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The New Batman Adventures – “Double Talk”

tnba double talkEpisode Number:  4 (89)

Original Air Date:  November 22, 1997

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Robert Goodman

First Appearance:  None

“Double Talk” brings back another villain from the first iteration of this show:  Scarface. For the first time in this animated universe, The Ventriloquist is also given a name:  Arnold Wesker. Scarface was last seen in the episode “Catwalk” when he was once again destroyed and Wesker was sent off to Arkham for rehabilitation. This time, it’s going to work and Wesker gets his own rehab story which would have fit in quite well with the back half of season two. And like all of the villains from the prior series, he comes with a redesign. The prior version of Wesker was a short, bald, middle-aged man with glasses. This version appears a bit taller and is even more bald than before. His hair is almost completely gone save for these Abe Simpson-esque stray hairs on the side of his head. His head is also no longer pear-shaped and looks more like a thumb. It’s hard to tell where the head ends and the neck begins. His glasses are also transparent now instead of opaque and beneath them are just two dots for eyes. He sports a more casual gray suit with no tie and an unbuttoned collar as opposed to a tuxedo. All in all, it seems like not much of a drastic redesign on paper, and yet he’s basically unrecognizable without his dummy.

Scarface is also redesigned trading his blue pin-striped suit for a white one. He has black hair now and his scar runs the whole length of his face even going over his eye. He’s ditched the cigar and his tommy gun is now basically a full-sized one instead of a custom, tiny, one fit for a dummy. He’s a bit bland compared with the prior version as overall his design has been greatly simplified, but again, not a huge difference really.

wesker's nightmare

Scarface is back and now the stuff of nightmares.

The episode opens at Arkham Asylum. Or at least it appears to. We soon see Wesker (George Dzundza) passing through a darkened doorway. He turns to regard a chest behind him, and it soon starts to bang around. He runs and the scenery grows more surreal as it becomes obvious we’re witnessing a nightmare. Soon the Scarface voice is heard emanating from the chest, and even Scarface’s old henchmen Mugsy (Townsend Coleman) and Rhino (Earl Boen) make an appearance. Wesker eventually wakes up in his cell and sits on the edge of his bed. He looks to a piece of paper on his nightstand which is an official declaration claiming he’s been rehabilitated.

arnold therapy

The Ventriloquist has a name and it’s Arnold Wesker.

The next day, Wesker meets with Dr. Leland (Suzanne Stone) and tells her about his nightmare. It’s good to see he’s not hiding it, but Dr. Leland is unconcerned. She tells him it’s natural for him to be experiencing some anxiety about his condition as he prepares for his reintroduction to society. She mentions he’s been healthy for six months which is all the state requires. Wesker is then shown moving into a halfway house that’s apparently owned by Bruce Wayne, or sponsored by him, as it’s called Wayne Gardens. The woman running the place, Mrs. Segar (Patty Maloney) shows him his room and mentions he has a job at Wayne Enterprises as well. Wesker theorizes he must have a guardian angel looking out for him, but the camera pans to reveal Batman listening in from the fire escape and it’s obvious who is really looking out for him.

bruce meets arnold

I wonder if he always greets the new employees.

Lucius Fox (now voiced by Mel Winkler replacing Brock Peters) and Bruce Wayne are at work overseeing the delivery of some bearer bonds (which you know are going to eventually be stolen). Wesker strolls by pushing a mail cart and Wayne introduces himself. He tells Wesker he should be proud of himself for his rehabilitation and Wesker says that he is, and comes across rather convincing. That night though, he looks concerned as he heads to the bus stop and justifiably so apparently. Mugsy and Rhino approach and ask where Mr. Scarface is. Wesker insists he’s gone and that he wants nothing to do with them, but they’re persistent. Batman then swoops in and goes after Rhino. The two trade punches and Mugsy makes a couple of attempts to get in some offense but is dispatched effortlessly. Wesker runs off, while Batman eventually gains control of the situation and warns the two that Wesker is off limits.

mugsy and rhino

Mugsy and Rhino are very dependent on and loyal to a dummy.

Wesker returns to his apartment and grabs a glass of water from the faucet. I assume it’s water, since it came from a faucet, but the liquid looks almost white and is opaque. Maybe Arnie should invest in a water filter when he gets that first pay check. He then hears Scarface taunting him and drops the glass causing it to smash on the floor. He assumes a rather pitiful position kneeling on the floor clutching his ears as he attempts to drive away the voice.

wesker park

What are the odds? I mean, really, how often do you ventriloquists in the park?

