Crossover Of The Year: Dick Tracy To Solve The Mystery Of Little Orphan Annie’s Cancelation Cliffhanger
In the world of superhero comics, it’s pretty safe to say that readers have become pretty well-accustomed to crossovers. In the big shared universes at Marvel and DC Comics, characters show up regularly in each other’s books all the time, and even if they’re keeping to themselves, there’s always the big, universe-spanning event comics that are rolling out like clockwork to bundle them all together for your reading enjoyment — or for your reading, at least.
In the world of newspaper strips, however, that sort of thing is much more rare. Sure, you occasionally get stuff like Tom Batiuk arranging for a shockingly boring cross-time comic book sale in Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean, but even that’s pretty small and confined to one character.
As a result, it’s always notable when the newspaper characters start jumping into each other’s strips. Especially when it’s two-fisted cop Dick Tracy gearing up to rescue Little Orphan Annie from the clutches of a murdering terrorist known only as “The Butcher of the Balkans,” a thing that is actually happening in your newspaper right now.
If you’re a longtime ComicsAlliance reader, you may remember when we covered the cancelation of Little Orphan Annie all the way back in 2010, but for those of you who might be new, here’s why it caught our attention. It wasn’t because Annie, which inspired the broadway musical and film of the same name, was ending the run it started in 1925 after 86 years (ten years longer than we’ve had Batman and Superman), because, let’s be honest here, even us hipster elitists here at this site didn’t really care. No, what got our attention was how the strip ended.
See, rather than tying everything up nicely with Annie, Sandy and Daddy Warbucks relaxing at home, the strip ended with Annie almost being eaten by a shark and held at gunpoint by a terrorist who has violently murdered so many people that the only name anyone knows him by is “Butcher.”
And that’s where Annie has been for the past four years. Seriously. That’s the last strip. That’s how 86 years of that comic ended.
Now Daddy Warbucks has finally decided that he should probably look into rescuing his pupil-free adopted daughter, and to that end, he has turned to Chief Detective Dick Tracy. It seems he has recently come into information that has led him to believe that Annie is being held somewhere in Tracy’s city, which was probably pretty confusing since Tracy’s city does not appear to have an actual name. Perhaps that was why it took him four years to get around to seeing if the police could help him find his kidnapped kid.
As for Tracy, trying to track down a missing adopted heiress should make a nice change of pace from the other stuff he’s been doing lately, which is dealing with this.
Yeah. Moon people. Apparently, much like Batman, Dick Tracy had a bizarre sci-fi period back in the ’60s where he would just cruise on up to the moon to hang out with the aliens who lived there and get sci-fi technology that he could bring back to help the police force fight supervillains — a period that only really ended when Moon Maid, the princess of the moon, was murdered with a car bomb when Big Boy took out a million dollar contract on Tracy’s life. Well, I say “ended,” but last year, the current team of Mike Curtis and legendary comics artist Joe Staton decided to bring a lot of those elements back, since having moon stuff and not using it is a total sucker’s game.
What I’m getting at here is that I really need to read more Dick Tracy.
And really, once you’ve brought back moon stuff, arranging a crossover with Little Orphan Annie should be no problem at all. The thing is, much like everything else that seems to happen in that strip — which, in recent years, has been known mostly for the extreme level in violence that has led stories to end with people being torn apart by rabid dogs, something that I can only dream of seeing in Funky Winkerbean — they’ve chosen to do it in the most bananas way that they possibly could.
For starters, the crossover is predicated on Daddy Warbucks straight up bribing the Chief of Police:
And then the actual detective work in this story takes the form of sending Warbucks’ manservant to take a gigantic knife and threaten a man who has a bunch of weird loose melty skin flaps that make him look like he’s horrifically melting while he is attempting to sell balloons:
And if that wasn’t enough, this story also involves a flashback to Warbucks’ past, where he first confronted the man who may or may not be responsible for Annie’s kidnapping, where Staton draws him like a Jack Kirby character, alongside Punjab and “The Asp,” the two bodyguards that he rolled with since back in World War II:
I have no idea if this is actually a reference to something that actually happened during the 86-year continuity of Little Orphan Annie (I am not 114 years old and therefore have no real history of reading long-running newspaper strips), but I am pretty stoked about finding out more about Warbucks and his vigilante running crew going up against a cigar-chomping spy and his actual army.
Unfortunately, the flashback ends there, but given that Tracy and Warbucks have recently stopped in to consult with a dude who basically looks like Santa Claus about Axel’s whereabouts, I have the distinct feeling that he is going to end up getting punched before this story is over.
And that’s the thing: There’s still a lot left to go in this thing. Newspaper strip plots tend to run for a pretty long time — one of the reasons that Annie being left in kidnapped limbo for four years actually isn’t that big a deal, all things considered — and this one has only been running for about two weeks.
Yes. It is that bonkers after two weeks. And with a good chance that moon people are about to be involved, I think it’s safe to say that it’s only going to get weirder before it’s over.
Now, if this were superhero comics, I’d bet the farm on the idea that this would be an attempt at reviving Annie so that it could be relaunched back into its own strip, but since newspaper strip cancelation tends to be a far more permanent affair, I doubt it’s going to go that route here — even if there are “classic” Annie strips being run daily at the website. That said, I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye on Dick Tracy in the coming weeks to see just what happens.