Ventriloquist (comics)

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The Ventriloquist
Ventiloquist 000000475.jpg
The Ventriloquist depicted on the cover of Batman #475
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance (Wesker)
Detective Comics #583 (February 1988)
(Riley)
Detective Comics #827 (March 2007)
Created by (Wesker)
Alan Grant
John Wagner
Norm Breyfogle
(Riley)
Paul Dini
Don Kramer
In-story information
Alter ego Arnold Wesker
Peyton Riley
Team affiliations (Wesker)
Secret Society of Super Villains
Black Lantern Corps
Abilities Criminal genius
Suffers from dissociative identity disorder (which manifests in a psychotic dummy, Scarface)

The Ventriloquist (Arnold Wesker) is a fictional character, an enemy of Batman in the DC Comics Universe. The Ventriloquist first appeared in Detective Comics #583 (February 1988) and was created by Alan Grant, John Wagner and Norm Breyfogle.

In Detective Comics #827 (March 2007), a new Ventriloquist (Peyton Riley) was introduced by Paul Dini and Don Kramer.

Publication history[edit]

Fictional character biography[edit]

Arnold Wesker[edit]

A meek, quiet man named Arnold Wesker (the first Ventriloquist) plans and executes his crimes through a dummy named Scarface the Puppet, with the dress and persona of a 1920s gangster (complete with pinstripe suit, cigar, and Tommy gun). His name comes from the nickname of Al Capone, after whom Scarface is modeled.

Born into a powerful mafia family, Wesker develops dissociative identity disorder after seeing his mother assassinated by thugs from a rival family. Growing up, his only outlet is ventriloquism.

The issues Showcase '94 #8-9 establish an alternate origin story: after a barroom brawl in which he kills someone during a violent release of his repressed anger, Wesker is sent to Blackgate Penitentiary. He is introduced to "Woody" — a dummy carved from the former gallows by cellmate Donnegan — who convinces him to escape and kill Donnegan in a fight which scars the dummy, thus resulting in the birth of Scarface.

Wesker lets the Scarface personality do the dirty work, including robbery and murder. He is totally dominated by Scarface, who barks orders at him and degrades him with verbal (and even physical) abuse. Wesker is unable to enunciate the letter "B" while throwing his voice, and replaces them with the letter "G" instead (for example, Scarface often calls Batman "Gatman").

In the 1995 Riddler story The Riddle Factory, it is revealed that a gangster named "Scarface" Scarelli had once been active in Gotham City, though he had apparently died long before Batman's era. A supernatural aspect to Scarface was hinted at in Wesker's origin story in Showcase '94, when Wesker's cellmate creates the first Scarface doll from a piece of gallows wood. 2001's Batman/Scarface: A Psychodrama reinforces this and shows the dummy to be indirectly responsible for two accidents while separated from Wesker (with at least one fatality). The dummy also retained his speech impediment while operated by a young boy and seemed to even show awareness of his name during this period.

In one issue of The Batman Adventures, the comic book based on Batman: The Animated Series, Wesker tries to reform by working puppets in a children's show with "Froggy", a new, friendlier puppet. However, the female star of the show is outraged when the show's cancellation is announced, and, having discovered Wesker's previous crimes with Scarface, reunites her hated boss with the murderous dummy. Later, as Wesker and Scarface are getting away, Froggy comes out to save Wesker from Scarface, resulting in a car wreck and the "death" of Froggy.[1]

The Ventriloquist is one of many villains in the Rogues Gallery to be confined to Arkham Asylum when Batman apprehends him. One particularly memorable series of events concerning him took place during the Knightfall saga, after Bane had destroyed Arkham and released its inmates. Unable to find Scarface, the Ventriloquist uses a sock puppet in his place for a short time (aptly named Socko). After an ill-fated team-up with fellow escapee Amygdala,[2] he procures a number of other hand puppets to fill in for Scarface, including one of a police officer which he refers to as "Chief O'Hara" (in reference to a character from the 1960s Batman TV show). Later, when Wesker does indeed find Scarface, Scarface and Socko are set at odds until a standoff occurs, and the puppets shoot each other, leaving Wesker unconscious and bleeding from two wounded hands.[3]

During the events of the Cataclysm story arc, the stress caused by the earthquake apparently triggered the release of another personality within Wesker in the form of the 'Quakemaster', who claimed to have caused the earthquake himself over a video and threatened to trigger another unless he was paid $100 million. However, the seismologist Quakemaster had captured to provide him with information deliberately feeds him inaccurate scientific data to provide detectives looking for her with information as to her location. Robin subsequently deduces 'Quakemaster's' true identity due to his speeches always taking great effort to avoid saying any words with the letter 'B'.