The next day, a somewhat refreshed looking Wesker is strolling through the park (be on the lookout for the very quick Lois and Clark cameo in the background). I think this is our first outdoor scene in the new show at daytime. The sky, and all of the surrounding buildings, are colored yellow instead of red and black to brighten the image. Wesker sees a man working a ventriloquist dummy for some kids (that’s one crazy coincidence) and of course Wesker sees Scarface’s visage when the dummy turns towards him. He then runs to catch his bus, but sees Scarface in the window and doesn’t get on. At work, he’s distant and unnerved as he pushes the mail cart and haphazardly delivers the letters to other employees. He eventually tips the cart over and as he picks up the mail he notices a letter addressed to Dummy. It’s a note from Scarface telling him to be at his phone at 9 o’clock. Wayne notices Wesker and tries to talk to him but he runs away leaving Wayne to find the discarded envelop on the ground.

phone booth

Kids watching this will say “What the hell is that?” and they won’t be talking about the dummy.

That night, Wesker sits nervously by his phone. Sure enough, it rings, but he lets the answering machine get it. What he hears is Mr. Scarface ordering him to pick up the phone. He does, and as he’s instructed that they’re getting the gang back together we see Batman listening in. Wesker can’t believe what he’s hearing, and Scarface tells him to look across the street. In a phone booth, the outline of Scarface can be seen further unnerving Wesker. Batman sees it too, but before he can get to it the dummy vanishes. He picks up its trail though and we get the somewhat comical visual of Scarface actually running from Batman and firing his gun as well. Batman chases him into a stone factory of some kind where it looks like statues are prepared. He spots Scarface high up on a structure, but as he gets to it he’s smacked with a swinging block of stone. The dummy fires from above at Batman and drops a statue on him for good measure. Batman is able to avoid serious injury, but Scarface escapes.

Batman is then shown filling Batgirl in on what happened back at the Batcave. She’s confused at how this could be happening, but Batman distinctly heard Scarface on the phone with Wesker. He’s forced to conclude that someone is posing as Scarface to try and bring the persona out from within Wesker, and there’s really only two suspects for who that could be.

scarface is back

It must feel good to get that whole forearm back in there.

We then see Wesker arriving home and shutting off the lights and closing his blinds. He rips the phone out of the wall in a bid to avoid Scarface entirely. Unfortunately, someone has placed a new Scarface dummy on his couch, and Wesker is unable to resist the temptation to pick the dummy up and return it to his left arm. He then heads to the old hideout and finds Mugsy and Rhino. They seem almost surprises at first, but Scarface is back and he’s got a job for them.

At a rather sad looking apartment building, a little person is shown heading for his apartment. He stops to swipe his neighbors newspaper and milk delivery before heading in and is soon confronted by Batman and Batgirl. It would seem this fellow is Hips McManus (Billy Barty) a small-time crook (no pun intended) who was hired to play Scarface by Mugsy and Rhino, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet. Johnny Tight-lips he ain’t, as almost without any effort from Batman he spills the beans on a job Scarface and the boys are to undertake that evening.

scarface leaves scar

Scarface likes to leave scars, it would seem.

And that job? Why the bearer bonds – what else? Scarface has Lucius Fox at gunpoint and forces him to open the vault where the bonds are being kept. Fox can’t believe a dummy is threatening him, and he makes the mistake of trying to ignore Scarface and talk to the others which earns him a smack across the face with Scarface’s gun leaving a mark on his cheek. Fox opens the vault, and is then knocked out for his troubles as Mugsy and Rhino grab what they came for. Batman and Batgirl then show up, but when Scarface holds Fox hostage, they’re forced to obey. Scarface locks them in the vault and tosses a ticking time bomb in there for good measure. With less than a minute to work with there’s no time to hack the electronic lock forcing Batman to get crafty. He rips off a vent cover (which seems like a pretty obvious security flaw for a vault) and fires his grapple gun down it. He then affixes the handle to the bomb and presses the retract button. He and Batgirl take cover as the bomb explodes deep within the ventilation system.

mugsy and rhino betrayed

Mugsy and Rhino finding out they ain’t so smart after all.

