The Treasure of Captain Cannonsmoke
Afterword and Acknowledgements
[Note: the following contains "spoilers" concerning the fate of certain classic villains in the Dick Tracy comic strip.]
"The Treasure of Captain Cannonsmoke" was inspired by (and utilized) a number of elements both from the Dick Tracy newspaper strip and the UPA animated series from 1961. Though they shared the same names, the two mediums presented the characters in two very diverse ways. The team-ups of the villains, for example, never happened in the comic strip - each criminal instead had his own unique story. Many did not survive their first and only appearances in the strip.
As any longtime fan knows, Dick Tracy was once an incredibly popular newspaper strip, and I would like to bring to a new reader's attention just a few of the things that made Chester Gould's creation so popular, once upon a time. This is also an opportunity for me to show how the main characters in "The Treasure of Captain Cannonsmoke" originally appeared in the comic strip, long before any animated series existed.
Possibly the most famous Dick Tracy villain of all, Flattop Jones was a killer for hire. The mob recruited him to assassinate Dick Tracy, offering him $5,000 to do so (bearing in mind that this was back in the 40's). Flattop would have succeeded, but his own greed sabotaged him - after kidnapping Tracy, he contacted the mob and told them the price of the "hit" had been bumped up to $50,000, and he refused to finish the job unless he was paid in advance. This delay gave Tracy the time he needed to strike back. One thing led to another, and Flattop ended up drowning under a pier. His legacy continued for many years through his extensive family, notably with his lookalike son, Flattop Jr. - who was every bit as cold-blooded as his father.
B-B Eyes was a regular gangster whose forte was tire-bootlegging. At the time of his story this was a serious offense, since World War II was in full swing and rubber was a valuable commodity needed for the war effort. The unpatriotic B-B came to a sticky end after being arrested and handcuffed; he tried to make a break by jumping off of a dock and into a passing barge. Bad move - the barge was filled with refuse and sludge, and B-B Eyes may have suffocated before he even had a chance to drown when the barge dumped its load in the ocean. It was later revealed that B-B had a wife who was as crooked as he was, and an equally-villainous brother named B.D. Eyes.
Pruneface (originally spelled Prune Face) rivals Flattop in being the most well-known Dick Tracy villain (which is one of the reasons why I had them disliking each other in my fanfic). Another relic from WWII, he was a top Nazi agent. Pruneface ended up freezing to death at the end of his initial story. Many years later, however, in a story written by Max Allan Collins and drawn by Dick Locher, he was thawed out and resurrected by a Nazi scientist who was a cryogenics expert. (One hilarious scene had the newly-revived Pruneface looking at a picture of Ronald Reagan – the U.S. President at the time of the story - and saying, "Why, that isn't Ronald Reagan, that's my brother Louie!") After getting his revenge on Dick Tracy by trapping him in the freezing chamber and leaving him to die (the detective was later resuscitated, of course), Pruneface tried to escape on a chartered plane. However, his past war crimes finally caught up with him, and he was taken into custody - not by Tracy, but by a European secret agent. He spent a long time in prison and finally died - this time for good. There was also a Mrs. Pruneface (who was even more ghastly to behold than her hideous husband), but she met her end before Pruneface was unfrozen, after nearly doing Dick Tracy in with a particularly fiendish death-trap that he barely escaped from.
Itchy Oliver, who was relegated to the role of Pruneface's flunky and comic relief in the cartoon series, was actually a ruthless monster in the comic strip. He may have murdered more innocent people than any of the other villains named here - once he even arbitrarily killed a harmless cow! Teamed up with B-B Eyes' vengeful widow, he captured Dick Tracy and attempted to starve him to death, wanting the detective to suffer as much as possible before the end. When an emaciated Tracy managed to get the drop on him, Itchy tried to pull his gun but was cut down in a hail of bullets before he could do so. A rash character indeed, in every sense of the word. And yes, he really did have a brother named Twitchy, snipped from the same bolt of nasty cloth. I decided to go with the funnier animated version of Itchy for the fanfic, mainly because there were already enough "heavies" in the story, most notably the following...
The Brow is clearly another one of the most recognizable of Dick Tracy's foes. Like Pruneface, he was a Nazi spy - one who was not above using torture to force people to do his bidding. He was also a blackmailer and a murderer. Yet, even in the midst of all these serious doings, one of the strips funniest moments occurred when the injured Brow was found by lonely widow Gravel Gertie, who was immediately smitten with his appearance (the poor old woman had obviously been living alone for too long). She nursed him back to health, and the Brow, with his eyes bandaged, thought that she must be some beautiful angel of mercy. But when the bandage eventually came off and he finally got a good look at her, he ran away screaming! The Brow also lays claim to what is quite possibly the most spectacular death of any Dick Tracy villain. During a fistfight with Tracy on the top floor of a tall building, the Brow crashes through a window and plummets to the ground, ending up impaled on a flagpole with a bronze American eagle molded at the tip. They had to remove the flagpole with a derrick in order to collect the Brow's body. It was later revealed that the Brow had a son who developed a crush on Angeltop, the daughter of Flattop, but Brow Jr. was never quite as brutal or bloodthirsty as his infamous father.
