Harley Niav (“Vain” backwards) was a handsome and brilliant actor until he was disfigured in a car accident arranged by a jealous colleague. He underwent an experimental surgical technique created by Dr. Willis Carver to repair his face. The procedure was only slightly successful, Harley could change the shape of his face, but it soon reverted to a Putty like mess, hence his new nickname, “Putty Puss”.
Carver tried to conceal his mistake from the world by having Niav committed to a mental institution and Niav was actually was insane at this point, having been driven to madness by the loss of his career and handsome appearance. While in the hospital, he learned he could mold his appearance into nearly an appearance and murdered his psychiatrist Dr. Young, and took on the man’s features. He then left the hospital without incident.
Harley decided to become a bank robber, using his skills and his face to impersonate David Letterman, Ronald Reagan, Albert Einstein and even Tracy himself. After the robberies, Putty Puss went to the home of an old actor friend, Barry Moore who was rehearsing a new play co-starring Vitamin Flintheart. Putty Puss revealed to Moore that he knew he was the responsible for the car accident that disfigured him and revealed the his origin story at this time before killing Moore and taking 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 when Putty Puss’ face began to melt in front of the theatrical audience. Tracy climbed up on stage to apprehend the crimnal, and the two men fought with swords. Putty Puss cut a rope holding a sandbag, which dropped on Tracy knocking him senseless and Niav escaped.
Putty Puss then went to the office of his old high-society friend Franklin Strong. Strong was a media mogul and a candidate for president, and Putty Puss claimed to have evidence that Strong had murdered his wife for her fortune. Putty Puss didn’t want hush 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.
Putty Puss reappeared a year later and murdered his psychiatrist, Dr. Mitciv and kidnapped Dick Tracy. He held Tracy in recreations of old Dick Tracy death traps at Vitamin Flintheart’s wax museum, one of the attractions at the Land O’Plenty theme park. He was finally discovered and returned to jail.
The last time we saw Putty Puss, he was released temporarily from prison to judge a Make-up reality show doing a Dick Tracy episode. Harley tied up one of the contestants and took on the guise of Flattop Jones, firing on Dick Tracy before running. He escaped in a waiting vehicle, revealing a verbal tic he had acquired where he speaks in song lyrics when stressed. It was revealed he now had three hoods working for him, Winkin, Blinkin and Nod. Pouch came calling at Putty Puss’s hideout and demanded a payoff to keep from talking to police. Harley wisely paid him off.
Putty Puss didn’t lie low for long. When Winkin and Blinkin identified Cueball’s club as a hopping joint, Harley decided it was a prime joint to knock off. With the aforementioned two in the crowd, and Nod waiting in the back with the car, Putty Puss made himself up to look like the muscular Cueball and stole the nights receipts. However, Niav was unable to find the back entrance quickly enough and was caught by Cueball. The two fired on each other at the same time, Cueball was killed and Putty Puss was badly injured. His men were also arrested after a short shootout with Dick Tracy and Lizz would later find Harley bleeding on the ground and he went back to jail.