On the roof, Scarface and his boys are making their escape. As they head across a catwalk, Scarface orders the men to stop and toss him the bonds. Confused, they obey as they then stare down the barrel of Scarface’s tommy gun. He scolds them for trying to bring him out on their own. He claims he was laying low until the heat was off Wesker and then he was going to re-emerge, but these two forced his hand. He remarks that when the muscle starts thinking it’s the brain, it’s time to amputate. Then for some reason, maybe he just likes explosives, he opts to toss another bundle of dynamite at Mugsy and Rhino rather than just shoot them. It explodes destroying the catwalk the pair were standing on. They grab onto the remains as it swings towards the opposite building. As they hang precariously, only then does Scarface open fire.

weskers revenge

A Batarang knocks the dummy from Wesker as Batman and Batgirl jump in. Batgirl goes off to save the two clowns, while Batman works on reasoning with Wesker. Scarface orders him to take out Batman and retrieve him, and Wesker initially grabs the gun. As Scarface taunts him, and Batman pleads with him, Wesker hesitates, but eventually he turns the gun on Scarface. The dummy gets sucked into a giant fan destroying it once again.

Wesker is then shown at the apartment of Mrs. Segar. She mentions she’s glad he’s doing better and encourages Arnold to seek out the other tenants, maybe check out the rec room (sounds like an invite for something else, Arnie). Wesker mentions that Mr. Wayne gave him his job back, so I’m not sure if this is all immediate or following another stay at Arkham. Anyway, Wesker says he will take her up on the offer eventually, but for now he’s happy being alone for a change indicating he might finally be rid of Mr. Scarface.

bye bye scarface

The last we’ll see of old Mr. Scarface.

And what do you know? This actually is a happy ending for a change as Scarface will not be heard from again. Wesker apparently was able to rehabilitate himself and unlike, say Harley Quinn, was not discouraged by the setbacks he initially experienced. Which is a good thing as I was getting a bit frustrated with Batman while I watched the episode. He knew someone was just toying with Wesker, and yet he never told him. It felt like that would have solved a lot of problems right there. No matter, I suppose. This was actually a pretty well told story and early contender for best episode of The New Batman Adventures. It won’t remain that way as I know of at least one episode to come that I enjoy more than this one, but that doesn’t diminish this one in any way. Which is somewhat surprising as I’ve never been enamored with the Scarface character, but the show has found interesting things to do with him.

ventriloquist reformed

The first successful rehabilitation in the history of Arkham Asylum!

As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, the redesigns for Wesker and Scarface are not particularly drastic in principle, but they still look fairly different. Wesker in particular is almost unrecognizable when compared with his old design. I don’t really like this version and find him to be rather ugly. I’m not saying he is an ugly man, but rather there’s nothing stylistically about the character that I like. I do appreciate though that the animators didn’t play so fast and loose with the Scarface character this time. Every time a limb moves it’s clear that Wesker is doing it. Wesker’s lips still never so much as quiver when Scarface speaks, but that’s all right since he’s basically supposed to be the world’s greatest ventriloquist. I do miss Scarface’s little baby gun though. Also, it’s a nice touch that the two little people depicted in this episode, Mrs. Segar and Hips McManus, are voiced by actual little people. It’s also neat that a character like Mrs. Segar exists and her physical appearance isn’t a part of the plot at all. She’s just a little person. Though she might exist to offer a positive portrayal of a little person since a not so positive one existed within the plot in the person of McManus.

As for Scarface, I can’t say he’ll be missed, but he also wasn’t a dud like some of the other villains to come and go. He was fine and managed to contribute without overstaying his welcome. He was starting to become a bit too frequent a character in season two so I’m glad he won’t be utilized like that in this series. Ultimately, he did his job. And a lot credit goes to actor George Dzundza who is great in the role of both Wesker and Scarface. The two voices are so distinct that I assumed as a kid they cheated and hired two actors for the role. Unlike Scarface, the contributions of Dzundza will indeed be missed.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Catwalk”

Catwalk titleEpisode Number:  74

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1995

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Batman:  The Animated Series has done a great job of elevating some of Batman’s lesser known villains. It’s really a big part of the show’s legacy. And the well-established villains like Joker and Riddler did just fine as well. One notable exception though is Catwoman. Perhaps the most famous foil for the caped crusader not wearing clown makeup, Catwoman has struggled when finding herself on-screen. Her debut, which was the show’s broadcast premiere, “The Cat and Claw” established her character as a cat burglar with an animal rights activist bend. She stole to help fund her efforts there, and also for fun. She also instantly fell for Batman, who’s alter ego Bruce Wayne found himself infatuated with Selina Kyle, the alter ego of Catwoman – naturally. This dance played out over two episodes with Batman and Catwoman finding a common enemy in Red Claw before everything ended with Gotham saved, and Catwoman behind bars.