A relative "latecomer" to the Rogues Gallery (he didn't appear until the mid 50's, while all of the other classic villains made their debuts in the 30's and 40's), Oodles was another hired hitman and an extortionist, who would charge his clients $1,000 per month indefinitely after making the kill for them. He really did weigh upwards of 467 pounds, and although he seemed concerned with reducing (he would take frequent steam baths and carried a "Calorie Counter" book with him), he just couldn't stop eating. While one might have expected that Oodles would have eventually dropped dead from congestive heart failure, he was killed in a shootout before this could occur. Unlike most of the other villains, he had no known relatives, wife or offspring. Paired up with the Brow in the animated series, the two of them made a sort of crooked Abbot & Costello-type team.
Another loner in the strip was Sketch Paree, an artist and clothes designer gone horribly wrong. In the comic strip, Sketch wasn't just evil - he was completely insane. He kept a toy doll he called "Baybee" with him, and talked to it as though it were alive. He murdered those whom he felt had wronged him (often being mistaken in his assumptions), and designed a frightful means of doing so: he would don a sponge mask soaked with water and grab his victims in a deadly embrace, crushing their faces into the mask until they drowned. He met his end in a manner similar to Itchy and Oodles - just as he was attempting to claim yet another victim, who fortunately was saved in the nick of time. In the cartoon show, Sketch wasn't crazy, but he was definitely one of the more sinister villains. (I always thought that the design of the Dracula character in the "Groovy Goolies" show from the 70's was based on the way the animated Paree looked - white face, pointed nose and chin, blood-red bow tie and all.) And he did use hypnotism to commit crimes in more than one episode of the animated series. It was the Mole who was the comedy relief of this particular team...
In the newspaper strip, the Mole was something of an anomaly. First, he was never killed, not even "temporarily." Second, he ended up becoming that very rare breed of Dick Tracy character: the Reformed Villain! One would not have guessed it from his initial comic strip story, where he was introduced as a greedy, cretinous miser, dwelling underground and offering shelter to other criminals - for a fee, of course. Although he carried a gun, his most fearsome weapons were his strong, hairy hands, though the only ones he succeeded in murdering with them were the other criminals who thought that they could double-cross him. He did attempt to strangle Dick Tracy at one point, but he was no match for the ace detective in hand-to-hand combat. Amazingly, after the Mole was arrested and put in jail, Tracy not only forgave him, but even went so far as to give him a care-package on Christmas Day. The Mole was so touched by this random act of kindness that he was moved to tears. 19 years later he was released from prison, an older and wiser Mole, and he tried to keep his granddaughter Molene from following the same road to crime. Unfortunately, he was not successful, and Molene was killed when a caper went wrong. Again, the sensitive Mole was shown crying. When last seen in the strip, the Mole - now a white-haired old man - had taken up farming, working in the soil with his hands "like any good mole!"
Now we come to the two characters who were (for the most part) the main focus of my fanfic. As such, I'm going to go into a little more depth with their comic strip biographies, mainly because they both happen to be my favorite Dick Tracy villains...
Chronologically, Stooge Viller was the oldest of the criminals included in this fanfic. He made his debut in 1933, and resembled a typical gangster of that era. (I find it interesting that while Stooge bore a strong physical resemblance to Edward G. Robinson, the creators of the animated cartoon resisted the temptation to make him sound like the latter, giving that type of voice to B-B Eyes instead.) Stooge lived up to his title of "King of Pickpockets" when he succeeded in planting counterfeit money in Dick Tracy's wallet and jacket, all without the detective ever noticing what was going on until it was too late. This nearly ruined him - Tracy lost his job and the trust of his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart. Stooge would have won if he just hadn't decided to push his luck by courting Tess - he even went so far as proposing to her! But Tess finally found out what Stooge had done and tried to notify the police, and the con man promptly shot her (non-fatally, fortunately). By the time Tracy caught up with Stooge, the ace detective wasn't about to waste a bullet on him - he wanted to extract retribution with his fists! After receiving the beating of his life, Stooge was sent to prison.
