IDW Publishing are no strangers to Dick Tracy. They have been reprinting the newspaper strips in wonderful collection books since 2006 and have already published one new comic based on the character.
Their new outing, Dick Tracy Forever, is one from writer Michael Avon Oeming’s bucket list and is something that he has been wanting to work on for over a decade. It promises to change the way we see the character while also proving why the character continues to be popular and relevant today.
Michael Avon Oeming has embraced the history of Dick Tracy to create a new set of tales, not in continuity but set in their own world. The format of this first issue harps back to the early days of the comic strip from 1931 and incorporates the fun extra’s that Chester Gould enjoyed, such as the Crime Stoppers Guide.
In Dick Tracy Forever, these elements are not just page fillers but also mood setters. The crossword puzzle is pasted onto the side of imposing, dark buildings reflecting the claustrophobic nature of the city Tracy works in.
The three stories Oeming offers are all tenuously linked, another call back to the strips from the 1930’s and 40’s that bled into one another. Each is action packed and features a different crime but Tracy’s distribution of justice is constant. Oeming illustrates Tracy’s determination for justice by selecting criminals from different backgrounds, each with a different story. The reader compares and judges as they see fit but Tracy works in black and white; commit a crime and you are punished.
One of the endearing features of Chester Gould’s creation were the support cast that surround the central detective. Oeming understands this and gives the extra’s their own character, updated for a modern audience. Tess Trueheart is the most prominent and Oeming has picked up the feisty, independent attitude that she always had. He has in turn made her central to the stories, assisting or impeding Tracy’s investigations. The interaction between these two lovers gives the comic heart and comedy in equal measures.
Oeming’s art is bold and brash just like the central character. He has adopted a noir style suitable to stories set in the 1930’s. Long dark shadows fill each panel reflecting the darkness that surrounds Tracy in his fight against crime. There is a sense that all of this comic is set in the dark hours when criminals come out to play.
Tracy has strong features which Oeming accentuates with thick, black lines and harsh angles. In comparison, Tess is much rounder in feature with a more delicate outline.
There is a progression to the art style throughout the comic. Subtle changes to the depiction of the characters and their design chart the history of the Dick Tracy strip itself. The change from battered brown trench coat to the iconic yellow that Dick Tracy is known for seems to match a change in the Tracy character.
The coloring sets the mood and not just of the scenes. Taki Soma pays close attention to the characters and what they are wearing. The color of their garments reflect their personalities, which is most notable by Dick Tracy himself.
Shawn Lee uses a range of lettering techniques to help the dialogue flow from panel to panel and page to page. However, it is the introduction of thought balloons that will really but a smile on the readers face. The good old fashioned thought balloon is rarely used these days and has been replaced by caption boxes. However, Lee uses them liberally bringing Tracy’s thoughts directly into the comic strip. This gives the reader a unique impression of the character that can be lost by a voice over type caption. The reader is able to see the workings of the detective’s mind as it happens without the distance created by captions.
The last outing of Dick Tracy for IDW Publishing, Dick Tracy Dead or Alive, wasn’t the most successful interpretation. The art style that was used didn’t fit the energetic, dynamic character that Dick Tracy is. Oeming’s interpretation however is spot on.
The Disney movie from the early 1990’s understood the character and what makes him so appealing. As a result, they created a cinematic visualisation of the character and his life. It was over the top; over acted; simplistic; but above all entertaining. Dick Tracy Forever does exactly the same thing but in comic book format. It takes elements from the early years and reinterprets them for a modern audience. There is the focus on crime but also on the central characters relationships. The Gruesome Villains that made the character so famous have a part to play but at this stage they barely feature. This is because for the first decade the criminals were mostly representations of the real life criminals that were making the headlines. Oeming does the same thing in this comic. It may be set in the past but the criminals are all too modern; desperate veterans, technical spies, corrupt billionaires.
Dick Tracy Forever is an exciting start to a new series. It combines nostalgia and modern storytelling in equal amounts to create a relevant take on a classic character. Much like the Disney movie, Dick Tracy Forever has clearly been made by people who love the character and as a result the readers won’t be able to stop themselves from loving it.