gould, they tend to point out that Chet did not see himself as an artist creating a fictional narrative to entertain audiences, but rather as a businessman creating a product designed to sell newspapers.
Nice Hat - The ol' yellow fedora. He actually keeps a "Wall of Hats" where he collects the ones with bullet holes in them.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: George Tawara, a character based on George Takei, with Takei's approval, introduced in 2013 to provide information on internment camps. Also notable for being a positively portrayed gay man in the strip.
Nonstandard Character Design - while the villains are weird-looking, they're supposed to be freaks in-universe. Gravel Gertie and B.O. Plenty, on the other hand, look like they wandered in from another comic strip with a very different art style.
Official Couple - Dick and Tess had a very, very long engagement. When they finally announced one day that they had just eloped, the entire cast was stunned.
Off Model - The strip's artwork tended to veer into this in Gould's later years, although given that he was prone to experimentation in this period, some of it may have been a conscious choice on his part. Played very straight with Dick Locher's work from 2006 to 2009; Jim Brozman's efforts between 2009 and 2011 were a bit better, but not by a whole lot.
Outside Ride - Tracy's dog Mugg would often ride on the top of Tracy's patrol car.
Papa Wolf - Tracy, when Crewy Lou kidnaps his infant daughter.
Porn Stache - Tracy sported one of these for a while in the '70s. Eventually, his coworkers physically hold him down and shave the ridiculous thing off. His response afterward is, "Thanks."
Pragmatic Adaptation: The handling of the non-gangster villains in media adaptations. In the case of Nazi spy Pruneface, he was turned into a simple mob boss. The Blank, in the Dick Tracy movie, didn't fair as well: the Blank became a disguise for Breathless Mahoney, who wore a man's suit, a flesh colored stocking over her head, and talked like a guy, and basically started killing off Dick Tracy's various enemies to take over the criminal underworld (so that Dick could have time to marry Breathless, if he had no bad guys to arrest).
Pragmatic Villainy - When Big Boy puts out a million dollar open contract to kill Tracy, the organized crime ruling committee, The Apparatus, confront the old dying gangster to tell him that it must be cancelled because not only is killing police officers nowadays more trouble than it's worth, but that Tracy is gearing up to retaliate with the police department's Organized Crime Unit.
Similarly the Blank's murder spree; all because he was driven to madness over being rejected by his former friends due to his disfigurement.
Rogues Gallery - Flattop, the Brow, Shaky, Itchy, Mumbles, BB Eyes, Pruneface, Little Face, the Mole, Stooge Viller, Steve the Tramp, Big Frost, Influence, Measles, Gargles, Wormy, Blowtop, TV Wiggles, the Blank, Breathless Mahoney, Crewy Lou, Piggy Butcher, Pearshape Tone, Mr. Crime, Oodles, The Chin Chillars, Spots, Empty Williams, Big Boy Caprice, Pouch, Flyface, Rhodent, and many, many more.
Scare Campaign - The story arc about music/movie piracy as not only ham-handed, factually incorrect/out of touch on most counts, and like much of the strip then utterly bugnuts, it also included dire warnings about downloading, comparing it to buying drugs, and had PSAs warning parents they could suffer the consequences for their children downloading MP3s, complete with an image of police car with sirens blaring zooming at top speed toward a suburban home.
Considering the fact that a woman in the US was just fined over a million dollars on appeal for sharing copyrighted music, the Scare Campaign may not be as far-fetched as some might think.
Far fetched? That is what the people RIAA and MPAA actually think is what happens, and it isn't strict enough.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here - Played for laughs in one of Mike Kilian's earlier stories. After listening to two rival villains talking at length about why they want revenge on one another, Tracy suddenly starts to leave the building, saying that their dispute has nothing to do with the police and that they can sort it out themselves. The villains are taken aback, as they had both hoped to get Tracy to arrest and/or kill the other one, and try to persuade him to stay. It then turns out that what Tracy was actually doing by pretending to leave was distracting them so that Sam and Lizz could sneak up and knock them out — which the crooks don't discover until after they come around and find themselves cuffed.
Sidekick - Sam Catchem (originally Pat Patton, before Pat got promoted).
The Simple Life Is Simple - Averted. 88 Keyes thinks he can hide out on a farm, but his total lack of experience in farming quickly gives him away.
The Speechless - Crewy Lou's henchman Sphinx. He destroyed his voice when he accidentally drank a glass of poison he intended for a pal of his.
Super Cell Reception: Dick's first and most famous gadget is his Two-Way Wrist Radio, first used in the 1940s. Thus, the detective had a wrist communicator that was incredibly small and powerful for its day and the strip took maximum advantage of it for the heroes to get themselves out of sticky situations.
Technology Marches On - While some of the extreme examples like the Space Coupe with its magnetic propulsion system are straight examples, Tracy's various wrist communicators have always felt reasonably in line with the times with occasional upgrades over the years.
Teens Are Monsters - This is not uncommon in the series. Many teens fall off the rickety slope. Flattop Jones Jr. and Ivy committed multiple homicides at sixteen and Jimmy White was a mob hitman, repeat larcenist, and cold blooded murderer at seventeen. Mindy Ermine counted too before she became the new Moon Maid.
Took a Level in Badass: Groovy Grove, Tracy's hippie sidekick, gradually became a much more serious and heroic character once Max Allan Collins took over the writing. It didn't prevent him from being killed, mind you, but he did at least get into a relationship with Lizz in the months prior to his death.
Train Escape - Shakey does it to lose the pursuing Tracy in his climatic attempt to escape.
Twenty Minutes into the Future - Even before it got ridiculous with the space period and after it pulled back, Dick Tracy has an ample supply of futuristic gadgets, especially with his various wrist communicators.
Verbal Tic - Empty, who prefaced almost everything he said with "As a matter 'a fact".
Video Phone - Dick's "2-Way Wrist TV" that carries this function and is used to communicate with police headquarters.
We Need to Get Proof - In the NES Dick Tracy, Dick needs to gather a significant amount of evidence before confronting the villains.
What a Drag - Wormy tries to kill Tracy by chaining him to the back of a car and dragging him along the road. Tracy is able to unhook the chain, but not before he is pretty badly banged up by the ordeal.
Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys? - From Diet Smith Enterprises, mostly. Tracy met Diet when a crook tried to steal the plans to Diet's wrist radio. Diet has supplied the police with nifty gadgets ever since.