In one issue, Wesker is apparently killed, and in a bizarre twist, Scarface appears to still talk and act alive before he is destroyed. This death appears to have been retconned in "One Year Later" (presumably due to the events of the Infinite Crisis crossover). Wesker appears as one of the members of the Secret Society of Super Villains that faces the Jade Canary, who pitches Scarface off the top of a roof.

The death of the Ventriloquist. Art by Don Kramer.

In Detective Comics #818, an issue later included in the trade paperback Batman: Face the Face, Wesker is murdered by an unseen assailant. The puppet Scarface is stepped on and its head crushed. The dying Wesker uses Scarface's hand to leave a clue regarding his murder: a street name. Later in the storyline, it is revealed that Tally Man, acting as an enforcer for the Great White Shark, is responsible for the murder.[4]

During the Blackest Night crossover, Wesker is among the many deceased villains that receive a black power ring and is reanimated into a Black Lantern. Using his power ring, Wesker creates a construct of Scarface made of black energy. He is shown murdering many police officers.[5]

In The New 52 post-Flashpoint continuity, Arnold Wesker is now living, his death apparently erased from reality in the DC Universe. He appears in Batman: The Dark Knight #2. Implied to be in possession of the Venom steroid, he clashes briefly with Nightwing.

Peyton Riley[edit]

The second Ventriloquist, Peyton Riley. Cover to Detective Comics #843, art by Dustin Nguyen.

A new female Ventriloquist, called "Sugar" by Scarface, soon surfaced in the pages of Detective Comics. Batman responded to a police scanner call - witnesses said Catwoman had been shot. He got to the body, which had a note on it that read "dummy." A counter started at 4 seconds - he got out as the place exploded. When he got back to his car, there was a dummy posing as Robin. He shot it with a grapple and it, too, exploded.

Batman had the police exhume Arnold Wesker's body, but the coffin was empty. Bruce went out disguised as Lefty Knox to see what the underground was saying. Within a week, he heard the Ventriloquist was making a come back at the Iceburg Lounge. "Lefty" attended the big show - as the curtains parted, Wesker sat with Scarface in his lap. A beautiful blonde whom Scarface calls "Sugar" knocked over the dead body, picked up the dummy, and continued on. When she was questioned by an audience member, she shot him. Scarface told the room he was working on a plan to take over the city, but would have to remove Batman from the equation first. He called Batman out, knowing he'd be in the audience. Bruce threw his voice and made it look like one of the other criminals was confessing. A batarang flew and took out the lights. Scarface opened fire. Batman swooped in and grabbed the woman and the dummy. He separated them and realized the dummy was a bomb. The woman escaped. Batman informed Gordon of what had happened.

Sugar is a more compatible partner than Wesker, since Scarface no longer substitutes "b" with "g", and she is far more willing to commit violent crime. When nearly captured by Batman and Harley Quinn (who had been close to Wesker after he tried to cheer her up when she was initially sent to Arkham while the Joker was still on the loose), Sugar has Scarface say, "Save yourself." Unlike Wesker, who is horrified at any damage to Scarface, Sugar rigs her dummies to explode, using this to cover her escapes. She has numerous identical dummies at her hideout, one of which then becomes the "real" Scarface.


During Gotham Underground #2 (January 2008), Sugar and Scarface, along with Lock-Up, Firefly, and Killer Moth are told by the Scarecrow that the Penguin is working for the Suicide Squad. They attack him, but end up meeting a team of criminals working for Penguin. While they try to escape, they are brought to a dead end by Scarecrow. Tobias Whale shoots Scarface, but lets Sugar live, although he informs one of the men escorting her that she is to be "hurt".

