Time for me to talk about an often-forgotten section of an incredibly huge franchise, Batman. The Dark Knight is considered one of the most important characters when it comes to superhero cartoons, if only because he's been in so many influential cartoons. I won't get too much into just how powerful his shows were, if only because there are entire websites designed to talk about the impact Batman: The Animated Series has had on animation (ones more coherent and better-written than my blog, might I add) just as there are entire websites designed to talk about how stupid (whether delightfully stupid or just stupid stupid) the 70's Superfriends show is.
Most Batman cartoons, at least according to Batman fans, fall under one of three categories: Crap that came before Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: The Animated Series, and Crap that came after Batman: The Animated Series. It's a pretty common fact that Batman hit its cartoony stride in Batman: The Animated Series, and I'm not confident I can tackle that show yet, lest I want people hunting me down for making the wrong joke or saying that the wrong character sucks.
So, to ruffle the least amount of feathers as possible, I'm choosing a cartoon that's not Batman: The Animated Series (instead I'm going with the Jackie Chan-esque Batman cartoon that came out around 2004) and, to double my protection, I'm going to talk about a character that not many people even notice.
Yep, instead of talking about The Joker, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, or even Bane (just going to say it right now, but I think Bane is stupid), I'm choosing, well...this guy.
|Pictured: Seriously a Batman villain.|
So I'm going to talk about Warner Brother's third most controversial cartoon (because even a Batman made by the creators of Jackie Chan can't reach the level of infamousness that Coconut Fred and Loonatics Unleashed have) for a change, because if there's anyone who can make a strange blend of good and bad mixed into one cartoon, it's Warner Brothers.
Let's look at...
Availability: On DVD.
Now, before I touch upon this episode, this is a good time to point out that since this episode takes place within the first season, Batman isn't carting around a young ward anywhere. I've noticed quite a few times in Batman cartoons (at least the more recent ones), the first season or two has no Robin or Batgirl, but then inevitably the show gets saddled with one because I guess Batman needs small kids in order to fight the mentally ill.
And really, we don't need more than one person wailing on this guy, because the cartoon opens with our main villain and he happens to look like this.
|Truly the scourge of Gotham City right here.|
The first thing you'll probably notice about this guy is that he basically looks like the Batman: The Animated Series version, except chubbier and with a less stylish taste in clothing. He's balding, and he's got the bowtie and the glasses, so therefore he's a Wesker. And coming from a show that mostly did its own thing with the other villains, (a quick google search will net you at least 20 pages worth of fans whining about the Riddler redesign) the fact that the Ventriloquist got off pretty much unscathed is notable.
Anyways, Wesker basically sits in the darkness of his lonely mess of an apartment while waiting for instructions from the ventriloquist puppet hidden underneath a blanket. Nothing strange about that!
So we cut to an abandoned construction site, and, like all construction sites in cartoons, people are able to just walk the hell onto the property and do as they please with all the equipment just lying around. In this episode's case, we get to see that two thugs (Rhino and Mugsy, because The Ventriloquist needs to be a threat somehow) are busy loading a giant construction vehicle into the back of Wesker's vehicle. I just love the pick-up truck he's using; I really hope that's seriously what Wesker drives. No wonder he's turned to crime if his stuff is so run-down.
And no, they never explain how Wesker was able to get hired help. I know villains in these cartoons pretty much have to have thugs in order to give Batman fodder for his fist, especially when they're tubby little middle-aged men like Wesker here, but I have to wonder the hiring process behind that. Can you take out a wanted ad for things like that?
|"I'm kind of new to this whole crime thing. Are we supposed to take the equipment without asking?"|
|"SILENCE! I KEEL YOU!"|
As for me, I'm fine with this Scarface, even if he does look like Wesker carved him out of the wood of an ugly tree. I find the TAS version works a lot better and is a lot more intimidating (you never really get a sense that this alternate personality will kill you), but after you see the neat stuff they pull with this guy, you end up not caring. If only because the way they animate Wesker being dragged along by his own hand is really flipping hilarious.
Mugsy complains to Rhino about their new choice in a boss, and then unfortunately drops the D word. And before your mind goes into the gutter, the word was "dummy". Uh oh. Dem's fighting words.
|"Really, Rhino? This is the best villain that could hire us? We're going to be the |
laughing stock of henchmen everywhere!"
But hey, it effectively sums up the threat level for the Ventriloquist/Scarface duo. Either you find this scene incredibly creepy, especially when Wesker protests what his own hand is doing, or you find it so over-the-top that you can't take either character seriously. Or both; he's psychotic enough that it could really fall into either category.
|This is probably one of the most embarrassing ways to get killed in Gotham City.|
|I totally had a chemistry teacher that looked just like this guy. (Wesker, not the puppet)|
No, really, Bruce? Nah, I'm pretty sure Wesker is just a hoarder and collects random things because he feels like it.
