November 11th, 1969 (as "The Apparatus")
The Apparatus is a powerful, well-organized criminal enterprise. They have influence worldwide, and many of their operatives have encountered Dick Tracy.
The Apparatus' Formative Years
From Dick Tracy's first case, in which the newly-appointed detective attempted to rescue Tess Trueheart from the City's most powerful crime kingpin (Big Boy), there were indications that some sort of national organized crime cartel was weaving itself into the fabric of American society. Dick Tracy would spend considerable time attempting to thwart the schemes of this organization throughout his career.
Big Boy's gang operated in Tracy's city and throughout the surrounding metropolitan area, but had contacts all across the country. It was through such contacts that, for example, Big Boy's gang was able to import Stooge Viller from New York City to Tracy's city. Numerous attempts to kill Tracy had failed, so Viller attempted to frame Tracy on a counterfeiting charge, thus jeopardizing Tracy's law enforcement career. Tracy was able to clear his name and Viller was jailed.
Some time later, "Cut" Famon and his brother "Muscle" would use the suburb of Homeville as a base for controlling the gang's operations. They would be thwarted in this by Dick Tracy, who was appointed temporary Police Chief by the reform government that had been recently elected.
Later cases would indicate how far-reaching this national organization was. For example, Krome, a professional contract killer from the east, was part of an organization then identified as "Crime, Inc."
Additionally, James “Trigger" Doom, working under Big Boy's apparent successor, Czar Rennis, was assigned to extend the local gang's reach to rural areas downstate, and particularly to the small village of Georgetown, where Constable Ferret was in charge of the small local police force.
The Apparatus in the 40s
Throughout the 1940s, Dick Tracy found himself dealing primarily with criminals who operated independently, seemingly with no connection to a larger organization. He was also often involved with wartime concerns.
It is possible that Shoulders' network of thieves and pickpockets (as well as his influence peddlers in local government) had some connection to the remains of Big Boy's operation, but this has not been confirmed. Likewise, the group of "black marketeers" who hired Flattop to kill Dick Tracy may have had connections to a larger criminal organization, but this was not explicitly stated.
The Apparatus in the 50s
By the 1950s, the organized crime in Tracy's city had been taken over by a shadowy figure known as "The King". When the wife of Fortson B. Knox (one of the King's subordinates) decided to turn state's evidence in an attempt to get a reduced sentence for having killed her husband, she revealed to Tracy that her husband had been a major figure in what she called "the Syndicate". While simultaneously trying to track down Crewy Lou (who had robbed the Knox home), Tracy was gathering evidence that would lead to the King's conviction. The King became the first in a series of major crime bosses, each one succeeding the other, whom Tracy would face throughout the 1950s.
The King was followed by George "Mr. Crime" Alpha, who was revealed to be the "boss of all crime in America" rather than only in Tracy's locale. Upon Alpha's death, his seat at the national commission was occupied by Odds Zonn for a short time. Zonn, in turn, was followed by William "Willie the Fifth" Millyun. Each would clash with Tracy, and each was defeated.
In the late 1950s, Popsie's Mother would purchase Headache's slot machine factory on behalf of the Syndicate, which was heavily involved in illegal gambling. She had had a long association with the Syndicate and feared violent reprisal for failure. The Hardly brothers and their father were also high-ranking members of the Syndicate, apparently.
The Apparatus in the 60s
The 1960s were similar to the 1940s, inasmuch as Tracy often found himself occupied with other concerns (often Moon-based) rather than with a large criminal organization. Mr. Bribery used methods similar to the Apparatus, but he was apparently not a member since his later group The Black Hearts acted as a threat to the Apparatus' sovereignty in the underworld.
Dick Tracy referred to a criminal "apparatus" during his investigation of Purdy Fallar's efforts to steal gold from the moon and transfer it to Mr. Intro. It is possible that Mr. Intro (and his daughter) were affiliated with "the Syndicate" - as evidenced by his use of a "board of directors" and the significant resources that were available to him - but this was not stated specifically.
The Apparatus Reveals Itself
Late in 1969, the term "The Apparatus" was regularly used to describe a specific criminal cartel. The Apparatus wanted to extend its criminal reach to the Moon. Knowing of Tracy's friendship with Diet Smith (whose corporation was heavily involved in lunar industrial and business operations), the Apparatus decided to take the extreme measure of putting out a contract on Tracy. The Apparatus assigned two of its most adept hit men, Two-Finger and Nick the Assassin, to the job.
First, an attempt was made to fire-bomb Tracy's home. The assassins succeeded in burning down the residence. Tracy survived, though he was temporarily blinded. When Tracy proved to be almost as effective while blind, a second attempt was made. The assassins' plan was to shoot Tracy as he walked through a local park. Tracy, whose sight had returned by this time, had been alerted to the imminent attempt. Tracy managed to kill his would-be murderer in the ensuing shoot-out, using a rifle that had been camouflaged to look like a blind man's cane. The members of the Apparatus's governing board (who had been observing from their car) were later killed while attempting to escape.