Since then, Catwoman has returned, but really only in the role of victim. She needs to be rescued by Batman in all three of her return engagements, though at least in “Almost Got ‘Im” she can boast that he was only returning the favor. It’s been a rather toothless portrayal for a character that should be able to stand on her own, be she thief or vigilante or something in between. And the show really couldn’t decide what she was. She’s basically another crime fighter in “Almost Got ‘Im” and I hypothesized during my write-up that she was shoe-horned into the role of Robin so that the episode could end with its punchline. Her character is left uninteresting by season one’s conclusion, and it’s clear she needs a fresh approach.

Enter Paul Dini. Dini did not receive a writing credit on any of Catwoman’s prior appearances, though as one of the credited show creators it’s likely he had some input on virtually every episode to air. This is his first real try at course-correcting the character and it’s one that is going to bring Catwoman back to her thieving roots. It’s a sorely needed direction, the only question being is the character worth salvaging at this point so late in the game?

sad selina

Selina misses her old life.

The episode opens at a museum exhibit. Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau) is staring forlornly at a stuffed leopard and thinking back on her life as Catwoman. She’s basically bringing the audience up to speed while placing some of the blame on her Catwoman-less existence for the first time on Batman, a common sentiment amongst his many enemies. Bruce Wayne and Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) are also attending the same function and approach Selina. Vreeland tries to make small talk by mentioning her grandfather donated much of the display, but that doesn’t sit well with Selina. She accuses Vreeland’s grandfather of hunting many of these animals to extinction. Suggesting this place isn’t for her, she leaves while Veronica and Bruce can only stare with mouths agape. Bruce catches up to her to admonish her for her rude behavior, but Selina seems to feel no shame or need to apologize for the cat in her. She thanks Bruce for inviting her along (Yup, he’s still barking up that tree, or maybe I should say scratching at that post), but tells him she doesn’t fit in here and takes her leave.

selina abducted

The gangster puppet is back again.

As Selina leaves a rather large individual grabs her and tosses her into an ominous black car. It’s Rhino (Earl Boen) who is apparently still in the employ of one Scarface. He and The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) are free from Arkham. If they were released or escaped, it isn’t explained. Selina is quite amused by the talking dummy, but Scarface has a job for her. Or rather, a job for Catwoman. Scarface wants to steal from the Vreeland family, and he’s apparently aware of Selina’s feelings towards them. Either he was spying on her just now or his intuition is remarkable. Selina is unable to resist the urge to not only get back at the Vreeland family, but also to be Catwoman once again. She takes the job.

Catwoman returns to the museum and is able to sneak in undetected. As she goes for the jewels, a so-called business partner has other plans. It’s Scarface and his crew, and they’re making a brazen assault on the museum by detonating some explosives inside, which not only attract attention, but foil Catwoman’s escape. The security, and eventually police, key-in on Catwoman forcing her to make a daring escape while Scarface and his men have a much easier go of things. It’s obvious now Scarface only wanted to use Catwoman as a cover, but for what purpose we don’t know.

batman and selina

He sure looks smug.

Catwoman is able to make it back to Selina Kyle’s penthouse. There she has a visitor in the form of Batman. Nothing happens in this town without Batman knowing, and he seems concerned for Selina. She makes up a story about wanting to return to the museum to apologize for her behavior earlier, and finding a robbery in progress, she decided to infiltrate the building as Catwoman in a bid to stop the perpetrators. Batman is insistent that she tell her story to the proper authorities and the two return to the museum. Once there, Catwoman notices that some rare extinct animal mounts are missing and assumes that’s what Scarface was really after. Batman can tell she’s not revealing the full truth. And just like that, the old Catwoman is back. She attacks Batman with what may be a kick to the Wayne family jewels, but the angle makes it unclear. It’s a good kick though since it gives her some time to ascend onto what appears to be a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. Batman meets her there, and the two make a pretty big mess and Catwoman ultimately escapes. Batman flees to the roof and pulls out a tracking device – he apparently bugged the Catwoman.

fighting on a whale

It’s been awhile since we had a good Batman vs Catwoman confrontation.

