A continuity error is a phenomenon that is common in long-running fiction series. A continuity error occurs when a piece of information conflicts with a previously established piece of information.
Chester Gould rarely planned his storylines far in advance. As a result, several errors in continuity have appeared in the history of the strip, from both Gould and subsequent creative teams.
- Chief Brandon's first name has been given at different times as being "John" or "Jim" or "George". At one point, he signed a document as "G. R. Brandon". The G could stand for George, but there's no J initial to stand for John or Jim, and nothing to indicate what the R is supposed to stand for.
- The criminal Duke is shown in several panels with a automatic pistol which changes in succeeding panels it is a revolver.
- Agent 20 is shown in one panel with a automatic pistol, and in the next panel it is a revolver. Likewise, his escape hatch is shown to be padlocked on the inside after a failed escape attempt, yet the Police are able to break the lock from the outside.
- The name "Shorty" is used for 2 of Measles' henchmen, one Tracy recognizes and identifies as "Shorty the Dip", the other is the driver of Measles' car, whom Measles had previously called "Barny".
- When Itchy fatally shot Elia Mahoney in the daily strip, it's said she was "killed instantly", but in the next Sunday strip, it's said she survived being shot long enough to tell Tracy that Itchy was holding B.O. Plenty captive and give Tracy Itchy's address before she died. The idea that Mahoney told Tracy Itchy's address is the only explanation given for how Tracy was able to track Itchy back to his apartment.
- When Pruneface was brought back from the dead in 1983, it was claimed that he had frozen to "death" only to be revived by Dr. Kryos Freezdrei by un-thawing him. Upon being revived, Pruneface claimed his last memory was of aiming his gun at Tracy from a second story window, implying that was when he was frozen. But in the original story, while Pruneface had aimed his gun at Tracy from a second story window until it got so cold for him that he dropped his gun, but he was still conscious and talking when Tracy arrested him. His death was mentioned a few months later without specifying how he died.
- In 1985, Tracy recalls a Wartime story of his never before revealed "first" face-to-face encounters with four of his most infamous villains- Shaky, Flattop Jones Sr., Pruneface, and Mrs. Pruneface- that took place before the original stories introducing these villains. This flashback story results in several major continuity errors.
- During this story, Tracy and the other police use the 2-Way Wrist Radio, and Junior has a meeting of his Crimestoppers Club- two concepts that weren't created until after all four of the above villains' original stories had finished.
- Pat Patton is present for Shaky's initial arrest and interrogation, though in Shaky's original story, Shaky briefly met Pat when he successfully tricked Pat and Police Chief Brandon by posing as Snowflake Falls' father. This ruse could only have worked if Pat had not previously met Shaky.
- Tracy briefly meets Flattop in this story during a gunfight. Before that, he and Pat are shown looking at a photograph of Flattop from their police files. But in Flattop's original story, Tracy doesn't recognize Flattop when they first meet, and Tracy asks Flattop who he is.
- Tracy directly meets Pruneface in this story and knows who he is. But when Tracy and the police first hear of Pruneface in his original story, Pat exclaims, "Now if only we knew what he looks like". While it's never directly stated, it's implied that Tracy doesn't know what Pruneface looks like either until after Mrs. Trueheart takes a picture of him.
- Tracy also meets Mrs. Pruneface in this story and is told she's Pruneface's wife. But in Mrs. Pruneface's original story, Tracy doesn't recognize her when she abducts him and he asks her who she is.
- During the "Death of Mary Steele" storyline, Dick Tracy specifically states that Steve the Tramp had passed away. During a later storyline, Steve was shown to be alive and working at a local soup kitchen. This is briefly mentioned in the story when Steve meets up with Junior Tracy. Junior points out to Steve that his death had been reported, and Steve dismisses the report as incorrect.
- The 1994 "Death of Mumbles" storyline by Mike Kilian includes several continuity errors. It disregards Mumbles' previous 3 appearances in the strip and presents Bonnie Tracy as high-school aged, when she had previously been shown living on her own and working as a teacher.
- Mumbles' death has since been ignored by the later creative team of Mike Curtis and Joe Staton. They have also undone the aging of Joe Tracy, who is now shown to be pre-adolescent when he had previously been presented as being in his early teens.
- Prunella has been identified as being Pruneface's daughter AND his granddaughter (with subsequent confusion about Prune Hilda's relationship as well).
- In 2014, Dick Tracy's father's name was given as "Chet", when it had previously been established as "Richard".
- A continuity error is not the same thing as a plot device, contrivance, coincidence or implausible occurrence.
- Likewise, a speedy recovery from a supposedly serious injury is not necessarily a continuity error.
- A continuity errors can be "undone" through the application of retro-active continuity, also known as a "retcon".
- A flawed or faulty premise (as in "Why would a character do something so complicated or illogical?") does not qualify as a continuity error.