It's the second edition in the ongoing adventures of America’s most impossible-to-cast brick-jawed comic book character:
Like the last one, it’s produced by Herman “Fearless” Hossdick:
Or Schlom, whatever. Unlike the last one, its director gets his picture along with the other Dick Tracy characters – and we suspect that Chester Gould did not draw this one, since Etch-A-Sketches were not yet invented:
Unless that’s supposed to be someone else. Well, stay tuned. We’re eager to meet Gruesome, since all Tracy villains look like their names. Could the drawing above be intended to represent this fellow below, who’s come to meet a friend at the Mickey Mouse Club?
I think so. Didn’t recognize him from the drawing, though. Once Gruesome hooks up with his friend from the Old Days and starts looking for His Next Big Score – prison having taught him nothing, of course – they head to a factory:
It’s right next to Vegetable Fruits, down the block from Ceramic Fabrics. Who’s at the door?
It’s Pockchin! No, it's Smearmug! No? Close: it’s “X-Ray.” So named because . . . well, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to name him that, unless you believe that thick glasses give people the ability to look through solid objects. We’ll return to him in a moment, because I believe he made a deep impression on someone whose work you may know.
Time to meet the latest Dick:
He’s a bit more cheerful than the dour piece of wood we had last time, but there’s nothing Tracyesque about him. He plays it light, and of course this makes his comic relief sidekick work all the harder. Here they discuss the mystery of the disappearing stiff. See, Gruesome inhaled some fumes at the Wood Plastics company, and it made him go completely rigid. They assumed he was dead. Once he limbered up he decamped, which produced the following exchange:
"Looks that way." Couldn't end the scene with the previous line, couldn't you. Very meta and post-modern, no? Because it is Boris Karloff. That’s what makes this one the best of the mysteries we’ve seen so far – Karloff is just a total bastard here, ugly and sneering and snarling and killing dames and demanding his cut and all the rest. It’s “Frankenstein Meets the Mob,” more or less – coming 12 years after the first “Frankenstein” movie, it showed how his star had slipped, but he gives a game performance. The script keeps things moving as well, and we see more of the Comic Relief Sidekick than actual Dick. As for the writing? High-larity unstinting:
Eventually Dick has to meet Dr. Learned to get some scoop on the gas, which leads to this convincing exchange.
And then there’s a chase and a gun battle and Franky McGruesome dies in a fire. But roll it back a little. Take a look at X-Ray here:
His name was Skelton. Skelton Knaggs. He had a brief career as a soft-spoken sadistic creepy guy until he boozed out his liver and died, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Spielberg and/or Lucase thought of Skelton Knaggs when they cast . . . this guy.