I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself; I was hoping to keep this series on a more esoteric path, showcasing bizarre and obscure cards that haven't already been puzzled over and studied and followed forever. The official 30th Anniversary of the Dick Tracy movie going wide in American theaters is soon approaching (June 15), and I wasn't even able to wait for that date to arrive before my giddiness got the best of me. But that's the whole deal with this movie: it's forever gonna be marinated in anticipation, and the smell permeates the room any time I start to really think about it. So before we expertly segue into the cards, I'd like to finally address the bright yellow jacket in the room and expound on the phenomenon, the obsession that captured my heart and my mind 30 years ago: the Dick Tracy movie.
But it wasn't really about the movie, was it? I mean, there's nothing more alienating than the phrase, "if you weren't there, you don't know," but it's a tough thing to compare it to - at least in my lifetime. Batman Returns and Bram Stoker's Dracula came close, but they're all roughly the same age. What it boils down to is that there was a mania that came with the suspense of its release - so much so that the means were much more enthralling than the end. And just like my proneness to collecting, my love of clowns, and my struggles with weight, it all began at McDonald's.
The Dick Tracy Crimestopper Game was a Monopoly-esque scratch-and-win promotion that McDonald's unveiled leading up to the release of the film. The main thing folks talk about is that you got brightly-colored scratch tickets with your purchase that gave you the chance to win anything from 30 cents off a medium fry to millions of dollars.
Granted, these were beautifully illustrated panoramas depicting scenes from the movie (or variations thereof), but that wasn't what cut me the deepest and ignited my fire. At the front counter of the restaurant was a 6 ft. tall floor standee of Dick Tracy himself, accompanied by a rigid collage of mugshots of the movie's villains. (There was a second leg of the game that involved peel-off squares of the mugshots, and each bad guy was worth a different "reward.")
But it was this towering cardboard standee from which my fascination grew - solely because of the imposing criminal faces adorning the primary-colored image of our hero.
This was like The Joker x 20!
There's just something about brightly-colored suits, anatomical deformities, a badass attitude, and shiny black firearms that was immediately irresistible and comfortable to me, and it was lookin' like there was gonna be an entire movie that was gonna deliver these drugs in spades. And, as my specific childhood from my specific era would teach me, Mickey D's was the main nerve when it came to popular culture.
Obviously it didn't end with burgers and fries; the theaters were full of posters and banners for months, there were TV spots at every commercial break, and everyday merchandise became solid yellow & red. This is when they knew how to fuckin' sell a movie out of thin air. (Yeah, yeah, it was based off a 1930s comic strip, but anyone who cared about that was either old or dead, so to hell with them.) Now, generally, this kinda hype on every television station and in every retail establishment can sometimes take the piss out of the subject matter -- but not for a kid, and not for this kid, and certainly not while this gallery of gangsters was still looming large on the horizon. In other words: how could I possibly get tired of it when all I wanted was more, more, more...
It's hard to talk about the Playmates line of action figures without getting chest pains and shortness of breath - which is a goddamn tragedy because they brought me so much joy.
Over time, little by little, one by one, I obtained them all, and each one was just as important to and loved by me as the next -- except the one I wanted most and couldn't find...
Even if you weren't there for it, or you're not into Dick Tracy or even into action figures, at some point during the Information Age you must've heard of the most sought-after toy of a generation. And whether you have or haven't, I can tell you about it from a purely subjective point of view: even before I saw the movie (or rather, especially before I saw the movie) I'd already nominated The Blank as my favorite villain/character/thing about Dick Tracy, and I'd been under the assumption that every other kid in the world felt the same way - as my mother brought me to every store in the tri-city area looking for the action figure to achieve existential fulfillment, and consistently coming up empty-handed. Even Mom became overwhelmed and consumed by what had become my own personal burden of dreams - to the point that she needed to find it just as much as I, and her passion, put in place by my passion, is what drove her to call Playmates Toy Company and ask them what was up with The Blank figure. The information they gave her, and that she then relayed to me, is exactly what you'll read when you read about this toy: production was halted and U.S. distribution was entirely suspended on The Blank for the simple fact that the figure's main accessory was its removable "mask" that revealed the "mystery" character underneath, as well as the yet-to-be-released movie's climax, and so Touchstone/Disney dodged a major spoiler.
So I licked my wounds & went without, and I got much pleasure from my (otherwise) complete set of Dick Tracy action figures.
But there is also pain - real pain that transcends my own understanding of human emotion.