Oh, and we find that one of the Batsuits is covered in claw marks, most of them situated around the chest area. My, my, my. Only nine episodes into the show and already Batman's getting his freak on with a lady in cat ears and tight leather. Mee-ow!
But then Batman batturns on his batcomputer and we batget possibly one of the more batbizarre batsubplots I've seen batpop up in a Batman batcartoon. (okay, I'll stop)
Batman is going to try out online dating.
...DC fans, you may head to the forum closest to you and complain about this. Batman demands it!
|I'm pretty sure half of the people on that site are supervillains, Batman.|
...In other words, Alfred basically made an online portfolio that says "I'm Batman Batman Batman. Bonana mana mo Matman." in big flashing red letters, but of course, Gotham just happens to turn a blind eye to clues like this. I mean, geez, it's not like there's a villain whose entire existence is based off of figuring out riddles or anything!
|"That's a terrible idea, Alfred. It's almost as bad as the time you tried to make a Facebook page for me."|
|"Please don't steal the unguarded space shuttles and rockets. Thank you."|
-Gotham Air and Space Museum staff
Since the two of them are basically performing a vaudeville ventriloquist act without an audience, Mugsy thinks that the man's totally insane while Rhino just kind of humors him and thinks that Wesker is just essentric because he's a genius. I love how obvious they make the fact that both goons think Wesker's out of his gourd. They're not even hiding their feelings because they're saying this within earshot. I'm sure that fills Wesker with a lot of confidence.
Also, great security, Gotham Air and Space Museum! It's nice that these men can just walk around and have arguments with each other (or themselves) without any cops showing up. No wonder the supervillains in Gotham have access to so many neat themed vehicles.
But then it takes the turn for almost heartbreaking when you hear that Wesker really wants to retire to some ranch in either Texas or Montana, "to work the land under clear skies" in his words. He's only really doing this just to get the funding for his retirement (and he only wants one heist too, in order to make sure he doesn't commit too much crime) because, as it turns out later on in the show, he doesn't even have a job.
So, for those keeping track at home, our villain for the day is an unemployed middle-aged man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder. He has no friends, he has no money, he has no girlfriend, and he has no family. And, judging from most of his facial expressions in this episode, he knows how pathetic he looks. Arnold Wesker; his life is just one failure after another and if you don't pity him, you have no soul.
|Forget Bruce. Wesker's the one that needs that "Find Someone in Your Area" site.|
And now would be to point out who's doing the voice of our main villain, because I forgot to do so earlier. Who else but Dan Castellaneta (and if you don't know who he is, then shame on you) is voicing Arnold Wesker and Scarface here, and because of this, sometimes in the episode, Wesker ends up sounding like ol' Gil (aka that really desperate salesman who can never sell a car and oftentimes tries to commit suicide) from The Simpsons. You know, just in case you didn't feel bad enough for this guy already, you can now picture him trying to strangle himself with Christmas lights.
...aaaaand I just made myself feel really bad. Can this episode switch to The Joker please? I feel bad making fun of this guy.
|I think the only reason he's been alive for so long is because the muggers and serial killers that |
infest Gotham City feel that he's way too easy of a target.
...and seriously, this is the thing that's protecting the incredibly dangerous and valuable aircraft? A single laser? Really? Come on, this would be ridiculous if this was just a normal city filled with your basic mugger or crack addict, but this is Gotham City of all places. Like 10% of the population is wearing a mask and committing crime based off a theme. A little more protection should be available in public buildings!
|According to this cartoon, my college's dining hall has more security than an Air and Space Museum. What.|
And judging by how generic her design is, she's never going to appear in this show ever again, making this whole online dating plot pointless from the start. Poor girl. She doesn't know how close she got to dating the goddamn Batman.
|"Hello. I like sunset walks, going to the movies, and dressing up in tight leather costumes |
and fighting people with mental disorders."
|Batman drives with his high-beams on during the daytime? His battery's going to be so drained...|
|"Seriously, Rhino. How did it lead to this? Even jacking car radios had more dignity."|
Anyways, you know what that means, ladies and gentlemen. With Batman here, it's time to commence the fight scene!
|I'm pretty sure if that cloak was that long normally, his archnemesis would be doors, not The Joker.|
I think the only real problem I have with this fight scene is the gratuitous use of property damage. Rhino freaking tosses a fighter jet model at Batman, and Batman goes and damages a large portion of the building in order to hit one of the thugs with something hanging from the ceiling. Geez man, maybe the reason there's so much crime in Gotham is because you keep wrecking all the public areas of interest and destroying thousands of dollars of equipment, Batman. What, you're going to pick a fight in a museum and start using the paintings as weapons too?
