Tuesday, March 6, 2012
YEAR 1945: BREATHLESS MAHONEY
Thanks to the 1990 Warren Beatty film, Breathless Mahoney is probably the best known of DICK TRACY's femmes formidables. Unfortunately, in the original comic strip she's something of a small-timer, like the strip's first noteworthy villainess Larceny Lu.
Breathless starts out as being derivative of another TRACY villain, as she's the stepdaughter of a extortionist named Shaky. After Shaky dies Breathless finds his body and eventually discovers his hidden cache of money. In a testimony to the perils of being brought up wrong, Breathless and her mother contend over their right to the money; Breathless wins but her mother shoots and wounds her daughter. During her flight from the law she kills one unfortunate individual and knocks out Dick Tracy with drugged coffee. Her most notable accomplishment, however, is not any particular crime but the fact that through her the reader first encounters the most long-lived comedy relief character in the TRACY strip: the pestiferous-looking hillbilly B.O. Plenty.
Strangely, at this time Chester Gould did not have any intention of positioning B.O. as an ongoing character. When Breathless and B.O. fall out over the coveted money, B.O. strangles her, and though she doesn't die it's not for his lack of trying. Shortly later B.O. himself is hijacked by crooks who torture him until he gives up the dough, and then send him on a one-way trip to the city-sewers. He and Breathless survive, however, and B.O. later becomes ensconced as a regular character. Breathless, dying in a hospital, briefly tries to implicate B.O. in her crimes just at the time he's scheduled to marry his love Gravel Gertie, but the hard-luck dame gives in at the last minute, exonerates the hillbilly and kicks the bucket.