This is hard to talk or write about, so keep your head down and hands by your side because we're gonna do this fast:
A coupla decades later I learn that The Blank was released in Canada for a short time before it was pulled from stores, and I discover a few are floating around eBay at outrageous prices. I'm at a place in my life where I have the financial stability for such decadence, and I pull off what neither my mom nor Dick Tracy himself was able to pull off: I capture The Blank. I get a custom-made acrylic case for this 'mint-on-card' action figure, and I place it high on a shelf like a religious idol. Then the financial stability ended and I have to sell it away, along with the rest of my Tracy figures.
They say it's good to talk about trauma; that it makes you feel better.
I don't feel any better...
Fortunately I still got my Topps Dick Tracy trading cards! And I don't care that we're already, like, 1,000 words into this, because I'm not leaving my most in-depth Dick Tracy retrospective with the smell of bitterness and despair. So, if you're still there, let's bring it back to a happy place. Please.
This was one of the few times (maybe the only time) where I started buying packs of cards before I saw the movie they were pushing. Which, when you think about it, movie cards deliver the same kinda service that lobby cards did during their existence: exciting action shots and glamorous publicity stills that try n' sell you on the movie's best stuff. Of course, at that point, I already knew what the best stuff was (and I think they did too), and the smartest thing Topps did is basically adapt the McDonald's game into a collectible format by turning the 11-sticker-subset into a series of "WANTED" posters.
I mean, shit, I could just do 1,000 words on those alone. But that'd be too easy, and I wanna stick to the cards - if for no better reason that not all of the bad guys got their own sticker (and Mumbles is nowhere to be seen -- as though Dustin Hoffman had it in his contract that he'd only appear on Hook cards). But even still I'm gonna cheat and focus on the gangster cards, 1. because they're my favorite cards in the set (and that should be the criterion for this ongoing series) and 2. because it gives me the best possible excuse to go on & on about my reasons for why I love these characters. So, in order of card number, here's 5 reasons why I love Dick Tracy.
"Lips Manlis" (#7)
In the McDonald's game, Lips was the most valuable mugshot to find - worth a cool million - so there was quite a bit of mystique there. Also, the action figure came with the morbid accessory of snap-on cement shoes - so there was clearly a gruesome plot point that was ready to unfold.
Additionally, the combination of the droopy, grotesque face and the tuxedo had Godfather tones, which had the potential to give this otherwise-family-friendly film a legitimate Mob Movie vibe.
Of all the criminals they present to us, Pruneface seemed to be the veteran with the most wisdom - not just because he looked 200 years old, but his sense of style and the way he carried himself made it seem like he'd seen it all before - and he didn't give a shit. That could've also derived from how much he reminded me of one of Batman's more elegant foes, Two-Face. And why not -- it's basically the same gimmick: the scars just make him 'All-Over-Face.'
"The Brow" (#13)
On the long list of what makes these characters cool, one of the reasons is that each one is a different kinda villain, a different kinda badass, from any given different kinda Crime genre. The Brow struck me as cool, calm, and crazy. And not just from his 6 seconds of screen time, but the fact that he's perpetually furrowed above the eyes - even when he's chill - makes for a hair-trigger sensibility.
But that's subjective; it really comes down to the suit. I bring it up all the time: that sorta crimson/maroon shade of dark purple is my favorite color - a tint lighter than a California Raisin, and a hint redder than Beetlejuice's wedding tux.
Don't really think he had a line in the movie, but the one closeup he had - depicting a sigh of stress and a devoured cigarette - indicated a ne'er-do-well, down on his luck, and probably violently pissed off about it. Even though he's still buried under pounds of makeup, he's easily one of the most normal-looking ghouls of the gang, and his supposedly accentuated shoulders are never gratuitously featured (not even on his action figure). But, once again, the color of the suit is just spot-on.
"The Blank" (#18)
Who doesn't love the 'mystery flavor' of anything? But, to be totally honest, it never occurred to me that we were meant to guess who this character was -- I was perfectly thrilled with the idea that the distinguishing feature of this particular antagonist was that "he" simply had NO facial features, which was AWESOME to me! (And disappointing to me when I learned it was a mask.)
And for all my horniness about color, it was just too cool that this was the only criminal of the crop in all black - gun included - and the all-black hat & trenchcoat ensemble contrasted beautifully with the pale, nondescript face.
I tried for years to get any of my aunts or my grandmother to somehow construct an adequate Blank Halloween costume - and in all of their infinite arts & crafts wisdom, none were able to help me realize my vision.