A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were watching an episode of The Closer. In the beginning of the episode, the boss and a couple detectives meet a new, real-go-getter detective. He introduced himself as “Detective Richard Tracy.” The moment those words passed his lips, I turned to my friend and said, “Dick Tracy? He’s so obviously fake.” And, lo and behold, he was. My response: “If those cops knew their Dicks, they never would have been taken in by his ruse.” Knowing your Dicks is just a part of any well-balanced education.
In the interests of full disclosure, I actually know very little about Dick Tracy. He’s a comic-strip detective who was named “Dick” as a nod to the slang term for detective (or so I heard, somewhere). It’s therefore entirely possible that Dick Tracy isn’t named Richard, which is a real shame. But I digress.
Dick Tracy, the comic strip, debuted in 1931 and was created by Chester Gould. Gould wrote and drew the strip until his retirement in 1977; several people have subsequently headed the strip. I believe the strip is still in print, although I cannot be sure. I actually don’t read newspaper comics with any regularity whatsoever.
Dick Tracy is known for a few things: deformed criminals and the two-way wrist radio (which appeared in 1946). From a brief scan of the Wikipedia page, it seems Tracy characters also have ridiculous names that match their salient characteristics. For instance, Tracy’s girlfriend (now wife) was named Tess Trueheart. Spare me. That’s some heavy-handed symbolism right there. One villain was named Flattop Jones, and he had a huge, flat head. I guess you can’t make things too complicated for the newspaper readers.
One final tidbit: at some point, fairly early on, Dick Tracy took in a homeless boy. The Dick subsequently adopted this boy as both his son and sidekick, naming him Dick Tracy Junior (although he’s usually called Junior. Too many Dicks spoil the comic strip). Where have I seen this before (or, more accurately, after)? Oh, right. That’s how Batman got Robin: he adopted a stray kid as his sidekick. Seriously, what was going on in the 1930s/early 1940s? Were childless people just picking kids off the streets as if they were kittens? Where were Social Services? Did the Depression have something to do with this? If the current recession worsens, will we start to see roving bands of stray children across America? If we do, I’m calling dibs on any orphans who are good at Latin. They can be my medieval history sidekicks – and the worst injuries they will face are paper cuts.
Dick Tracy: the original square-jawed detective. See him in a newspaper near you!