[personal profile] lego_joker posting in [community profile] scans_daily
Back in ye goode olde days, Gotham villains didn't need no stinkin' telekinetic powers or rotting corpses to do their bidding. No, they got by through bein' tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties, and makin' it square. Well, as square as drug-running, arms-smuggling, "protection"-selling, and cold-blooded murder can be, anyways. Of course, the sheer snazziness of their character designs didn't hurt, either.

Like most of you, I imagine, I can't muster up any enthusiasm for the new Ventriloquist running through the pages of Gail Simone's Batgirl. As dull as I'd found Peyton Riley's story, I'd happily take her (preferably written by Paul Dini) over this SAW-wannabe any day.

But, as with many things in life, none can compare with the original.

Note: four pages from Batman #588, one page from Batman #589, four pages from Batman #590, two-thirds of a page from Arkham Asylum: Living Hell #6, five pages from Batman #622, and four pages from Batman #625.

Let's begin with Brian K. Vaughan's "Close Before Striking" three-parter, a fill-in arc that took place during Brubaker's run on Batman in the early 2000s. In many respects, it's a by-the-numbers "Bruce turns into a cold, heartless asshole because of reasons, almost crosses THE LINE, realizes his mistake, and swears to turn himself around... until the next writer comes by with the same idea" story. But I can't fault Vaughan for being one of the few writers to try expanding on the whole "Matches Malone" element of the Bat-mythos, and the very fact that he chose Arnold as the main villain earns massive points with me.

So, anyways, Batman Matches Malone has just put on a little show for the patrons of the bar he chose to troll tonight, denying Nightwing disguised as Batman any information on the latest rumors about a shipment of armor-piercing bullets, and going so far as to spit in his interrogator's face. The manager of the bar takes some keen interest in him...

Scarface runs the nightclubs these days.

Matches discusses the speech issue.

Bruce swoops in on Scarface and his crew, beats down all of Scarface's other men, and chases the brains of the operation onto a moving freight car...

What a ventriloquist does.

Yep. Vaughan is one of the few writers who seems to have actually thought about what uses being a ventriloquist would have in a battle. I approve.

Scarface lectures his assistant.

We skip ahead about twenty or thirty pages, past all of Bruce's exposition about his first, failed attempts at infiltrating criminal groups, and the history of the Matches Malone identity. The important thing to know is: the real Matches Malone is still alive and kicking. And he's chosen this particular moment to come back to Gotham.

Matches meets Scarface.

Come the next issue, Wesker and Scarface go on the lam, for reasons explained below.

Scarface has good taste in movies.

Heh. Scarface being a Cagney fan - that's another little touch I really like. Every villain has their own tastes, their hobbies, their likes. Even homicidal mob boss puppets.

Soon enough, though, Nightwing in a Batman costume shows up to ruin their movie marathon.

Scarfaces has a little problem.

There's long been a debate between fans and creators alike about just how independent Scarface is. Is he really a malevolent entity possessing a piece of wood? Is he a split-personality inhabiting Arnold's brain? Or is he a complete lie, an excuse made by Arnold himself, who actually knows exactly what he's doing? Vaughan's take, at the very least, draws the line at Scarface's puppet body having functional senses.

Scarface meets Matches.

For the record - this is Bruce.

We come to the obligatory epiphany, where Bruce realizes that he's come this close to crossing the line again. Fortunately, he manages to stop himself just in time... so what does he do instead of wringing Arnold's neck?

The death of Scarface... for now.

Yeah... this might not seem so harmless if you subscribe to the theory that Scarface really does live in Arnold's head - can you imagine the poor guy having to listen to his "roommate's" screams at being burned alive every waking minute?

Ah, well. He'll craft a new Scarface in Arkham's wood shop sooner or later.

Next, we go to Dan Slott's Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. Most of my pals on LJ hate this story, but since it's one of the first Batman stories I ever read, I can't hold too much of a grudge against it. I personally think it's a decent story... that just really doesn't have much to do with Arkham (or, for that matter, Gotham).

Arnold and Scarface, like the rest of Arkham's regulars, make sporadic appearances over this six-issue mini. A seemingly-minor plot point in the earlier issues was that Lunkhead (pretty much a Killer Croc clone, except he's allowed in Gen. Pop.) had broken Scarface into pieces - but once we hit the climax in the final issue, our one-man duo gets his sweet, sweet revenge.

Some context: one of the inmates has opened a portal to Hell in the catacombs beneath Arkham (or something) and summoned a bunch of demons (as well as the vengeful ghosts of all the people that the Arkham inmates have killed over the years). Said inmate has most of Arkham's other inmates, plus most of the staff, tied up in the catacombs and awaiting sacrifice to summon the head demon.

Do not mess with Scarface.

According to TV Tropes, media depictions of ventriloquists have waffled between simply being able to throw their voices, and being able to do pitch-perfect vocal imitations. It would seem that Slott favors the latter interpretation of Arnold, which would lend even more storytelling possibilities to him.

Last, but not least, we have Brian Azzarello's "Broken City", immediately following "Hush". In many respects, it's a very similar story - a mystery story with a last-minute twist or twelve, copious flashbacks to Bruce's youth, appearances from a bunch of the Bat-Rogues - but the execution is very, very different. Unlike Loeb and Lee, who firmly stuck to Batman-as-superhero, Azzarello and Eduardo Risso play the angle for all the film noir elements it's worth, with shadows, graphic imagery, and wordplay galore.

Risso's take on the ventriloquist also deviates from the Norm - Norm Breyfogle, that is. Instead of sticking to the pudgy, gumdrop-like Arnold Wesker that Breyfogle set down like most other artists have, Risso instead chooses to draw Arnold as thin, almost emaciated - I haven't decided yet whether it's a good take, but it's certainly creepy.

Some context (again): A kid's parents have just been shot down in front of his eyes. Batman witnesses said murder, has a flashback, and promptly turns the city upside-down looking for the one lead on the case, a man named Angel Lupo. After subjecting the Penguin to Beatdown for Information #4179 over at the Iceberg Lounge, Batman narrowly avoids being gunned down by Scarface's men.

Scarface seems to have lost his impediment.

Note also that Azzarello has chosen to dispense with Scarface's trademark "b"/"g" speech impediment. Did he think it was too silly to fit into such a dark story? Did he just not get the memo? The world may never know.

Scarface issues discipline.

Bruce confronts Scarface.

How Scarface likes his cigars.

Arnold loses it.

Bruce proceeds to jam a tap hose into into Scarface's mouth, and burns away a good portion of the dummy's face, because that's just how he rolls in this story (did I forget to mention that this story featured of the most psychotically-driven takes on Bruce this side of post-2000 Frank Miller's? Because it totally does).

Several issues later, Batman's finally tracked down Angel Lupo... only for him to get gunned down seconds later by - who else:

Arnold shows some backbone.

Rest in peace.

Arnold elaborates on his motives.

Angel, you son of a...

Well... it's certainly an original take on Arnold and Scarface. I'll give Azzarello that much. The idea of Arnold not only being able to defy Scarface, but actually having a life outside the mob - and at his age, too - is a touching one, to say the least. Too bad...


Angel wasn't the killer. Oh, well. C'est la vie.

Now for one last note, of no meaning or significance whatsoever: I want Arnold/Scarface's ride so, so badly. Only he could get away with having a set of wheels like that in a modern-day city.

Thank you, and good night. And don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for the first part of my review of Every Chuck Dixon Joker Story. Ever., coming in just a few days!
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