In Detective Comics #843 (April 2008), Scarface kidnaps a rival gangster, Johnny Sabatino, and takes Bruce Wayne hostage. While alone, Sugar breaks away from Scarface and talks to Bruce in what appears to be her 'real' personality. She reveals that she was engaged to Wayne's friend, Matthew Atkins, "years ago." Her real name is revealed to be Peyton Riley, and she expresses remorse for her crimes before the Scarface persona reappears and interrupts their conversation.

In the following issue, Riley reveals that her father, an Irish Mafia boss named Sean Riley, wanted to marry her off to Sabatino, forming a permanent alliance between Gotham's Irish and Italian gangs. Sean Riley therefore assaults Peyton's fiance, leaving him in intensive care. He subsequently becomes an alcoholic, and Peyton was forced to marry Sabatino. This does not lead to the hoped-for gang alliance, as Sabatino proves to be an inept gangster. He and Peyton are eventually taken to see Scarface, as Sabatino had cheated him on a weapons deal. Both Scarface and Wesker were impressed by Peyton's intelligence, and give Sabatino a second chance, taking 30% of his profits.

In Detective Comics #850 (November 2008), she and Tommy Elliot bond over their mutual resentment of their families, and vow that they'll escape together when Elliot comes into his fortune. However, Elliot's ailing mother does not approve of their relationship, and when Tommy refuses to stop seeing Peyton, she writes him out of her will. Peyton subsequently runs the departing family lawyer off of the road and kills him (calling in a favour from some of her father's men to "take care of the details"), while Elliot murders his mother. Peyton declares that they can finally be free together - only to be abandoned by Elliot, who later describes her as a "sweet girl, but too needy."

When Scarface's hold on the mob begins to crumble, Sabatino, now a crime boss in his own right, decides to cement his own position by wiping out the Rileys. After killing his father-in-law, he takes Peyton to a gangster's hide-out and shoots her in the head. She survives, however, and regains consciousness just as Tally Man is killing Wesker nearby. Peyton finds the body of Wesker, and is shocked to hear Scarface talking to her. Although she suspects she may be hallucinating, she forms a partnership with him.

Scarface and Peyton plan to throw Sabatino over the side of his own yacht. Zatanna rescues Wayne from something, and, as Batman, he proceeds to rescue Sabatino while Zatanna tries to talk down Peyton, explaining that dolls and puppets have powerful magic. Before she can have any effect, a thug named Moose hits her with an oar. While Batman protects Zatanna from Moose, Peyton makes another attempt to throw Sabatino over the side, but gets too close, and he begins to strangle her with his own bonds. Scarface quietly says, "Jump, Sugar", and Peyton sends them both over the side. Before they hit the water, Scarface says "G'bye, kiddo. I loved y..." Riley has not appeared since.

Shauna Belzer[edit]

In The New 52, a new Ventriloquist debuted in the pages of Batgirl. This Ventriloquist (unrelated to the previous incarnations) stole her puppet "Ferdie" from a children's ventriloquist at a party and became a psychotic killer not long after.[6]

Powers and abilities[edit]

The Ventriloquist has no superhuman powers and is not a good hand-to-hand combatant. He is a skilled ventriloquist and his Scarface persona is a skilled criminal strategist. However, he is unable to pronounce any word with a letter "B" accurately without moving his lips, giving Scarface a speech impediment. Wesker usually carries a handgun of some kind, while Scarface carries a trademark Tommy gun. However Wesker tends to show that he and Scarface hold two different personalities and he and Scarface can sometimes argue amongst each other, which tends to work as an advantage to Batman in several occasions.

The second Ventriloquist is much more skilled in ventriloquism than her predecessor, and is capable to pronounce all speech patterns with more proficiency when in her Scarface persona. Unlike the first one, the second ventriloquist's personality does not contradict Scarface's and is much more willing to do cruel acts, especially since she believes that the dummy and her are in a romantic relationship. Coming from an elite mafia family, she is also a brilliant criminal mastermind.

The third Ventriloquist is, possibly, a metahuman capable of controlling other beings. Her psychotic mind often leads those to gain their own personalities.