But believe me, my friends, because it gets even better. Because The Ventriloquist (or rather Scarface; remember who's leading who here) decides to join the fun. This scene is pure magic, because this is when Batman gets his first look at this themed villain, this mastermind behind the thefts that have been taking place lately. Needless to say, his (or their) first impression is not their best by any means, what with the dummy slapping him in the face after uttering the often-quoted "say hello to my little friend" Scarface line while Wesker just kind of stands back and awkwardly smiles. Pure gold right here.
And I might as well address the elephant in the room. Yes, they toned down Scarface a lot for this cartoon, and that includes the distinct lack of both mafia ties and a tommy gun. Scarface in The Batman is just a greedy little jerk that likes money. I'm totally allowing this though, because I deprive a lot of entertainment from seeing a villain this ineffective at hurting Batman while remaining good-humored about it. This is the man Killer Moth likes to hang out with in order to make himself look better by sheer comparison.
|"Please don't kill me, scary bat person."|
I just wish they didn't do a CGI plane. It's incredibly jarring when paired up with the 2D characters. Because all I can picture is unfinished animation where everyone is reacting to something that only exists in their imaginations. Sort of like how one of the people in their group happens to be talking to a puppet as if they're an actual person. Right, Wesker?
|Before the special effects were put in, they were reacting in fear to a tennis ball on a string.|
...it sort of is, actually. But then again, I've seen an episode of Batman: the Animated Series where, out of the blue, Batman knows ventriloquism. Geez, man. Why is it that cartoon characters just know how to throw their voices? I'm kind of jealous now.
|Now available at your local Target for $10.99 plus tax!|
Although this scene has another purpose besides showing us just what kind of messed up city Gotham happens to be that they need an online ventriloquist puppet directory complete with bios and everything. It also provides ample opportunity for Grade A Alfred snark. While Batman is busy searching through the different dummies, Alfred jokes that the different dolls are clearly smugglers and embezzlers. Considering this town, that wouldn't surprise me at all. At one point, the Batman comics has had two Ventriloquists as well as a living ventriloquist dummy named The Dummy.
|"You're my favorite deputy!"|
I will note that unlike the comic version or the cartoon version, Arnold Wesker gets his Dissociative Identity Disorder late in life, and it's not triggered by some sort of bloody event he witnessed. His parents never get shot in front of him, he was not born into a mafia family, and he certainly never went to prison. He's just a nerd that snapped. Again, really toned down from the comic version, but then again, that would explain why this Wesker will actually have strong emotions when the other ones are repressed to the point of avoidance. Hardcore Ventriloquist fans will balk as such a pussification of such a classic villain, but then again, I'm pretty sure hardcore Ventriloquist fans don't exist.
I also have a very good question. Why would this be in an online ventriloquist dummy directory? Do ventriloquists report when one of their kind goes completely insane? Why is his bio still up and reporting this? Does this site exist so that parents hiring ventriloquists for their child's birthday parties will be better informed?
|"Karate experts love to drink kara-tea! ....Uh, I guess everyone's heard that one..."|
|I gave myself eye strain trying to read the text on Batman's computer.|
...although that makes me question one thing. Was Wesker doing the welding with his right hand, or was he seriously doing some amazing puppeteering behind that closed door and made the doll hold the welding torch? Scarface also gets a welding mask so that's why I'm asking.
And how does a retired children's puppeteer even know how to arc weld?
|No, I'm sure Jim Henson used to do this a lot in his spare time.|
I love that they really play around with the fact that Wesker is, in fact, a very talented ventriloquist in this show. Gags like this really do wonders to flesh out this character. It's a shame Scarface is so ugly. I can't be the only one who thinks he looks a little like a diseased monkey.
|Maybe his act would've been more successful if the puppet wasn't so repulsive.|
Oh, and Batman has a date with Becky at the cafe, and Alfred's happy that finally, Bruce is letting a special someone in his life get to know the real him. Maybe they'll get married and have lots and lots of babies, even! I'm totally sure his job at being Batman isn't going to interfere with his date, right?
...yeah, who am I fooling. We all know the outcome of this plot. Bruce isn't going to get laid tonight.
|Not with that pointy chin, anyway.|
And man, it must be a slow day for crime if the most notable thing that's happening is this. I guess it's Joker's day off. I bet right now Gotham's breathing a sigh in relief that the worst they have to contend with tonight is some man in a bowtie and thick glasses. Every part that gets stolen is not a boat that gets blown up.