With Batman out-of-the-way, Catwoman is free to zero-in on her new prey:  Scarface. He’s holed up with his men at a sawmill and when we check in on him he’s speaking on the phone to The Penguin about a bird mount he swiped. Also with him is a rare Tasmanian Tiger that is being billed as the last of its kind. Catwoman enters, but not entirely successfully as the guards take her out. She ends up in a cliché, unconscious on a conveyor belt heading towards a whirling saw-blade. This time it’s her cat Isis who makes the save by licking her face to bring her to consciousness. She rolls away just in time, but now has Scarface and his men to deal with. She’s outnumbered and having a tough go of things, but Batman soon arrives to even the odds. He takes on Rhino, while Catwoman goes after Scarface.

catwoman captured

The artists always seem to find a way to get a butt-shot into every Catwoman episode.

She corners the maniacal puppet and his “dummy,” The Ventriloquist, in the command room of the mill. Scarface apparently never got around to reacquiring an adorable, tiny, tommy gun because he’s unarmed and unable to really do anything when confronted by Catwoman. She snatches Scarface from The Ventriloquist and tosses him on to the same belt she was on minutes earlier. She seems to enjoy how The Ventriloquist begs and pleads with her to let him help his beloved Mr. Scarface, but she’s not going to let that happen. He turns his back to her and grabs the Tasmanian Tiger and hurls it at Catwoman. When she moves he races in and shuts down the machine sparing his boss’s “life.” This proves to be a brief reprieve as Catwoman just pulls a crane release that drops a bunch of logs onto the machine smashing it, and Scarface, in the process.

bye byre mr scarface

The animators at Dong Yang do a great job of making The Ventriloquist look pained throughout his confrontation with Catwoman.

As The Ventriloquist weeps Catwoman smiles gleefully, but then things take a turn. She confronts The Ventriloquist with claws exposed and starts tearing at his clothes. When he insists that he and Scarface are two different people, she just reminds him that Scarface is locked inside him and her thirst for revenge has apparently not been sated by merely crushing the dummy. By now, Batman has finished tangling with the likes of Rhino and is able to put a stop to this. Catwoman insists he cease his actions so she can take her revenge on The Ventriloquist for costing her her freedom. Batman reminds her she did it to herself, and when he asks why she insists because she couldn’t live without being Catwoman. By now, the wreckage of Scarface has caught fire somehow and Catwoman tosses the Tasmanian Tiger into the middle of it (a Hell of a throw). She tells Batman he can’t let it burn because it’s priceless and the last of its kind. He apparently agrees as he swings in and snatches the mount from the flames, but by doing so allows Catwoman to escape. We cut her to her perched on a building and a voiceover from Catwoman declares she’s a cat who walks alone.

catwoman alone

I find it interesting that the title card of this episode is essentially a mirror image of its closing shot.

And so we have Catwoman essentially brought back to where she was when this series started. The only difference is the whole world knows who she is so she can no longer live the swanky lifestyle enjoyed by Selina Kyle. How she’ll manage to get by as a criminal on the run is a tale left for another day. For what this is, it’s successful and I do prefer a Catwoman who is a villain of sorts as opposed to an ineffective vigilante, or whatever she was. It will be a challenge to integrate her further into Batman’s foes, but it’s better than what had become of the status quo. As for Scarface, his use here was suitable. Some liberties were taken this time with his performance as one scene featured The Ventriloquist using both of his hands to manipulate Scarface’s arms, while his mouth continued to flap away. He was seated in The Ventriloquist’s lap so maybe he found a creative way to utilize another appendage? My only real issue with Scarface is the unexplained nature of his arrival on the scene. I get that it would be tiresome to always see how the villains manage to escape Arkham, but a throw-away line about The Ventriloquist getting a clean bill of health would have sufficed.

Batman, once again, proves how poor he is at managing Catwoman. Perhaps it’s an intentional weakness by the writers as even Catwoman points out he lets her get too close. I’m not sure I buy the concluding scene where Batman opts to “save” a dead and stuffed animal rather than apprehend a criminal. My own take on the scene is that Batman really didn’t want to arrest Catwoman, and when given an out, he took it.

catwoman flirts

Batman always letting Catwoman get too close, and this time she calls him out on it.