It was not made clear in this sequence whether the Apparatus was the same organization as "the Syndicate" with which the above-mentioned mobster kingpins had all been affiliated, or if it was a completely independent organization. The affiliation of Big Boy and the King (see below) would lend credence to the theory that the Syndicate and the Apparatus were synonymous terms.
Big Boy's Open Contract
The "Apparatus" term would be used again when Big Boy was released from prison on compassionate grounds. Big Boy had been informed that he had only a few months to live, due to a heart-related malady. It was now revealed that Big Boy's local gang had been a subsidiary of "the national crime syndicate", and that he had been the most influential and powerful figure on the national commission.
It was further revealed that "The Apparatus" was a term sometimes applied to "the national crime syndicate." In other words, it was one more way of referring to that criminal cartel that was already been known variously as "The Mafia," "La Cosa Nostra," "the Mob," "the Syndicate," "the Organization," etc. The local branch of the Apparatus in Tracy's City would sometimes be referred to as "Big Boy's Outfit," or simply "The Outfit."
Big Boy no longer wielded the same amount of influence over the national Apparatus, or even the local Outfit, that he once had. He would complain about his reduced status of only having "one vote" on the National Commission. Big Boy blamed Dick Tracy for this diminished status, and he craved revenge. He knew that the Apparatus was reluctant to put out contracts on police officers, particularly over issues of personal vengeance.
Though Big Boy no longer wielded the power he once did, he was still quite wealthy. He had also secured the personal loyalty of the Strong brothers, who acted as his agents and connection to local low-level criminals. Through them, Big Boy issued a one million dollar bounty to anyone who could kill Dick Tracy, thus bypassing the authority of the Apparatus.
After several attempts were made on Tracy's life, Tracy vowed to the press that he would wage "open war" on the Apparatus by transferring from his position as head the Police Department's Detective Bureau and taking over the Organized Crime Bureau. His message reached his intended audience and the upper-level members of the Apparatus visited Big Boy personally. They informed Big Boy that they would halt his Open Contract by countering it with another million dollar Open Contract on anyone who would attempt to murder Tracy.
However, both Tracy's efforts and those of the Apparatus had the opposite effect that they hoped it would. The challenge appealed to Johnny "The Iceman" Snow, a free-lance hitman. Snow believed that killing the "un-killable" Tracy while dodging the most powerful criminal organization in the world (thus earning himself enough to retire and live in luxury for the rest of his life) would be the crowning act of his career.
The Organized Crime Bureau's investigation of both Big Boy's Open Contract combined with an Apparatus hit on E.X. Reywal (a state's witness) led Tracy to believe there was a corrupt officer in the OCB hindering the investigations. He asked Chief Patton to put Lizz and Sam Catchem under his authority as fellow agents of the OCB to plug the leak.
After Snow was mortally wounded by Tracy in a shoot-out, he revealed everything he knew about the Apparatus and their connection to Reywal's murder (which Snow had committed). Snow then identified Inspector Price as the informant on the Apparatus' payroll.
The Big Boy, apoplectic over the failure of his plan, died in bed just as Tracy and Catchem were at his door to serve an arrest warrant.
The Apparatus's Further Operations
The Apparatus continued to operate multiple criminal endeavors. A few months after the death of Big Boy, an Apparatus agent worked with the art thief Art Dekko to arrange the sale of several stolen artworks.
The Apparatus had the District Attorney and members of the Police Commission on their payroll along with a few other city officials with ties to "solid citizens". When Chief Patton announced his impending retirement, he also declared his intention to reveal the corruption in his City's government in a book co-written by Kasper Hackett (an unscrupulous ghost writer). After Pat was later found shot and near death, Deputy Chief Climer took over and dismantled the Major Crimes Unit headed by Tracy. This was due in part to Tracy's launching a secret investigation of the DA and the Police Commission, which revealed their interaction with an Apparatus connection.
Patton eventually recovered, the corruption in the Police Department was revealed, and Dick Tracy returned to his position in the department. The Apparatus was weakened, but was still operational.
The next reported Apparatus activity was when the successful actress B.U. Tiffil was in town to appear in a play co-starring Vitamin Flintheart. An Apparatus operative proved to be involved in an attempt to extort money from the people behind her success.
