Dick Tracy: Dead Or Alive #1 // Review
IDW’s property licensing is vast and prolific these days. Aside from all the Star Treks, Transformers, and GI Joes, there are some properties that have fallen from pop culture grace. However, that doesn’t make them any less deserving of your purchasing dollar. Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive is one of those books, and it takes special efforts to identify as both a modern book and a throwback to his glory days.
Lee and Michael Allred write a new and more modern tale of Dick Tracy as an enforcer of justice. Unlike modern “grim and gritty” reboots of other pop culture properties, the art crew of Rich Tommaso, Michael Allred, and Laura Allred with letterer Shawn Lee all work in sync to bring the classic style of Dick Tracy into a modern era. The end result is an anachronistic stew of the 1930s and the modern day that is strangely compelling, in spite of how utterly confusing it can feel.
After arresting a runaway Silicon Valley fraudster, Dick Tracy is subsequently kicked from the police force for daring to arrest one of the wealthy “untouchable” of the city. However, Dick won’t remain unemployed for long. Intent on keeping the citizens of not-Chicago complacent that their city is safe, the corrupt officials decide to hire a well-known cop to throw a few minor cases to make it look like the city is clean. That someone? Dick Tracy. What results is a roller-coaster ride of explosions, arrests, and action sequences that almost look like they belong in a motion picture rather than a comic book…and it’s only part one.
Lee and Michael Allred have a real talent for handling this property. Dick Tracy feels as honest and earnest as he did--and still does--in his newspaper comic strip. While it feels old-fashioned to have a comic cop fight just for justice, it feels honestly refreshing in the same way a character as simplistically complex as Judge Dredd is. There is no driving force of a dead wife or a revenge plot; Dick Tracy just is. While this could become cliche, and it is generally cliche in itself, the Allreds actually use this to their advantage. Dick Tracy himself is actually portrayed as more of a force of nature (of Justice can be such), popping up from behind corners to thwart his foes. It feels like if a horror movie villain had become a hero, using a badge instead of a machete. There is no question as to “if” he catches the bad guy, but “when” and “how.” And with the right art team, it can really work.
Luckily, the art is nothing short of fantastic. Rich Tommaso has done a near-perfect job of taking the classic, simple style of the comic strip and adding in some strangely compelling details. Unlike the strip’s heyday, Dick Tracy shows emotions beyond the stoic, hard-nosed detective. Ennui and depression are conveyed in a remarkably beautiful and in-character sequence that only helps to flesh out the cop. Meanwhile, seemingly new characters pop in that look like they’d be right at home in the 1950s strip. The only really weird thing is that the world of Dick Tracy has become both timeless and timely. Modern technology like plasma televisions now exist alongside cars from the 1930s, for example. It is a completely bizarre twist to the world, but one that only adds to the charm of the book. It’s hard to imagine a modern crook whipping out a tommy gun after crushing a burner phone under his foot, but that makes it feel like an update that cares about the source material’s feel and environment as much as it does the characters.
Michael Allred pulls double-duty as inker on this book, and he does a spectacular job adding depth to Tommaso’s art. The ink-based shadows add some nice, noir-based depth in a comic coated in rich, bright colors. Laura Allred’s colors, speaking of which, are also beautifully simple. Colors like Tracy’s iconic yellow coat and fedora stand out starkly against a world of mostly-muted earth tones. It makes for a subtle call-out on how it’s Dick Tracy against the world. Even special mention has to go to Shawn Lee, who seems to delight in slapping multicolored sound effects across the page and making narration scroll like leaflets blowing in the wind. This comic is a work of love, or at least done by people who love their job, and it shows.
While the book isn’t for everyone, Dick Tracy: Dead of Alive #1 seems to be a great start into a thrilling tale of suspense and explosions. If crime books are your thing, or if you can’t get enough of characters like Judge Dredd being true to themselves and justice itself, then this is a book that you should really look into. At the very least, it’s great to see a hero being the unstoppable force for once.