This is a good-looking episode for Dong Yang. We get some new backgrounds and the museum is a fun setting for a little skirmish between hero and villain. The fight scene at the mill is perhaps brief, but visually entertaining. Batman and Rhino for a moment take on a slightly rubbery, toon look at times. It’s not a look I’d want for every episode, but when it pops-in here and there it’s a bit fun as most of this show is rather rigid. Best of all though, they did a really nice job during the scene where Catwoman is essentially torturing The Ventriloquist as he watches Scarface near another untimely demise. The Ventriloquist has no pupils, so it’s a challenge to make him convey emotion, but it’s done well here and I almost pity the man as a result. Catwoman, on the other hand, looks positively evil in her enjoyment of the whole thing. It’s actually refreshing to see her embrace her dark side and helps to sell the overall narrative of the episode.

“Catwalk” is a good return to form. It has a few stumbles, but nothing serious. It feels like a stepping stone for Catwoman, though unfortunately I’m not sure it really pays off. Catwoman will make another appearance before this season ends, but from what I recall it doesn’t really refer back to this episode (it doesn’t even feature Batman). The bulk of her additional time will be spent in The New Adventures of Batman where basically everyone feels like they received a reboot. And by then, Catwoman will practically be a different character, but that’s not the fault of this episode. For what it’s worth, this episode is probably the best depiction of the iconic feline the show has.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Read My Lips”

read my lipsEpisode Number:  64

Original Air Date:  May 10, 1993

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Alan Burnett and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  Scarface, The Ventriloquist

For the second week in a row we have a rather unusual villain for Batman to tangle with. Some would even say comical, but in the case of Scarface, the execution is better. The unique nature of Scarface makes this a memorable episode. It’s title card some-what gives away the villain’s twist, but I’ll still suggest making sure you’ve either seen this episode already or you’re familiar with this foe before reading this.

scarface

“Say hello to my little friend,” takes on new meaning with this Scarface.

The episode opens on a boxing match. When the fight concludes we see the money that the fight generated getting moved around amongst the bowels of the arena, until a trio of muggers intercept it. They beat a hasty retreat to the roof of the building. When a truck stops at a nearby red light, the robbers jump off the building to land in the back of it unseen. The truck is then able to simply drive away when the light turns green as the police arrive on the scene. The robbers return to their hide-out where they greet their boss, who like many villains, dwells in the shadows. They boast of their success, while the boss, Mr. Scarface (George Dzundza), assures them this is only the beginning.

Following that declaration we get a trope. Spinning newspapers detail the new crime wave hitting Gotham, and it’s all flummoxed the commissioner. Gordon is shown at his desk when Batman emerges from the shadows of his office to give him a startle. He tells Batman they’ve been unable to get anywhere with this new gang and hands Batman a VHS some amateur home video maker passed along which shows the gang in action. Batman says he’ll take a look before vanishing as he always does. It’s the second episode in a row that begins with a crime, a shadowy boss-figure, and Gordon essentially passing it onto Batman.

scarface and dummy

Scarface and his “dummy” make for quite a pair.

At the Batcave, Batman analyzes the tape Gordon handed him along with Alfred. He remarks the thieves are clever and careful to make sure they’re always masked and wearing gloves, which strikes me more as common sense as opposed to cleverness, but I’m not the expert here. Batman is able to notice a tattoo on one of them revealed when he crashes through a fence (further proving my thought this isn’t the work of clever men) and his sleeve is torn. The man is a behemoth, and the tattoo is of a rhino breaking out of a cage. Batman turns to his trusty tattoo database, which looks more like a collection of mudflap designs, and finds a match linking the tattoo to a fellow who goes by the name of Rhino, who could have guessed?

Batman confronts this Rhino (Earl Boen), who is out for an evening stroll and dressed like a classic gangster. Rhino thinks Batman is trying to provoke him into a fight, but he won’t bite. Batman tells him he has him confused with the police and that he wants answers. Batman comes off as rather threatening here, a nice edge for him. Rhino, despite just claiming he wouldn’t fall for it, does indeed try to inflict some harm on Batman, but he just sidesteps him. The commotion attracts the attention of a police cruiser and two cops pop out to see what’s going on. Batman takes his leave and the cops are able to have a little fun at Rhino’s expense. He shuts his mouth and leaves, but proving he has the physique as well as the brains of a rhinoceros, he heads straight for Scarface’s hideout.

Batman pursues him from the rooftops and watches through a skylight as Rhino confronts a rather meek looking individual. He demands to see Scarface, but the bald, little man with glasses (Dzundza) insists that the boss is sleeping and disturbing him would be a bad idea. Rhino needs only to mention that Batman is nosing around their operation to get the man to rouse Scarface. He disappears into a bedroom and Scarface can be heard chastising the man for waking him, but he reluctantly gets up. As he emerges from the bedroom, it’s revealed that Scarface is a dummy, and the other guy is a ventriloquist which causes Batman to make his shocked face with the half-circle eyes.

