Dick Tracy Forever from IDW Publishing moves through the years as it pays homage to Dick Tracy and all the things that made the character so popular. After last months ‘early years’ issue, this month sees the classic Grotesques make an appearance as well as some of the futuristic technology that Chester Gould loved.
This is the Forties; this is where Dick Tracy made his name.
Just like the first issue, Dick Tracy Forever #2 offers up several stories surrounding the famous detective. The first features ‘that damned watch’ and focuses on the technological obsession from the original strip. This follows a ‘story within a story’ pattern with a kick at the end. Michael Avon Oeming uses the narrative frame to tell a story about Dick Tracy from the point of view of the criminal, a rarity for Tracy fans. The story is comedic with an over exaggerated sense of dilemma. Its first narrator, English Bob, clearly thinks a lot of himself and comes with a thick layer of stereotyping. This is followed by a similar, although contrasting, voice for the second part of the story.
Although lacking any real substance, the opening tale is a humorous homage to the two-way wrist radio that has become synonymous with the character. The second story, however, is much more ambitious. Featuring several of the famous villains from Dick Tracy’s rogue’s gallery, The Two Dicks centres around a plot to produce poisonous gas for foreign agents. Chester Gould wrote several stories featuring German Spies during the Second World War era so it’s no surprise Oeming would venture into this territory.
The story is action packed with some very strong character moments. There are, however, a large number of characters featured and they suffer because of this. Oeming is able to give the characters more narrative time than the Disney movie spent on the grotesques featured in that production, but it still lacks any satisfying depth. It is as if the reader has come in at the end of the story having missed all of the build-up. One of the successful elements of Gould’s original strips was the lead in time for a story. He spent weeks building his characters before the inevitable chase across the country. Oeming has bypassed this and got straight to the climax. All of the elements of a great Dick Tracy story are there; evil villains; dastardly plans; gruesome deaths; elaborate traps; however, it all happens too fast.
Oeming’s art work is suitably dynamic. He captures the characters beautifully, embodying them with life and emotion. His use of thick black lines makes everything bold adding a harshness to the stories. It is very blunt and to the point, just like Tracy’s attitude towards the law.
There is a dark atmosphere created by Oeming’s use of black but this relates to the stylistic element of the original strip more than it does to a narrative darkness as seen in Frank Millers’ Sin City comics, for example. Oeming enjoys contrasting the foreground and background, often reducing one or the other to almost black silhouette.
The colors are garish and unnaturalistic, much like the tone of the story. Taki Soma uses color to emphasis character rather than depict reality which is exactly the correct approach for this comic. Broccoli Rabe is given a sickly green color that matches his name but also is an indication of his character. Tracy stands out in the panels because of his bright yellow coat; constantly the centre of attention in his own comic book.
Shawn Lee uses the lettering to break up the blackness in the backgrounds, cementing the speech over the top of the shadows. However, he uses coloured text boxes for the narration which indicates the separate characters but also reminds the reader that the visuals are flashbacks, told from the point of view of the speaker. The contrast between the clean whiteness of the speech balloons and the darker, colored narration boxes symbolise the time shift and the bias of the story teller.
Dick Tracy Forever is bold and brash. Much of the narrative is over the top action with wild visuals and design. It captures the feel of the expressive 1940’s Dick Tracy strips and pays homage to the characters that made that era of the strip so popular. The villains show the same despicable tendencies that Gould gave them 70 odd years ago.
The drawback with this monthly title is that Oeming is moving through the stories and the characters with such a speed that the reader does not get time to indulge in any of it. The story has no sooner started than a conclusion is reached. It would be nice to spend time with these characters and allow a sense of drama to build up. A character like The Brow could easily take up four monthly issues of storyline.
Dick Tracy Forever is a step in the right direction for the ever growing franchise but a commitment to a longer, more dramatic, ongoing story would allow the characters to shine and capture the hearts of old and new fans alike.