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Not just another Dick – Dick Tracy #2

December 9, 2010

You won’t find any of the classic square features of Dick Tracy in this book. This is an adaptation of an adaptation, though it doesn’t suffer from the watered-down dreckiness that such a desciption would normally imply. It’s the middle chapter in a Disney-published three-part series from 1990 — the first two issues (“Big City Blues” and “Dick Tracy vs. The Underworld”) acted as a prequel, while the third was a straight translation of the Warren Beatty directed-and-starred-in Dick Tracy.

Remember that flick? It amazes me how completely it has disappeared from the American pop culture memory. In the summer of 1990 you couldn’t turn on a television without seeing either an ad for the movie or a McDonald’s commercial for the tie-in game:

It speaks to the saturation of these commercials that I could remember the beats of that particular one 2o years after its airing without having seen it in any of the intervening years. It’s burned into my brain like a brand on a steer’s haunches. I swear, the Amish probably knew that a Dick Tracy movie was opening in June. Good God almighty, I ate a lot of hamburgers in the summer of 1990. And I didn’t win a damn thing.

On to the comic.

I think that there’s kind of an interesting meta thing going on with it. To explain… You couldn’t help but notice when watching all the hype surrounding Beatty’s Dick Tracy that Tim Burton’s Batman from the year before factored into its crafting and marketing. Both venerable and beloved characters got a serious treatment (a little less so with Tracy) with lots of action, big stars chewing the scenery (Tracy had Beatty, Madonna and Al ****ing Pacino), Danny Elfman scores and a carpet-bombing level of promotion.

A big part of the Batman surge in the ’80’s that culminated in the 1989 film was The Dark Knight Returns. It was an enormous success, drew scads of attention and opened up broader pop possibilities for the Caped Crusader. And we all know the signature style that Frank Miller brought to that comic. It was distinct. Somewhat primal.

These Disney Dick Tracy comics look a lot like that Miller/Dark Knight style.

Just for a couple of scans…

Here’s Madonna’s night club singer character in a blade-infused catfight with another broad:

And here’s  Beatty-Tracy hauling Pruneface to the hoosegow:

Kyle Baker handled all the art responsibilities on this title, from soup to nuts, pencils to colors. Am I crazy to see a bit of a similarity to Miller’s Dark Knight work? I don’t know whether any likeness was intentional (on the part of Baker or series scripter Len Wein) or whether it might have slipped in unconsciously, but the temporal juxtaposition between these two massive tentpole films makes me wonder. It’s as if they were trying to draft in the Batman franchise’s wake. I could be doing a disservice to the Tracy people by saying that, but this is, of course, only one schmuck’s opinion.

The two comic lead-ins are pretty good and are a nice trip through Depression-era avarice and crime, though the disconcertion of seeing Beatty’s face on a printed page Tracy never really lessens. The style that Baker employs, whether homage or not, is always interesting to the eye. They’re worthwhile reads.

Tracy the film wasn’t the big hit that it might have been, but it was by no means a flop. It was a colorful movie (And how could it not be, with a central character wearing a canary-yellow trenchcoat and fedora and a two-way wrist radio?) with lavish sets and costumes, but like I said above, it’s been largely forgotten.

Except for those damn McDonald’s commercials.

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