The criminal known as Putty Puss was originally a handsome and successful actor named Harley Niav ("Vain" spelt backwards). He was involved in a car accident that left him horribly disfigured.
The Man of a Million Faces[edit | edit source]
He sought the care of the plastic surgeon Dr. Will Carver, who attempted an experimental treatment on him. Carver used a series of latex supplements and silicone injections to reconstruct Niav's face. The procedure was only partially successful, and after an hour Niav's features would "melt" into a misshapen, drooping mess. This earned him the nickname "Putty Puss", a name he despised.
Carver tried to conceal his mistake from the world by having Niav committed to a mental institution. Niav actually was insane at this point, having been driven to madness by the loss of his career and handsome appearance.
While in the hospital, Niav learned that he could "mold" his face to take on the appearance of others. He murdered his psychiatrist Dr. Young, and took on the man's features. He then left the hospital without incident. Upon escaping, Niav made several underworld connections, and planned to rob banks disguised as several well-known and prominent citizens. The members of his gang also took to calling him "Putty Puss", mostly behind his back but sometimes to his face.
The limitations to Niav's shape-changing ability were that his forms were all the same height, his voice remained unchanged (though he had some skill as a mimic), and after an hour his face would melt.
Turning to Crime[edit | edit source]
The first robbery that Putty Puss committed was in the disguise of police officer Sam Catchem. This brought him to the attention of Dick Tracy and the Major Crime Squad. Putty Puss then committed several more bank robberies, in a variety of disguises. During one, Tracy went in unarmed to negotiate the release of hostages. Putty Puss knocked Tracy out, took on his features and shot the members of his gang to keep them from identifying him. Putty Puss then went to the home of an old actor friend, Barry Moore. Moore was in rehearsal for a production of the new play "Sleuth" co-starring Vitamin Flintheart. Putty Puss revealed to Moore that he knew that Moore had been responsible for the car "accident" that had disfigured Niav, revealing the rest of his recent personal history in the process. Putty Puss then killed Moore and adopted his features.
Putty Puss took Moore's place in rehearsals, not knowing that Tracy was investigating the history of Harley Niav. Tracy was present on opening night when Putty Puss' face began to melt in front of the theatrical audience. Tracy climbed onto the stage to apprehend the criminal, and the two men fought with swords. Putty Puss cut a rope holding a sandbag, which dropped on Tracy knocking him senseless. Putty Puss escaped.
Putty Puss then went to the office of his old high-society friend Franklin Strong. Strong was a media mogul and a former candidate for president, and Putty Puss claimed to have evidence that Strong had murdered his wife for her fortune. Putty Puss didn't want money, but instead wanted to Strong to agree to put him in film and TV productions under a new alias. Strong agreed on the condition that Putty Puss should impersonate his political rival Diet Smith and publicly embarrass him.
Putty Puss held a press conference disguised as Smith and made many inflammatory and controversial political statements. Tracy was present and became suspicious. He punched "Diet" in the face, which absorbed his fist. His deception revealed, Putty Puss fled in Diet's helicopter. Tracy clung to one of the skids, but let go when Putty Puss started shooting at him. Tracy survived the fall and Putty Puss (who had damaged the helicopter with his gunshots) was forced to land. After a brief attempt at impersonating Tracy, Putty Puss gave up and was taken into custody. He agreed to testify against Strong.
The Return of Putty Puss[edit | edit source]
Putty Puss reappeared in 1989. He murdered his psychiatrist, Dr. Mitciv, and kidnapped Dick Tracy. He hid Tracy at Vitamin Flintheart's wax museum, which was one of the attractions at the Land O' Plenty theme park. There, he imprisoned Tracy in recreations of some of his most famous death traps. His ruse was discovered and he returned to the mental hospital.
Putty Puss re-surfaced years later, appearing (under the supervision of a guard from the mental institution) as a guest judge on a cinematic make-up TV reality show hosted by Christmas Early. He had acquired a verbal tic of speaking in song lyrics, especially when agitated or in the act of committing a crime. He still disliked being called "Putty Puss".
Putty Puss used his appearance on the show to arrange his escape from custody with the help of his henchmen Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod. He bribed the guard to change places with him and then impersonated one of the contestants. After a brief shoot-out with Tracy, Putty Puss made good his escape and went into hiding.
Putty Puss' henchmen advised him that the nightclub "Cueball's" would be a good target for a robbery. One night, while Winkin distracted Cueball, Putty Puss impersonated Cueball and stole the club's receipts. The deception was discovered, and Cueball engaged in a shoot-out with Putty Puss. Both men were shot, and Cueball did not survive. Putty Puss was treated and returned to police custody.
Conspiring with Notta[edit | edit source]
Some time later, Putty Puss was recruited into a scheme arranged by Notta Fallar. His release from the mental hospital was arranged, and he arrived at Notta's home, where he was met by Blaze Rize. By this time, Putty Puss' verbal tic had increased to the point where he seemed to speak ONLY in song lyrics. It is unclear if this was an affectation or a genuine indication of a greater mental breakdown.
Putty Puss altered his features to resemble Dick Tracy's. He then posed for a staged video that seemed to show Tracy engaged in a physical tryst with Notta. The video was then "leaked" to TV news reporter Wendy Wichel, who broadcast it, thus causing a scandal that embarrassed Dick Tracy and the police department.
Putty Puss went into hiding, not suspecting that Notta planned to betray him. Notta provided Putty Puss' location to Screwball, who was seeking revenge for the death of his brother Cueball. Screwball confronted Putty Puss, but both men were taken into custody by Dick Tracy and the MCU, who had tracked down Putty Puss' hideout. Putty Puss was presumably returned to the mental hospital.
Appearances in Other Media[edit | edit source]
Dick Tracy - The Secret Files[edit | edit source]
Putty Puss was a character in the short story "Old Saying" by John Lutz, which appeared in the short story collection Dick Tracy - The Secret Files. In the story, Putty Puss and some new allies seek a lost treasure.
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Putty Puss' origin and abilities are very similar to the Batman villain Clayface.
- It has not been explained how Putty Puss is able to duplicate people's hair and/or body type. It may be accomplished through wigs and padding (like Chameleon I), but he has not been shown using a great deal of paraphernalia.