DCAU #55: Read My Lips

IN THIS ONE... Batman meets the Ventriloquist (and Scarface).

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.

8 comments:

American Hawkman said...

The tie-in comics are often as good as the episodes... the Penguin-as-mayor arc would likely be the best stories either the Penguin or the Riddler would get during the decade.

Siskoid said...

Definitely looking forward to reading or re-reading a lot of these. But since they aren't as readily available to most readers (even if you don't own the shows, you might have a good memory of them), I always expect a drop-off, at least the comments, when moving beyond the TV show reviews.

LiamKav said...

I remember one of the aim's of Spider-Man's "Brand New Day" relaunch was to create new villains. There were compaints that they were using the same old guys over and over again. The comment here about The Ventriloquist not being created until 1988 makes me realise that the Batman franchise has been more successful than most in creating new characters and concepts. Since Batman '66, we've had at least:

1960s: Poison Ivy (I think she was created JUST too late to be in the show)
1970: Ra's Al Ghul, Talia, Man-Bat, Maxie Zeus
1980: Deathtroke the Terminator (giggle), The Ventiloquist, Killer Croc
1990: Bane. Harley Quinn
2000: Professor Pyg. Hush (I hate him, but he's popular). Damian Wayne (as an actual character).

All of those have been used in other media, whether it's BTAS, or the Arkham games giving us a Proessor Pyg set of missions. It's much more refreshing than the impression I get of Superman using Luthor or Zod or Luthor over and over again and sometimes Doomsday and then Luthor again.

Siskoid said...

Even a C-lister from Brave and the Bold like Copperhead is better than a lot of post-BND villains, but I'll give them Mr. Negative, Overdrive and Clash.

Anonymous said...

No break for X Files Season 10?

Siskoid said...

There will be breaks, I'm not sure when they'll be exactly.

But as far as time of year goes, this Feb-March is a terrible time to add to my schedule with 40+ minute-long episodes (where BTAS is taking 10-20 minutes an "episode" and is helping greatly).

LiamKav said...

A lot of the BND villains aren't great, but I do appreciate the effort (and it was deliberate) the writers made not to just use the same old villains over and over again. And the new guys weren't just "ultra hardcore beat up the old guys to show hoe extreme they are, either".

On the episode itself, I never realised until just now that Scarface and the Ventriloquist are the same guy. Amazing. And hey, we get a Zatara reference! The producers may have started off just making standalone episodes, but the continuity continues to increase year by year.

I loved the fact that Batman's tactic for fighting Rhino was a perfect replica for every single video game fight against THE Rhino... ineffectual punches, followed by waiting for him to charge and then leaping out of the way at the last second. If I never play another Spider-Man game that has that boss fight in...

Oh, and I really want to live in a world where a major newspaper uses the phrase "well co-ordinated" in its main headline. Gotham is a classy place.

LiamKav said...

One thing, apparently there was a discussion amoungst the writers as to whether to give Scarface the speech impediment. I'm glad they didn't, but (maybe because I saw this version first) it means I've never been able to take the comic version seriously.

 

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