Rhino fills Scarface in on what happened, causing Scarface to think they have a squeeler among them. A rat-faced looking guy (who goes by the name Ratso and is voiced by Neil Ross) is alarmed by Batman snooping around and makes the mistake of speaking his concerns to the ventriloquist and not Scarface, which nearly gets him killed. Scarface soon returns to his room, leaving Rhino, Ratso, and Mugsy (Joe Piscopo) to talk amongst themselves. When Ratso questions the relationship between Scarface and the ventriloquist, Rhino points out that it’s Scarface who is the brains of the operation implying he is fully onboard with this setup as presented.

interrogating ventriloquist

The ventriloquist turns out to be rather meek and pathetic, by villain standards.

Batman waits until later when everyone is asleep to infiltrate Scarface’s bedroom. There, he cautiously approaches the dummy as it lays in bed with the covers drawn up to its chin. He taps the dummy on the nose and its eyes spring open, startling Batman. He then merely closes them, and probably silently calling himself silly for being so cautious around a dummy, resumes his sleuthing. He doesn’t seem to uncover anything when the ventriloquist comes in to check on Scarface. Batman is able to grab him from behind, covering his mouth, and pulls him into another room for questioning. He approaches the interrogation as if the ventriloquist was the brains behind the whole thing. When the ventriloquist appears to be playing dumb, Batman instructs him that he may think he’s a dummy but not to speak to him as if he is one. Scarface starts calling out from his bed, and the ventriloquist gets real concerned. He starts sweating and pleads with Batman to let him go insisting that Scarface tells him nothing. Batman does, as the ventriloquist goes to attend to his boss, Batman plants a listening device on the ventriloquist’s tux which was hanging on the door. In Scarface’s room, the ventriloquist is clearly nervous as he converses with Scarface, who notices that something is up, but seems to accept the explanation of a bad dream. As the ventriloquist closes the window from which Batman had entered, he sees the caped crusader swinging away.

ventriloquist nervous

Even when he isn’t being watched, The Ventriloquist still acts like Scarface presents a real danger.

At the Batcave, Batman explains multiple personality syndrome to Alfred. Alfred has the good line of noting that even for Batman this Scarface is a bit of an odd one. Batman references his old mentor Zatara and how he taught him how to toss his voice, but remarks that this ventriloquist puts him to shame. He even claims the computer can’t tell that the two voices belonging to Scarface and The Ventriloquist originate from the same person. Thus far though, he also notes that The Ventriloquist was not lying when he said that Scarface shares nothing with him regarding his plans and he remarks he’ll just have to keep listening until something comes up.

And something does, as Scarface gathers his boys about a job he’s got. They’re going to knock-off a shipment of platinum which is currently just sitting on a cargo ship in Gotham harbor. Scarface warns that he feels a double-cross is coming and makes sure his boys know that if one of them turns on him they’re dead. They head out for the job and it’s going rather well for them. They pull up in a small boat alongside the ship and cut through the hull. Inside is a huge stack of platinum arranged in a pyramid and they just start unloading it. Batman arrives and first takes out the one man remaining in the boat before entering. He dives in and takes out the smaller man, but Rhino puts up a fight. He’s able to get behind the stack of platinum and actually shoves it over onto Batman. The camera pans over to show Batman’s hand sticking out of the pile of platinum bars.

scarface double cross

Now this is something you don’t see every day.

Batman once again proves he’s no normal man as he wakes up inside Scarface’s hideout dangling by his wrists from the ceiling. That stack of platinum really should have killed him or at least mangled him, but he seems fine. The villains have foolishly left his utility belt in place so we’ll have to see if that proves to be a big mistake, but for now his hands are bound. Below him are a bunch of mannequin parts and they’ve been sharpened to a point and look mighty nasty. Scarface and his men are standing around him ready to let him know he’s been got.

