‘Dick Tracy’ Is Hanging Out With The Spirit (And More) In The Crossover Of The Year 2K17
While it's often overlooked from readers --- like me --- who tend to focus on monthly superhero titles, the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip has been steadily chugging along as one of the most entertaining stories in the medium. It's consistently surprising and entertaining, and part of that comes from the fact that Joe Staton and Mike Curtis are always finding something new and innovative to do with their story. Like, say, providing readers with some of the most unexpected crossovers in comics.
They've done it before, but now, they're kicking off 2017 with what will undoubtedly stand as the crossover of the year, as Dick Tracy meets up with The Spirit --- yes, Will Eisner's The Spirit -- to fight immortality crimes. And that's just the start of it.
Before we get any further into this, there are two things about the current era of Dick Tracy that are worth mentioning for context, and the first is that this sort of big crossover has kind of become Staton and Curtis's signature. It really started back in 2014 when they devoted a solid four-month story arc to wrapping up the cliffhanger ending of Little Orphan Annie, which had been canceled a few years earlier after running in daily newspapers since 1924. That story not only combined the two strips' universes, establishing that Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks was just a short plane flight away from Dick's home in the crime-ridden City, it set the tone for what was to come after.
There was even a crossover with Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean a year later, and while that particular story landed with a big wet thud, it was certainly the kind of thing that you didn't really expect. Well, until you remembered that a prominent cast member of Funky Winkerbean was murdered at the end of his spin-off strip by a guy who believed himself to be a supervillain named Plant-Man, who was routinely mocked on television by his eventual murder victim. That kind of thing actually fits in pretty neatly to a world of criminals named Flat-Top and the Jumbler.
Sidenote to the sidenote: I will never get over the fact that Dick Tracy once fought a villain called "The Jumbler" because the strip was literally doing a crossover with the Jumble, the anagram-themed puzzle that appears next to it on the comics page. You want to talk about expanding the form? Building an adventure story around a crossover with a word game is something I'm pretty sure nobody else has done.
Anyway, the second thing that's worth mentioning here, and I've been hinting at this pretty heavily for the past few paragraphs, is that Dick Tracy is bananas.
I've written about it before, but one of the first things that Staton and Curtis did when they took over the strip was revive some long-ignored stories from the '60s where Tracy was the sheriff of the moon, reincorporating characters like Honeymoon Tracy --- Dick's half-Lunarian granddaughter who was born in outer space --- into the cast.
The thing is, the way they embraced the inherent weirdness of a strip that was marked by sharp-angled noses and grotesque violence didn't just stop with that. The Little Orphan Annie crossover I mentioned above? Yeah, that thing was based around a time travel fakeout, chemical weapons, and mass hypnosis through radio waves. It was like they were adapting the plot of a Professor Layton game.
Which brings us back around to the current arc and the crossover with the Spirit.
The Spirit, by his very nature as a lawman who was murdered and then brought back to life through weird science, is bringing a certain level of superheroic action with him, and the fact that he and Tracy have a moment of bonding over both of their... let's be charitable and call them "disappointing" movie adaptations is just the start of it.
The story has only been running for a few weeks, but we've already seen the start of a truly bizarre and potentially amazing story cooking up here. Between a flashback to the Spirit's first encounter with P'Gell and a strip that informs us that we're also going to be seeing the Octopus and Daddy Warbucks, a plot unfolds that's built around an immortality serum.
And the thing is, this isn't a serum that might keep you alive forever. This is a serum that we already know works pretty well, because there is already an immortal hotel owner in this comic strip.
Am's just there for the background information, though. The real central figure of the story is Perenell Flammel, a woman named for the same French alchemist who wound his way through history into the Harry Potter books, and who has apparently been kicking around since the 14th century.
Unlike other, less successful immortals, though, she has not devoted the last 700 years to conquest or destruction. Instead, she's been gathering items of true value, which she is now using to pay her somewhat sketchy underlings:
Now, she's selling immortality to the highest bidder, and that's the kind of thing that tends to drag everyone out of the woodwork. Along with the Octopus and Daddy Warbucks, the story is also set to involve Terry and the Pirates, which is great news for everyone out there who is either 90 years old or named Benito Cereno.
With all of that in place, this arc is shaping up to be one of the most interesting comics of the year, and if you're not the sort of person who reads newspaper strips every day over your morning cup of coffee --- or gets the condensed highlights from Josh Fruhlinger at the Comics Curmudgeon --- then it's more than worth it to head over to GoComics.com and catch up. There are a few prelude strips where Tracy talks about knowing who the Spirit is, and we hear that he's going to be coming to town, but the arc properly starts on December 26 and goes forward from there.
I will say, though, that if you do feel like going back a few weeks, it might be worth it just so you have some context for something that has a good chance of showing up in the coming weeks: Moon Crimes!
Seriously, Dick Tracy rules.