But his story was far from over. Joining forces with fellow inmate Steve the Tramp, Stooge staged a cunning jailbreak and soon the two of them were wreaking havoc all over the countryside. The pair didn't really get along well though, and inevitably there was a parting of the ways after they returned to the city. Driven by a thirst for revenge against Tracy, Stooge intended to kidnap Junior, Tracy's adopted son who had recently been reunited with his real father. But Junior's blind father lashed out with his cane when Stooge tried to take the boy away at gunpoint. The gun went off accidentally, killing Junior's father and making a murderer out of Stooge. (He later told Maxine, his equally-crooked sister, "I didn't mean to plug the old man!") After a few more misadventures, he was apprehended by Tracy and sent back to prison, where the first thing he did was get into a fistfight with his old partner, Steve the Tramp.
This time he served his full sentence - a mere six years (I guess the murder charge was ruled out as an accident after all) - and when he was released from prison, he still had revenge on his mind. And he very nearly succeeded this time, too - trapping Dick Tracy in an old well out in the middle of a deserted area and leaving him there to perish. Tracy managed to escape from the well after a couple of days, but he was so weak and exhausted from his ordeal that he collapsed in a ravine before he could find help. A young girl scout found him there and summoned aid for him. The story made front-page news in the local paper, and Stooge was thunderstruck to discover that the girl scout's name was Binnie Viller - his own daughter! Suddenly, revenge no longer became the driving force in Stooge's life; he wanted to see his daughter, to finally be a parent to her and to be loved back. But she rejected him completely, knowing all about Stooge's sordid past, and had nothing but fear and hatred for her criminal father. In misguided desperation, he kidnapped her - perhaps not the best way to prove that he intended to mend his ways.
Dick Tracy soon tracked them both down, and once again the two of them battled each other barehandedly - only this time Stooge gave back as good as he got, fueled as he was by the thought of having his daughter taken away from him forever. During the scuffle, Binnie picked up Stooge's gun and threatened to shoot her own father. That was when Stooge made his final, fatal mistake: he tried to kick the gun out of her hand. As before with Junior's blind father, the gun went off accidentally, only this time it was Stooge who was shot. Mortally wounded, he staggered towards the river in his second suicide attempt, though probably all he wanted to do at this point was simply hurry things along ... Dick Tracy snatched him back from a watery grave, but the damage was done and not even a doctor could save him now. From his hospital bed, Stooge reconciled with his tearful daughter, and he even made peace with the detective who had been his arch-enemy for so long; his dying wish being that Tracy would look after Binnie after he was gone. "You're okay, flatfoot," he said softly as they shook hands for the first and last time. Thus did Stooge Viller find redemption in the final moments of his life.
A number of years after the passing of Stooge, Mumbles made his first appearance in the newspaper strip, along with a small gang of three other singing hoods that all together formed the "Mumbles Quartette." Their racket was playing concerts at rich society functions and stealing everything they could lay their hands on in the process. Mumbles was engaged at this time to Kiss Andtel, a girl who was prone to weeping and fainting. When she found out her fiancé was a crook, she did more than just cry or pass out - she promptly broke off the engagement. In revenge, Mumbles stole her car and took it for a joyride with his three cronies. When a motorcycle cop pursued them, Mumbles told one of the guys (who was able to understand him) to toss a seat cushion into the motorcycle's path. The order was carried out, the cop crashed and burned, and Mumbles suddenly had a murder rap on his hands (even though he wasn't the one who threw the car seat).
The death of the traffic cop attracted the attention of Dick Tracy, but he could find no evidence to convict Mumbles and his gang. Up to this point, Mumbles had kept the lion's share of the loot taken from the group's various heists, but after the cop-killing, the other three threatened to squeal on him if he didn't dole out the spoils equally. Mumbles pretended to comply, but he was already making plans to get rid of his troublesome cronies. His plan invovled a party on board a chartered yacht and some sticks of dynamite. While the other members of the Mumbles Quartette caroused and sang, their leader lit the fuse and escaped in a rubber life boat. (Sound familiar? It should - this story was really what inspired me to write "The Treasure" in the first place; I had wondered how this scene would have worked if it had been used in the animated series, and the rest of the idea developed from that point on.) Dick Tracy arrived on board, found the dynamite and tossed it out the window before it exploded. Mumbles, meanwhile, was lost at sea and was presumed to have drowned after his rubber raft was punctured by a broken oar handle.
