THIS REVIEW OF ‘DICK TRACY FOREVER’ #1 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Clyde Hall. Putting ‘Forever’ in your title takes moxie. For songs, it may work well. For movies and books, not always. Regardless, it carries a certain weight of promise, of expectation. It implies a character, or a central topic, is by human standards immortal. Does Dick Tracy wear that paradigm as comfortably as a bright, lemony trench coat? From a modern era inured with an N.C.I.S. and S.W.A.T. perspective, an unyielding plainclothes detective sporting Day-Glo rainwear appears dubious.
Yet, Michael Avon Oeming makes a strong case for ‘Forever’ as it applies to the never-ending quest for justice. He considers the letter and spirit of the law to that end, and the nature of criminals eternally clambering above long-armed reach. He elevates Tracy to avatar, Lady Justice’s champion, the enduring embodiment of ‘Thou shalt not get away with it.’
In IDW’s Dick Tracy Forever #1, we view Tracy from a 1931 standpoint, examining Chester Gould’s intended statement utilizing his famous lawman. Oeming’s narrative includes many of the era’s social ills, concerns which prompted Gould to begin a comic strip which mocked gangsters and trumpeted honest police work while Al Capone still held court in Chicago.
Tracy works within a police force rife with corruption. Between Prohibition and the Great Depression, illicit profits are the stuff of Croesus. Merely turning two blind eyes to criminal enterprises was a lucrative temptation few coppers, beat flatfoots to Chiefs, could resist. Economic climate resulted in a small upper class owning the vast majority of everything. That small elite put boots to throats of anyone beneath them to increase and assure continued profits. Great War veterans returning home disabled found little employment opportunity. Even-handed and truly blind justice was a rare commodity.
In the first of three stories Oeming penned for issue #1, “The Cost of Living”, we’re shown each of these elements combining in opposition to Detective Tracy. Mobsters run rampant, sure. But where’s justice when slumlords lawfully raise rents beyond the means of tenants? Oeming illustrates the uneven playing field that birthed the Tracy character with masterful brevity. How can anyone represent The Law in a No Man’s Land of such opportunism-fueled misery?
The second tale, “Crash Manhattan”, introduces one exploitable venue that became a Tracy trope. With an eye toward the blossoming field of sci-fi, our hero sees value in out-tech-ing his foes.
The final story, “Unfinished Business”, illustrates Tracy putting justice into action. He’s never the general who draws up battle plans for subordinates to carry out while he remains safely at HQ. He leads from the front lines, dances through bullet swarms, and lives to battle another day. Oeming paints a depressingly accurate landscape of a life devoid of fair play, then transcends it by casting Tracy even larger, an equalizing force.
Oeming is taking risks with this 4-issue mini. Issue #2 will take up in 1951, with Tracy addressing a whole new chess board of crime. According to interviews Oeming’s given, #3 and #4 attempt to establish Tracy as equal to the task of eternal enforcer in modern and futuristic settings. If successful, the ‘Forever’ element will be achieved. Moxie. Oeming’s scripting has it in prodigious quantity though he’s possessed of a humility that’s attractive while attentive to the task. Treading in the gumshoed footsteps of the Allreds and their recent Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive success, Oeming scores bonus moxie points for recognizing them in one of his panels.
They are in actuality his panels. If you enjoyed Oeming’s artistry on Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic/Interstellar Eye, you’ll find lots to love in Dick Tracy Forever. Confronting malefactors with a .45 caliber drum of lead subpoenas, the hawk-nosed sleuth has never swaggered better.
Taki Soma’s colors mirror bold comic strip hues, preserve neutral tones of side street iniquity, and wash achromatic for dream sequences. Shawn Lee’s letters, spanning marquees and sound effects, are big, bold, and blocky as a metro skyline.
Before dismissing Dick Tracy as a hopelessly outdated notion of comics justice, consider other law-bringers who reflect facets of Tracy’s overall scope. The list includes Judge Dredd (inflexible letter of the law), Batman (spirit of justice, detective with tech), and The Punisher (lethal spirit of justice). Oeming captures glimmers of each in this debut. Yes, crime and corruption are an integral part of civilizations and the reason for setting down codes of law. The quest for justice is equally ongoing given the ways writers have redefined and personified it, especially since Tracy. Oeming’s determined to show us why Dick Tracy was the fountainhead for similar characters the decades since. How he still is. How he should remain so.
IDW Publishing / $3.99
Written by Michael Avon Oeming.
Art by Michael Avon Oeming.
Colors by Taki Soma.
Letters by Shawn Lee.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Dick Tracy Forever’ #1, courtesy of IDW Publishing!