In the early 1990s, The King was paroled and began operating as the "Godfather" to the Apparatus. He discovered that his girlfriend "Dirty" Harriet had become romantically involved with one of his high ranking enforcers O.Z. Recrofne. The two agreed to testify against the King in exchange for protection. They received cosmetic surgery, but then fled from the FBI's protection. They kidnapped a child actor to pose as their son and took up residence in a suburban neighborhood. The King devoted significant Apparatus resources to finding them, and he killed anyone who he thought might be aiding them.
O.Z. and Harriet were eventually found and were killed by two Apparatus hit-men (who were also shot and killed). Dick Tracy and the MCU were able to gather enough witnesses against the King to send him back to jail. This was a major blow to the Apparatus and they were not heard from for some time. Much of the serious crime in the city was committed by independent agents, though the Apparatus may have insisted on receiving a percentage of any profits obtained through criminal endeavor.
Underworld Challenges to the Apparatus
The Apparatus went unnoticed for some time. When the new Mr. Crime came to power, he arranged a meeting with several members of the Apparatus' upper-echelons. Mr. Crime's subordinate Panda informed them of his intentions to take over the local Outfit in the City. When one of the Apparatus men protested (the man wearing eyeglasses), Mr. Crime's enforcer Doubleup killed him with a whip. The other men acquiesced to Mr. Crime's arrangement and left peacefully.
Later, a new organization called The Black Hearts (whose ranks include the bizarre-looking Mr. Méliès as well as the Munro Brothers) attempted (with some success) to drive the local Outfit out of Tracy's City. The Black Hearts' ultimate goal was to usurp the position of the entire national Apparatus.
The two groups clashed at the Wheaten family farm, where B-B Eyes (who had come to occupy the late Mr. Crime's place on the Apparatus' governing board) and his 2 enforcers (Mumbles and Doubleup) attempted to support Hy Pressure's extortion efforts. However, the Apparatus members fled after Mumbles' violent encounter with Dr. Zy Ghote.
For a considerable period, this covert gang war was being waged without law enforcement's knowledge, but police detective Lee Ebony, returning from a deep undercover assignment, revealed the ongoing struggle between the two organizations to Tracy.
Additionally, the Black Hearts prepared to continue their aggression against the Apparatus by recruiting the vicious killer Abner Kadaver to murder high-ranking Apparatus members, including his former colleague B-B Eyes. Kadaver was able to recruit Eyes into the Black Hearts instead.
It was eventually revealed that the Black Hearts were successful in usurping much of the Outfit's operations. Méliès claimed that all of B-B Eyes' cartel had joined the Black Hearts, and only 2 Outfit members remained (this presumably refers to higher-ranking members of the Outfit).
Following the Fall of the Black Hearts, the Apparatus was shown to still be operating. They were engaged in industrial espionage at Diet Smith Industries, attempting to obtain the X-Ray goggles which ultimately fell into the hands of Specs. At this time, one of the members of the Apparatus council was addressed as "Mr. Notting", though he expressed a preference for being called Ace of Spades (this would tend to indicate that the 52 Gang had some affiliation with the Apparatus).
The targets of the vehicle-based assassinations committed by Rikki Mortis on behalf of Mr. Bribery were stated to be high-ranking members of the Apparatus, indicating that Bribery still intended to challenge the Apparatus' supremacy in the criminal underworld. Bribery was eventually arrested without having usurped more of the Apparatus' status, apparently.
In 2018, Cyrus Topper (a prominent underworld figure in Central City) attempted to form an alliance with the Apparatus in order to fight the Green Hornet. This brought the Green Hornet to the city, which attracted the attention of Dick Tracy.
Some time after that, a power struggle took place at the highest levels of the Appartus. Little Notting was killed and his identity as Ace of Spades was usurped by an unknown individual. This new Ace of Spades took on a leadership role in the oragnization and used Diet Smith's Time Drone to locate long-lost treasures that enriched the Apparatus. Ace was betrayed by his associate Briar Rose and the police raided Apparatus headquarters. Several members of the board of directors were arrested, but Ace of Spades escaped.
- Much of the back-story for the Apparatus is based on deductions made by the strip's former technical adviser Sgt. Jim Doherty. Sgt. Doherty has pieced together the history of the Apparatus based on specific references made in the strip, logical conclusions that can be drawn from those references, and comparing the events in the strip to analogous people and events from real life. It is considered to be canonical by the current creative team.
- In the Trusty Hubbub storyline, Trusty made reference to a "Gambling Syndicate". It is unknown whether this was connected to previous incarnations of "The Syndicate"
- In the Spready Spensive storyline, there are numerous references to a crime kingpin named "Etah". It is unknown whether he was connected to the Apparatus.
- Around the time at Ace of Spades was murdered and replaced, the governing council of the Apparatus was shown to have members who were more physically distinct, though they were still represented mostly in silhouette. They were a curly-haired woman, a bespectacled man, and a heavyset man who resembled Big Ace, but his identity has not been confirmed.