Following a hardboiled 1930s case in the first issue and a wild caper in the colorful ’60s in the second, Dick Tracy Forever‘s third installment sees the lawman coping with the pressures of the present day.
Much like the more sci-fi aspects of Chester Gould’s classic Dick Tracy strips, this “modern day” story is told with a kind of “five minutes into the future” level of tech, so things are a little further along than we’d expect. This issue takes the interesting story tactic of introducing gene splicing into the mix of things, with irresponsible experiments being the root cause of the cartoonish appearances of Tracy’s many villains. It’s an unexpected way of playing with the tropes of Dick Tracy while also introducing more modern fears into the storytelling. For instance, in classic on-the-nose villain nomenclature, the villains of the piece have very of-the-time nicknames, like “Auntie Vaxx” and “The Vape.”
Meanwhile, Tracy himself is the same ol’ dinosaur he’s always been, using antiquated terms like “scamp” and still believing in the letter of the law, despite how often the system has failed a middle-class couple like Tess and himself. The more things change, the more we need Tracy to stay the same and keep us honest.
And he does, despite the modern world’s best efforts to crush the last shreds of decency and optimism right out of him. This issue tackles some very heady and relevant subjects, such as the the broken nature of the healthcare system. It would have been just as compelling if Oeming were to frame the entire story with this dilemma, even leaving aside all of the more fantastical elements. However, in embracing the detective’s long and varied history, Oeming continues to provide a beautiful synthesis of the many different genres the character has dabbled in over the years, from hard crime to speculative science fiction.
By design, much of this issue plays out like a fever dream. Even the dynamic and winding car chase in the middle of the book feels like a few panels are left out on purpose, giving the whole thing a very disorienting feeling as Tracy himself begins to question his mission and even his own reality. Oeming and colorist Taki Soma knock it out of the park, especially in these sections. The technicolor world of Dick Tracy is still present, but it’s a glossy layer of paint hiding the same sicknesses of the human spirit that Tracy will always be there to oppose.
When Dick Tracy Forever was first announced, this was the issue I most looking forward to, but not because I feel like Dick Tracy needs to be grittier. I genuinely wanted to see if Dick Tracy could, above all things, stay a good cop in an age that would see an honest man like him crushed. With this latest issue, maybe even more so than with the previous excellent issues, Michael Avon Oeming has shown a true understanding of what makes Dick Tracy and characters like him so enduring.
The final moments of the issue offer a tantalizing tease for the next and final issue’s take on the Dick Tracy mythos. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together!