In other media[edit]

Television[edit]

  • Ventriloquist and Scarface appear in Batman: The Animated Series where they were voiced by George Dzundza. In this depiction, he is a master ventriloquist and can pronounce every sound perfectly as Scarface, a decision Bruce Timm fought for even though DC Comics wanted Scarface to substitute 'B' with 'G' as in the comics.[7] In his first appearance "Read My Lips", Batman investigates a series of robberies and discovers that the crimes are planned by a mob boss known as 'Scarface'. He traces Scarface to his lair (a deserted mannequin warehouse) and discovers that the crime czar is a wooden dummy, manipulated by a mild-mannered man called 'Ventriloquist'. As he makes further developments, he realizes Arnold Wesker (the ventriloquist) has a split personality and it's the dummy who manipulates Wesker. Scarface and his gang capture Batman by discovering the spying device he put on the Ventriloquist's tie and organizes a fake hit to get the vigilante. Scarface ties and hangs Batman and sets him to fall into a pit full of mannequin hands with sharpened nails pointing up. At this point, by faking and projecting the voice of the Ventriloquist, Batman plays both of Wesker's personalities, setting them to fight against each other. This gets to the point where Scarface orders that Wesker be shot, an order no one carries out, so Scarface tries to shoot Wesker himself until Batman cuts off his hand with a batarang. While the duo argue, Batman manages to free himself safely and take out the gang. During the fight, Mugsy (one of Scarface's thugs) shoots at Batman, but accidentally destroys Scarface. At the end of the episode, Wesker is shown in one of Arkham Asylum's workshops working on a project. After a nurse congratulates him on his recovery, he rolls it over, revealing a new dummy head. He takes a knife and makes a scar across the face similar to the original Scarface's. In the DVD commentary to "Read My Lips", Timm stated that the Fox Kids censors allowed the recurring destruction of Scarface because he wasn't a "living" character which allowed the production staff to vent their darker impulses by finding a more gruesome way of destroying the dummy each time, culminating in grinding him to sawdust in a building's ventilation fans in a later episode. In the episode "Trial", Ventriloquist and Scarface act as bailiffs in Batman's trial after the inmates at Arkham Asylum take control of it. When they try to stop Batman from escaping the asylum, Scarface is decapitated accidentally by Scarecrow. In the episode "Catwalk", Ventriloquist and Scarface hire Catwoman to pull off a robbery for them, though it turns out to be a ruse for Scarface to steal some valuable stuffed animals and leave Catwoman to take the fall. Angered, Catwoman destroys Scarface by throwing him onto a conveyor belt and dropping a pile of logs on him, crushing him and burning the remains. She very nearly kills the Ventriloquist as well to ensure Scarface will never return, but Batman stops her at the last moment. Both Rhino and Mugsy have appeared alongside the Ventriloquist in the animated series.
  • Ventriloquist and Scarface later appear in The New Batman Adventures where George Dzundza returns to the two roles. In the episode "Double Talk", Arnold Wesker finally stands up to and destroys Scarface, thus seemingly ridding himself of his alternate personality. Bruce Wayne supports Wesker's rehabilitation by providing him with a job at Wayne Enterprises and frequently checking up on him. Scarface and Ventriloquist make their final, non-speaking appearance in the episode "Over The Edge".
  • In Justice League, the character makes two cameos. In part two of the episode "A Better World", an alternate dimension version of Ventriloquist and Scarface is among the several lobotomized patients courtesy of the Superman of the Justice Lords, a Justice League who goes to extreme measures to ensure peace and is not bound by a "no killing" policy (Ventriloquist's forehead is unmarked while Scarface's intriguingly bears the two burn scars indicative of the treatment which apparently had the same psychological effect). In part three of the episode "Starcrossed", another Scarface dummy is in another transparent glass display case in the Batcave.
The Scarface robot holding Wesker in The Batman.
  • The Ventriloquist and Scarface also appear in The Batman, where they are voiced by Dan Castellaneta. In the series, Wesker is a ventriloquist who snapped when he was booed off the stage one night, and turned to a life of crime, with his first successful act being the robbery of each and every person in the audience who had booed him. The Scarface dummy itself is not cast in the mold of a 1920s gangster, but is instead based upon the character Tony Montana in the 1983 film Scarface. In his debut episode, "The Big Dummy", Wesker arranges for the theft of various gadgets which are used to construct a giant Scarface robot, which holds Wesker in its hand in a reversal of their roles. However, Scarface still needs Wesker to actually move and talk as he is just an oversized "Dummy." In the end, Scarface is destroyed when he is run over by a train. Wesker is then taken to Arkham Asylum. In the episode "Fistful of Felt," Wesker returns with a new Scarface. It is then revealed that Wesker once had a TV show called Cockamanee Junction, which was cancelled. After Batman prevents them from stealing dollar molds from a treasury, Wesker and Scarface are seen in Arkham during Hugo Strange's therapy group with the Joker and Penguin. Strange considers Wesker his main patient and "frees" Wesker from Scarface by simply removing the puppet and prohibiting access to him. Wesker seems to recover and starts to do kids' parties with a puppet named Mr. Snoots, until Strange begins the next phase of his plan. He places Scarface in Wesker's apartment, perhaps to see if Wesker is completely cured and able to stand up to Scarface's overbearing demands. Upon seeing the puppet, the voice of Scarface begins to speak from the dummy. In a confrontation with Batman in a newly opened building for children, the Mr. Snoots puppet confronts Scarface. Scarface and Mr. Snoots start fighting and are both once again destroyed by a train. Wesker is then returned to Arkham. In "Rumors," Wesker and Scarface are among the villains captured by Rumor and have been placed in separate cells. Wesker and Scarface both make their final appearance in the series in the season five episode "The End of The Batman", being assisted by Wrath and Scorn.

