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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.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

“Trial” could be described as one of our first big payoff episodes for the series as it draws heavily on the events of season one. After spending considerable time developing Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to play around with them like a kid diving into a toy box for this episode as many of Batman’s foes are brought back for an ensemble episode. It also refers back to “Shadow of the Bat” and Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist, replacing Lynette Mettey, and also the daugher of Alfred voice actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who was first introduced there as a hard-nosed and rigid authority figure. Here her personality is essentially doubled-down on as we find out she has a strong dislike for Batman and Gordon’s reliance on the vigilante in combating the crime infecting Gotham. Her dislike of Batman is a bit more practical than that of Detective Bullock’s as Batman’s clearly breaking the law, or at least bending it, with his vigilante antics and it makes her job considerably more difficult. And since she is at odds with Batman, it only makes sense to lean into that conflict as the backbone for this episode.

janet trial

Goth DA Janet Van Dorn assumes the spotlight for her second appearance. She also has been slightly redesigned to appear more youthful.

“Trial” opens in a court setting. Pamela Isely (Diane Pershing), better known as Poison Ivy, is facing incarceration beyond just treatment at Arkham Asylum and Van Dorn is arguing for life in prison. Ivy is able to avoid jail-time due to her capture being at the hands of Batman, who naturally isn’t present to even testify against her. The judge sends her back to Arkham, not an outcome Ivy probably wanted but it’s still better than prison. When the media approaches Van Dorn following the verdict, she uses the camera time to blast Batman calling him a disgrace and placing the blame for the presence of criminally insane rogues in the city on him. She’s also not afraid to let Commissioner Gordon know how she feels, but as always, he’s willing to stand-up for Batman viewing him as their best weapon in the fight against crime. Batman even drops in on their little meeting, presenting a gang leader as a present (who is wearing a skull shirt that seems to resemble a certain Marvel character’s logo). When Van Dorn challenges him to take off the mask and put on a uniform, Batman says nothing and departs. She takes a batarang from the perp as a parting gift, I guess?

At Arkham, a somewhat somber looking Poison Ivy is returned to her room. Her pal Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) tries to cheer her up, but she has little success. She mentions something big is about to go down though that will likely lift her spirits. We then see some zombie-like orderlies and doctors milling about and The Mad Hatter bursts into the picture to reveal he’s used his mind control cards to subdue them as chaos breaks out.

captured batman

Van Dorn and Batman find themselves tied together by the real foes of Gotham.

A fatigued Van Dorn is shown arriving at a restaurant for dinner. Her date this evening is none other than Bruce Wayne. If Bruce is romantically interested in Van Dorn or just looking to get inside the head of someone who could either be friend or foe to Batman is not shown. Given his dedication to his Batman persona, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was the latter. A waiter (clearly voiced by Mark Hamill, which is an unintentional piece of foreshadowing) comes to the table to tell Van Dorn she has a phone call. She never returns, and soon Batman is summoned by Gordon to find out the DA has been kidnapped. A ransom note was left behind containing a riddle. Batman deciphers it and heads for the court-house where he’s jumped by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Janet Van Dorn finds herself locked-up in Arkham. As she demands to speak with someone, she’s greeted by the former district attorney, Two-Face (Richard Moll). They’re having a little trial and need Van Dorn to act as a defense attorney with Two-Face the acting DA. Her client? None other than Batman. And to make things more interesting, Van Dorn’s fate is to be tied to that of her client. As Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) dumps Batman in the cell with her, she complains about their situation and suggests Batman is where he belongs. Batman has no interest in debating his existence with Van Dorn.

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

The two are lead into the court room, where a bunch of raving inmates jeer the presence of Batman and Gotham’s DA. Harley Quinn is there to taunt Batman revealing she stole his belt. The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) with a newly reconstructed Scarface (also Dzundza) are acting as the bailiff and the jury is rather stacked against Batman as it contains:  Poison Ivy, Harley, Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall), Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and The Riddler (Scarecrow and Riddler are not voiced in this episode). The judge? Well, it has to be The Joker (Mark Hamill) who is looking resplendent in a black robe and wig.

After Dent makes a rather brief and to the point opening statement, the trial gets underway. The Mad Hatter is the first witness who blames Batman for creating him. Van Dorn is able to expose his sick side rather easily, recalling the events of his debut and his obsessive pursuit of a woman who spurned his advances. Harley is the next, and Van Dorn is quick to point out she’s improperly influencing the judge who is laying his head in her lap (they apparently made up). Van Dorn gets no where with that complaint, but during her questioning of Quinn she actually reveals her origin for the first time as a doctor at Arkham perverted by The Joker. She also reveals that Joker ratted her out during his last capture, which enrages Harley and forces Croc to carry her out kicking and screaming.

harleys tampering

Harely and Joker are shown to have a still combustible relationship, but Harley just can’t seem to dump the clown.

