Dick Tracy: The Collins Casefiles, Vol. 2
by Max Allan Collins, Rick Fletcher (Checker, 2004)

Max Allan Collins got the chance to make Dick Tracy relevant again by keeping the old and bringing in the new. Bringing back favorite characters and creating new ones in line with the Dick Tracy theme, Collins succeeded at revitalizing the Dick Tracy comic strip.

Dick Tracy: The Collins Casefiles, Vol. 2 contains four chapters of his and Rick Fletcher's work from Jan. 1, 1979 to Jan. 5, 1980.

In his Dick Tracy pitch to The Tribune, Collins states "the approach of the strip has always been, and continues to be, one of pitting our urban Sherlock Holmes against topical crimes." What makes this volume so fascinating is the paradoxical nature of this topicality, being horribly dated yet remarkably contemporary at the same time.

For instance, the first chapter follows Tracy's investigation into the "Computer Killer," with the victim being big boxes that process information. The way computers are discussed/explained to the reader, they might as well be talking about magic wands or warp drives. Yet oddly enough, despite the 1979-level of understanding of a computer, the themes of identity theft and computer hacker embezzlement could have been ripped from today's headlines.

The other chapters have similar topics with that dual quality. While stem cells aren't mentioned in chapter two, it is interesting to see that cloning was a topic of interest in that time. In this particular case, the cloning is a scam/cover-up by a shady researcher and a returning/resurrected Tracy villain, Mumbles. Chapter three has the timeless theme of rebellious youth with Bony and Claudine (Bonnie & Clyde with a punk-rock twist). Music historians will get a laugh at the blink-and-you'll-miss-it panels offering amusing commentary on punk rock being passe and lauding new wave rock. And chapter four could be tweaked into a NTSB safety pamphlet on the dangers of lax airline security and infant carriers.

The biggest criticism one can levy against this book is the repetition of panels. While doing a daily comic strip must be a difficult task at times, it is painfully obvious throughout the book when Collins and Fletcher would copy and paste the exact same panel, and sometimes even the dialogue. Some are tweaked ever so little (hand gesture or mouth shape), but when three or four panels are all that's offered per day, it must have been even more frustrating for the daily reader, much less in a collected form.

Fans of Dick Tracy will like this volume for continuity purposes, notably the birth of Tracy's third child. There are also plenty of typical Tracy moments, sparring with the press and urgent exchanges via television wristwatches. And of course, the characters have those wonderful fun/pun names, such as Zy Ghote (cloning specialist), Dr. Carver (plastic surgeon), Quiver Trembly (jittery bomber) and Mr. Dubbs (recording studio exec). This really is a charming book with peculiar characters and fun storylines.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

29 March 2008

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