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Social Commentary was a recurring theme in the Dick Tracy comic strip, especially under the auspices of creator Chester Gould. Gould's commentary was rarely subtle, and tended strongly towards a "law and order" philosophy.

One of the recurring instances of this in the strip would consist of a guilty criminal who had been injured (either in the course of committing a crime or while attempting to evade capture) complaining that their constitutional rights had been violated.

While this theme was used as early as during the Boris Arson storyline, it became more prominent in Gould's later years. During that time, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down major decisions concerning due process to expand the rights of the accused such as the Miranda Decision (which required police officers to inform suspects of their constitutional rights before questioning).

Gould was criticized for letting his social commentary become excessive during the 1960s and 1970s. A repeated scenario in the strip would involve Tracy arresting a guilty criminal and then be forced to release the criminal, due to evidence being deemed insufficient and/or other legal technicalities. Tracy and his comrades would then be shown grumbling at how they were restricted in the ability to do their jobs.

Later creators would attempt to present a broader perspective, while still remaining true to the characters' viewpoints. For example, Max Allan Collins (Gould's immediate writing replacement) showed Tracy coming to accept the aforementioned due process reforms as a normal part of police work that he could manage with some reasonable care.

Some of the most common themes in the strip's Social Commentary are:

  • Juvenile Deliquency and its causes (see the cases of Larry Jones, Joe Period, Peanut Butter, etc)
  • Corruption, political as well as in other institutions
  • The Permissive Society
  • The Judicial System and its flaws (frequent reference was made to "Subverted Courts")
  • The Media
  • Taxation