Poison Ivy is next up, and her past with trying to murder Harvey Dent is once again brought up. Van Dorn accuses Ivy of having more love for plants than humans, and when Ivy denies that, Van Dorn begins taunting her by plucking the petals off a flower. This sets her off, and Ivy attacks Van Dorn and the two have to be separated. Van Dorn then composes herself for her closing remarks, claiming she now sees that it wasn’t Batman who created these villains, but the villains are the ones who created Batman. Her argument is apparently persuasive, and the jury actually finds Batman innocent. Joker is quick to point out that this is a court composed of the violent and depraved, and as such, they’ll still sentence Batman to the same fate that would have befallen him had he been guilty. Quoting Porky Pig’s “That’s all folks,” Joker strikes the bench with a rubber chicken and the two are dragged away.

van dorn and judge joker

The straight-laced Van Dorn is forced to contend with the crazies of Arkham, something she proves she’s capable of.

The rogues drag Batman to an execution chamber where the electric chair awaits him. Joker enters dressed as a preacher now as Batman is taken out of his strait jacket and placed in the chair. It’s at this point Van Dorn remembers the batarang in her jacket from earlier, and she takes out the only light in the room with it. This gives Batman the only opening he needs as he slips out of his confines and returns to the shadows where he is oh so comfortable being.

The tables have now turned, and Batman lets them know they’re now locked-up in there with him (perhaps a nod to Watchmen?) as he starts picking them off. When he grabs Croc, Joker reaches for Scarface’s miniature, but functional, tommy gun and opens fire. When Scarface warns Joker that he’ll hit Croc, he responds with “What’s your point?”

batman electric chair

This seems like a bad situation for Batman to find himself in, but as usual, he’ll make the best of it.

Batman grabs Van Dorn and the two attempt to escape, but are met by a scythe-wielding Scarecrow on the stairs. Batman is able to parry his strikes, which result in Scarface losing his head, and dispatches of the villains closing in on them. They escape to the rooftop where The Joker awaits. Joker ropes Batman and tugs him off the building with the rope affixed to an abutment that allows Joker to swing from the other end. He tries to take Batman out with a giant mallet, but as always, Batman is able to escape and take him out in the process. By now, the police (who have been tracking Batman’s location this whole time) arrive to clean up the mess. In a brief sequence to close things out, Van Dorn admits to Batman she sees a need for him in Gotham, but adds she’ll still work to create a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. He responds with a smile and a simple “Me too.”

“Trial” is a fun examination of how Batman and his adversaries are connected. Van Dorn’s argument that the cartoonish villains of their world are created by Batman is a common one, while the episode makes the case that it’s the other way around. The reality is that the two are forever intertwined. A criminal act created Batman, but Batman has certainly had a hand in creating some of the villains he combats (Van Dorn even references Joker’s creation which follows that of Batman ’89). It’s a fun little debate, and getting a bunch of villains together in one place is also equally fun and basically the impetus for Batman:  The Movie. I like seeing how the villains also play off each other, though Croc is back to being a dim-witted piece of comic relief who just wants to throw a rock at Batman. Having Harley’s origins touched upon is a nice little nugget and something that will be explored down the road. I could certainly nitpick how easy it was for Mad Hatter to gain access to his special cards or how Van Dorn is a great shot on her first try wielding a batarang, but this episode is pretty packed as-is (supposedly, this plot was considered as the first movie, but was scrapped in favor of Mask of the Phantasm) and had it spent any additional time on such details it would likely not have worked out as well. The script is also delightful, making this perhaps the most quotable episode of the series. The only gaffe, plot-wise, is the presence of Killer Croc in Arkham when it was established in “Sideshow” he’s not insane, just a bad guy.

preacher joker

Preacher Joker is one of the fun little touches in this episode.

Dong Yang Animation does a nice job with this episode having to animate so many unique characters at once. They even went through the trouble of portraying the villains in jumpsuits initially, rather than taking the easy way out and just having them in costume from the start. Bruce Wayne also gets a new look as he’s ditched his old brown suit for a sharp-looking gray one that seems to be his new default look. The drab backgrounds of Arkham are juxtaposed against the colorful costumes everyone sports and it creates a nice look. I also really enjoyed Joker’s various attires and the toy collector in me wouldn’t mind an action figure of Judge Joker and Preacher Joker. Van Dorn also received a subtle make-over from her prior appearance. She wears a blue suit now and appears a bit more youthful than before. There are a couple little production gaffes, like a character’s mouth moving when it shouldn’t and Riddler just disappearing, but nothing glaring enough to take away from the overall presentation.

“Trial” is a good second season episode that really takes advantage of the lore and backstories established in season one, and even elsewhere. It’s the type of episode I like to see in a show’s second season, and for a show like Batman that typically focuses on stand-alone stories, I always get a little rush of excitement when past events are mentioned.


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.