Video games[edit]

  • Scarface and the Ventriloquist appear as a boss in the Batman: Dark Tomorrow game. They were seen engaging in a gang war with Black Mask using weapons that have been covertly supplied to both sides by Ra's al Ghul to distract Batman during his latest scheme.
  • While the Ventriloquist is not depicted in Batman: Arkham Asylum, he is referenced numerous times and Scarface is even afforded a cameo appearance. During the game's opening sequence, the asylum administrator, Quincy Sharp, may be heard claiming that Arnold Wesker is among those who have been rehabilitated by his institution. Later on, Scarface may be glimpsed on display in Sharp's cluttered office. Shortly afterwards, a hallucinating Batman, who has been drugged by the Scarecrow, sees an apparently self-sufficient Scarface making an absurd speech welcoming him to madness. Well into the storyline's final stages, the Joker appears using Scarface to entertain himself. He subsequently discards the latter in disgust after a mock dialogue stating that Scarface is going back to the Ventriloquist. Observant players have noted Scarface's trademark Thompson submachine gun can be found mounted on a wall in one of Arkham's many cell blocks. Closer inspection will automatically unlock the Ventriloquist's biography and patient report. He is also one of the villains who is listed on the party list.
  • The Ventriloquist is also referenced on occasion in Batman: Arkham City. The game's background information has now confirmed Peyton Riley's career as the second Ventriloquist, although unlike her comic book counterpart she took possession of Scarface while Wesker was still living. As in Arkham City's prequel, the Joker has somehow managed to procure the puppet and has forced his henchmen to create numerous copies so he may destroy each one after amusing himself. One particular Scarface was even impounded by the Penguin, and may be seen locked away inside his headquarters. Arnold Wesker, meanwhile, is implied to still be at large; listening to Batman's police scanner will reveal that a criminal matching his description has apparently taken two hostages somewhere in Gotham City. The final appearance of a Scarface doll is in the new DLC Harley Quinn's Revenge. This Scarface puppet was found in the Steel Mill where a crib has been placed with the doll inside painted the same scheme as the Joker.

Miscellaneous[edit]

  • In the DCAU-continuity comic books, Scarface has his speech impediment from the mainstream DC Universe version. This was explained by Scarface claiming that, while "in prison" after one of Wesker's arrests, he was involved in a fight where a fellow inmate tore his lips off.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Batman Adventures Annual #1
  2. ^ Detective Comics #659
  3. ^ Detective Comics #664
  4. ^ Detective Comics #818-819 (June–July 2006)
  5. ^ Blackest Night: Batman #1-3 (2009)
  6. ^ Batgirl Vol 4 #20 (July 2013)
  7. ^ Read My Lips Commentary

External links[edit]