CREDITS: Written by Joe R. Lansdale, Alan Burnett and Michael Reaves; directed by Boyd Kirkland.
REVIEW: The episodes featuring simple mobsters have been as good as, sometimes better than, the ones featuring Batman's colorful villains. They usually play on Batman's noir pulp roots in a satisfying manner, and the real world feel the bring usually meant more adult storytelling. With the Ventriloquist, a character that might as well have been created in the 40s like the seminal Batman villains, but is actually a late 80s addition, we get the best of both worlds. A Prohibition era gangster who just happens to be the product of strange psychosis. The Ventriloquist and Scarface are split personalities, two voices coming from the same shared brain, ludicrous in that one is a dangerous wooden dummy who plans the best crimes and verbally abuses his men, the other the meek "hired hand" who is deathly afraid of his "boss" (as is the rest of the gang). Joe Lansdale's black humor makes the dynamic entertaining, with Scarface calling others dummy and telling the Ventriloquist not to put words in his mouth.
This is one of the darkest episodes yet, and only in part because of the lush shadow work in the animation (Batman could almost be wearing a black costume in some scenes, and there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Bat-entrance in Gordon's drafty office that uses the dark to its advantage). Scarface's hide-out is a creepy mannequin warehouse, and Batman is, at one point, hung over the sharpened fingers of storefront dummies with their arms extended upwards. It's quite violent, in fact. The gangsters have real guns, and those guns get fired. There's real tension when Batman tricks Scarface to turn on the Ventriloquist, absurdist mutual destruction. Scarface is "killed", riddled with bullets, as the Ventriloquist screams, traumatized. Even the opener, with the boxing match, while only a setting for the first crime, is one where you can feel the punches.
We are promised more Ventriloquist stories - they really shouldn't give Arkham inmates access to a workshop - and thankfully, they do materialize.
IN THE COMICS: The Ventriloquist is one of the most successful later-day villains in Batman's rogues gallery, created by Alan Grant, John Wagner and Norm Breyfogle in Detective Comics #583 (1988). He's pretty much exactly as you see him here, right down to his henchmen Rhino and Mugsy, though they do not try to reproduce his speech impediment. One of the boxers is named Mad Dog Ted, which may or may not be a reference to Ted Grant, Wildcat (probably not).
SOUNDS LIKE: The Ventriloquist and Scarface are voiced by George Dzundza, who also become the voice of Perry White. As Rhino, that's Earl Boen, best known as the criminal psychologist in the Terminator films. Mugsy is played by Joe Piscopo of Saturday Night Live infamy.
REWATCHABILITY: High - A great way to end that first, gigantic season. At the risk of losing readers for the next couple weeks, I will now make good on my intention to cover the year's worth of tie-in comics - to get a COMPLETE picture of the DCAU - before watching the next season of BTAS.