IDW's "Dick Tracy Forever #4" proves that the comic strip detective can be timeless

"Dick Tracy Forever #4" cover by Michael Avon Oeming

Writer/Artist: Michael Avon Oeming, Letters: Shawn Lee, Colorist: Taki Soma

It’s curious that a comics publisher would continue to choose to print new stories about Dick Tracy, a newspaper comic strip character whose most popular years had passed decades before his creator Chester Gould died in 1984. It was a major risk for the Dick Tracy movie to be greenlit and made in 1990, the character’s last major pop culture appearance, and no doubt it only happened because a Hollywood heavyweight like Warren Beatty was pushing for it, as well as producing, starring, and directing. However, you might be surprised (as I was) to discover that Dick Tracy is still in newspaper syndication, with original comic strips still being produced by comic book veterans. IDW first revived Tracy in comic book form in the 2018 four-issue miniseries, Dick Tracy: Dead Or Alive, written and inked by Mike Allred.

It must have sold well, because IDW has found another heavyweight to continue the character’s revival, one who is well-versed for his body of work in crime dramas. Michael Avon Oeming (Powers) has an obvious love for the character, and it shows on every page of Dick Tracy Forever, a new four-issue miniseries.

Each issue is a collection of short crime stories, featuring Tracy in different time periods throughout his publishing history, from his pre-comic book era beginnings in 1931 to the future of 2031, making the title of the miniseries ring true.

The graphic design and trade dress of the book is stripped down to the comic strip essence of Dick Tracy: black, red, and gold, with the bold ink lines of Chester Gould’s hard-edged style. Oeming does a great job paying homage to Gould’s look, while giving the appearance of Dick Tracy and crew his own. Unlike Gould's depiction, when Oeming has Tracy in plainclothes, and not wearing his trademark yellow fedora and trenchcoat, he isn't always recognizable.

As in his Powers series, Oeming’s cityscapes are works of art in themselves, high contrast black-and-white, Art Deco masterpieces. Included as another retro treat, each issue features a cleverly designed puzzle page.

Oeming uses large Ben Day dots for shading and for background color and texture, giving a fun, retro comic strip feel to his pages. Their use is simple and flat in the early issue taking place in the 1930s, but gets very sophisticated and nuanced in the year 2031 in issue #4.

Oeming is a true entertainer, and only lets a few pages go by at a time before we meet another villain from Tracy’s colorful rogues gallery, like Prune Face, The Brow, Broccoli, or more modern criminals with names like Manscape and Syrsly Sam.

"Dick Tracy Forever #4" interior art

The plot of issue #4, in the year 2031—with Tracy’s wife and now fellow detective Tess Trueheart, and their son Detective Junior Tracy, and a cast of futuristic cops— revolves around a crime to hack into and control a “forever cloud” where wealthy customers upload their memories and consciousnesses to achieve immortality. Needless to say, Tracy the master detective figures it all out, with the help of a high-tech wristwatch computer that projects holograms and mini drones. The brilliant story twist at the end makes you go back and re-look at the entire series again. This is a Dick Tracy everyone could get into.

Dick Tracy Forever #4 is published by IDW Comics, and is on sale August 7, 2019.


Dick Tracy: Dead Or Alive (2018)

Powers Vol 1 #1-37 (2000)

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