Dick Tracy: The Collins Case Files, Volume 1
by Max Allan Collins,
Rick Fletcher
(Checker, 2003)

Near the end of Chester Gould's career, the creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip began to turn his masterpiece over to his art assistant, Rick Fletcher, and novelist Max Allan Collins. The Collins Case Files is the first in a series that will collect strips originally published between 1978 and 1989.

Collins, who was already known for his Ms. Tree series of crime comic books and his mystery novels, would also write the graphic novel and movie, Road to Perdition. Fletcher passed away during Collins' tenure.

Dick Tracy had long before been stripped of its gritty violence, and even bizarre villains like the Mole, Pruneface and Haf-and-Haf had been visually softened over the years. Collins eventually reintroduced many of the elements that had made the strip famous, and Haf-and-Haf, the children of criminals Flattop and the Brow, and Big Boy are cast members in this collection.

Strips had also been reduced in size in newspapers since Tracy's 1931 debut. The simplified art Gould developed for the cast was further simplified by Fletcher and weakens the original impact of the strip. Although more than competent, Fletcher's art seems two-dimensional and visual suspense is often missing.

Despite these limitations, the original and powerful concept behind Dick Tracy, Fletcher's obvious talent as a cartoonist, and Collin's intricate, innovative and entertaining plots, characterization and dialogue, quickly involve a reader in the stylistic, semi-realistic world of Gould's cops and robbers.

In particular, the last story in this volume featuring crime boss Big Boy and hitman the Iceman is suspenseful as well as entertaining. It will be interesting to see if Collins maintained this level of film noir tension during the rest of his time on the most popular police series in the history of strips.

- Rambles
written by Michael Vance
published 5 June 2004

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