Scarface informs Batman that they set him up. The Ventriloquist filled him in on what happened and Scarface found the planted microphone on the suit. It would seem like Batman is in a bad spot, but he tells Scarface he was able to gain access to his hideout thanks to some inside help. Scarface, being a stereotypical gangster, gets agitated at the thought of a rat in his midst. He starts looking around suspiciously, while Rhino insists he’s not the rat and Scarface agrees noting he’s too stupid to be a betrayer. Batman plays coy, but when Scarface appears ready to end the discussion by dropping he reveals his source – The Ventriloquist. Scarface takes the bait, and immediately turns on his handler. He orders his men to take him out, but they’re understandably reluctant to shoot The Ventriloquist given what that would mean for Scarface. When they won’t do it, he decides he will and The Ventriloquist even helps Scarface point his adorable little tommy gun at his own face.

dead scarface

I know he’s just a puppet, but that’s still a bit unsettling.

Meanwhile, Batman demonstrates his proficiency at throwing his voice. In order to further provoke Scarface, he imitates The Ventriloquist and further riles him up. While everyone is distracted, Batman is able to free himself from the binds on his wrists. When it looks like Scarface is about to execute his handler, a whirling batarang severs his hand at the wrist. Batman then swings in to dispatch of the lackeys, though Rhino puts up a good fight. Batman at first tries to take him head-on, which is futile, and then resorts to misdirection to take him out. While dealing with Rhino though, Mugsy is able to grab a machine-gun. He opens fire at Batman, but misses and hits the Scarface dummy which had fallen to the ground. It gets riddled with bullets until Batman takes the guy out with another batarang to the forehead, which lucky for him didn’t get lodged in his skull. A weeping, hysterical, Ventriloquist picks up Scarface’s remains and cradles them in his arms as the camera pans out from high above.

At Arkham, two doctors are shown discussing the progress of their newest inmate in what appears to be a workshop. The other patients are all working on various crafts and one of the doctors approaches our pal The Ventriloquist from behind. He offers some praise on the work he’s doing, which he politely thanks him for, before moving on. Once the doctor is gone, the ventriloquist reaches for a wood-carving blade and turns his work over in his hands to reveal the face of a dummy. Plunging the blade into the dummy’s cheek, he drags it along leaving a wicked scar.

new scarface carving

The episode ends basically the only way it can.

“Read My Lips” is able to better straddle the line of comedy and thriller than the prior episode, “Fire From Olympus.” The plight of the character who is simply referred to as The Ventriloquist is perhaps a stretch, but plausible. Fiction writers have been having fun at the expense of those suffering from multiple personality syndrome for years, but doing it through a dummy is definitely one of the more eccentric methods. The actual dummy, Scarface, would be adorable if he weren’t so homicidal. He has a little pin-striped suit and fedora to go with his tiny gun. He even has a cigar affixed to his mouth to complete the look, which is apparently removable since he doesn’t have it while he “sleeps.” It’s amusing to see how his subordinates treat him, some being more into it than others, and even Batman is a bit unnerved by the dummy. George Dzundza is awesome as both Scarface and The Ventriloquist and I would have guessed the two roles were played by different actors. The little callback to Zatara is also nice, as I always like it when the show acknowledges some continuity, though Batman being able to perfectly imitate The Ventriloquist’s voice is a bit of a stretch.

Scarface was also right when he said at the start of the episode that this is only the beginning. He seemed to be a favorite of those who worked on the show as he’ll get to reappear more than once. He was given a makeover for this show, as he’s more of a comedy bit in the comics, and The Ventriloquist was as well going from a character who kind of stunk at ventriloquism to someone who is perhaps unrivaled. The Ventriloquist will even get a more in-depth look in the much later episode “Double Talk” where he tries to move on from Scarface. We’ll even eventually find out he has an actual name in Arnold Wesker, though it was never mentioned in this episode with Scarface preferring to just refer to him as Dummy.

Really the only thing I don’t like about this episode is more an issue of placement. It’s very similar in format to “Fire on Olympus.” Shadowy new villain emerges at the beginning, Gordon brings along Batman, Batman does some sleuthing, Batman gets trapped, Batman eventually wins, and the villain is shown in Arkham to close it all out. I suppose that’s a template for a great many episodes of this show, but it’s more obvious when back to back episodes follow the formula so closely. And I could have done without the pile of platinum falling on Batman. That would have been a nasty end for Batman, and sometimes I feel like the show is insulting my intelligence when it does something like that. Why not just have Rhino knock him on the head or maybe bear hug him into passing out?

My issues are minor, this is ultimately a fun episode. Maybe not a top 10, but possibly a top 20. Scarface is a ridiculous sight to behold, but ultimately a compelling villain. Hopefully I’ll still feel the same way after I re-watch his other episodes.


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