It wasn't until approximately eight years of real time later that Chester Gould finally revealed what had actually happened to Mumbles, in his second story featuring the inarticulate criminal. Apparently, he was rescued at the very last minute when a passing yacht found him. The owner of the yacht, an elderly but robust wealthy health food and exercise freak named George Ozone (his all-too-often repeated catchphrase being "You wouldn't think that I was 84 years old, would you?") earned him the gratitude and servitude of Mumbles. George lived in Jamaica where he had fathered two sons after a dalliance with one of the native women, who later died under unknown circumstances. Too "busy" to raise his kids himself, George put Mumbles to work and made him their tutor (and one could hardly imagine anything more ludicrous than Mumbles as an English tutor!). As a result, the boys (known as Neki and Hokey for their constant utterances of "Neki Hokey!") grew to be wild and undisciplined and talked with the same sloppy speech habits as Mumbles. They loved their "tutor," though, who admittedly became more of a father-figure to them than their real dad. Mumbles himself showed a surprising tolerance for their antics, allowing them to clamber all over him and maul him with their rough displays of affection. The three of them even made music together, using Jamaican-style instruments.
With a steady job and the ability to play and perform whenever he felt like it, Mumbles might have possibly given up his life of crime, had he been allowed to stay in Jamaica. But George Ozone wanted to market his newly-developed health pills in the U.S., and thus he brought Neki, Hokey and Mumbles back there with him. That's when the trouble began anew. The wild boys accidentally set fire to the shack they were living in while Mumbles was away, and ended up in the hands of the police, who took them to a juvenile home. George Ozone (who had a stately seaside mansion that he wouldn't allow his own sons to stay in, for fear that they'd wreck the place) ordered Mumbles to go to the police and get Neki and Hokey back. Mumbles rather understandably declined this request - after all, he was believed to be dead, and with the old cop-murder charge still lurking in his past, he didn't dare go to the police station. George finally went to pick them up himself. Meanwhile, the police were rather nonplussed over the whole business, and Dick Tracy was starting to get suspicious as he listened to Neki and Hokey's strangely familiar mode of speech.
To make the rest of this long story short (which is a shame, since this is my most favorite Dick Tracy story ever), Mumbles dug up a hidden fortune by the sea, strapping the 100+ pound cask of treasure to his back while both the tide and a dense fog were rolling in. By this time Dick Tracy had nearly caught up with Mumbles, and the two of them met in the thickening fog and the rising tide. After a brief, one-sided scuffle, Tracy collared Mumbles and signaled for a helicopter to pick them both up via a cable, since the fog made it impossible for either of them to find their way back to shore. But halfway up to the copter, the leather sling attached to the cable broke under the weight of the two men and the heavy cask. Down they fell, Tracy landing in the water, shaken but unhurt. Mumbles wasn't so lucky. With the cask still strapped to his shoulders, he landed headfirst and drowned in six feet of water, held down by the weight of the cask and unable to free himself from the harness strap.
That was really supposed to be the end of him, and for 20 years Mumbles was not mentioned again. Chester Gould retired from the strip in 1977, and author Max Allan Collins took over writing the plots, while Rick Fletcher did the artwork. Gould was still alive to act as a consultant when Collins came up with a means by which Mumbles could have survived drowning a second time. It seems that Mumbles had studied yoga breathing techniques while he was with George Ozone, and could hold his breath for an unusually long time, simulating death. Attempting to pass himself off as his own "clone" (another long story there), he underwent plastic surgery to make himself look 20 years younger. Dick Tracy wasn't fooled, however, and the third Mumbles story ended with the blond-headed criminal finally being placed behind bars to serve what was presumably a life sentence, mumbling incoherently to himself.
But sometimes you just can't keep a bad man down - or in jail. Mumbles has continued to make appearances in the strip, the most recent being in 2012, still unrepentant and up to no good. Will he ever reform, or be killed off for good? Somehow, I doubt it, on both counts...
And not to forget Cheater Gunsmoke, a villain who was created solely for the UPA cartoon show, appearing in only two of the 130 episodes made for that series. Though Chester Gould did not invent him, there has been some speculation as to whether Cheater was actually supposed to have been an animated caricature of Gould, his true identity forever hidden by a cloud of cigar smoke. Note that they had the same initials, and that "Cheater" and "Chester" are but a single letter apart from each other. Also, Gould was originally from Oklahoma, which is close enough to Texas to make Gunsmoke's accent an appropriate one.
And now for a list of people whom I'd like to thank for one reason or another. My grateful thanks to the following:
To Mike Curtis, for wanting to serialize this story on Plainclothes before he and Joe Staton took over as writer and artist for the current Dick Tracy strip.
To my brother Scott, for always encouraging me to write fanfic.
To BassmanBob, for inspiring me with his own hilarious creative writing.
Lastly, to my husband Mike, who will probably never read this story because he doesn't like fan fiction; yet he was the one who turned me on to Dick Tracy with his collection of books featuring the classic strip reprints and his own fondness of the animated UPA cartoon series, which I never would have seen (and thus never would have written this fanfic) had it not been for him.