Also, I just noticed that in this entire episode, not once is Arnold Wesker is actually referred to as The Ventriloquist. They instead choose to refer to him as simply "Wesker". Before his other episode called him that, Batman fans worried that the reason they omitted his title is because they thought "ventriloquist" was too big of a word for the kiddies to understand. Please, back in my day, our cartoons made jokes about The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and expected us to totally get it.
|No, not the iPhone factory!|
After some slapstick (which, all things considered, would probably be very successful as a comedy routine, provided the audience doesn't know Wesker's not acting), they locate the motherboard. Quickly, Chubby McLonelyMan stuffs it into his shirt, because he thought very wisely that Batman would never conduct a strip search. Batman may be the World's Greatest Detective, but he's certainly not going to stuff his hand down Wesker's shirt.
|Pictured: Criminal masterminds.|
Unfortunately, Batman found them, and let's them know in a Pre-Asskicking Line that Gotham Penitentiary has a thriving retirement community. Yes, Batman, but is the jail in Texas or Montana?
|I highly doubt Wesker could stay on a rocking horse, let alone a real one.|
Want to know why I call it that? I'll give you three hints.
|Sock! Pow! Bam! Bif! Zok!|
And honestly, I have to wonder if the reason the camera's focusing so much on Wesker is because, right now, Batman's doubled over in laughter and can barely breathe.
|He's always picked last for Arkham Asylum baseball teams.|
But moving on. Batman is through kidding around (because punching a man in the face and making him smack face first into a wall is "kidding around") and wants Wesker to give up the whole "I'm being bossed around by a ventriloquist dummy" thing. But there's just one problem, Bats. It's no act.
His face expression when he discovers how insane this geek is really says it all.
|"What's wrong with this city...?"|
Yeah, Batman? Anybody who's even slightly familiar with this character knows that this isn't a good idea. Hell, in Batman: The Animated Series, when this happened, The Ventriloquist pulled out a stuffed thylacine and used it as a club against Catwoman. (and yes, this happened, check your DVDs if you don't believe me) You don't touch the puppet under any circumstances.
|Batman just has an irrational hatred of bald people.|
By now, you can probably guess, but seeing The Ventriloquist fight Batman is just about the funniest thing ever. Just look at him! Wesker's a trooper.
|While this is going on, Batman is praying that there's no security cameras recording this.|
...by grabbing onto the seat of his pants. Yeah, it's an awkward scene. Truly this isn't one of Bruce's better days.
|It's high school all over again.|
While Mugsy and Rhino fight (and lose, as bad guy henchmen are wont to do when faced with men in capes), Wesker manages to escape into the night while towing his now broken, suffering doll. The mirth and hilarity that his scenes once had are now drained, because Scarface is at death's door. There's just something downright heartbreaking about seeing a man clutching an inanimate object to his chest and telling him to hang on, as if the thing is actually dying in his hands. The clincher is the part where Wesker, nearly ready to cry, tells his Muppet reject not to leave him.
...why do I feel really bad for laughing at his fighting scene all of a sudden?
|Pictured: The closest thing this man has had to an actual friend.|
|"You guys are seriously cutting into my online dating time."|
|"Piloting a giant robot makes me sad."|
Pardon me for asking, but WHAT!?
So yes, a giant robot. Arnold Wesker, aka The Ventriloquist, someone who typically uses mafia-related tools, was able to build a giant robot. As you can imagine, this literally comes flying out of nowhere and the writers totally expect us to roll with it. They want me to just watch this scene where a giant Al Pacino machine carrying a bald man crash into the wall of the federal reserve and just be fine with it. Well, guess what. I'm not.
...at least the workers that day had one hell of a story to tell at dinner time.
|And how is Wesker piloting and voicing that thing? This just raises too many questions.|
Unlike me, Batman is completely unfazed by this mechanical monster and doesn't at all find this weird. He even wisely figures out that the thing has a weak point; Wesker. Yeah, Wesker, probably should've built something to protect you; you do look like a big target just sitting there, looking vulnerable and sad.
So then we get Batman fighting a giant robot that can throw cars and use a medallion as a weapon, all while our loveable sack of pathetic is just kind of clinging on for dear life. How did we get to this, people? I know comic books are a strange medium but daaaamn...
|What the hell am I even watching anymore?|
I love how Arnold Wesker managed to not fall off in this chaos. Like a beanbag filled with depression, he sits in place, reacting to the horrors taking place in front of him. I also like how not once did Scarface use him as some sort of human club. I'm sure it was tempting, all things considered.
|Clearly Wesker is related to Dr. Wily if he can make a robot that complex.|
|"I brought you into this world, and I can take you right out!"|
"Shaddup! You're not my real father!"
...also, way to not stop, train engineer. I know trains take a lot longer to stop than a car, but it's not like the giant rampaging gangsta was hard to spot or anything. He didn't even hit the brakes.
|I love how trains always show up when the plot calls for them. I wish the buses down here were that efficient.|
...yeah, I'm not sure what I just wrote so just bear with me here. It's kind of a running theme in The Ventriloquist's episodes that the damsel in distress is Wesker himself. Our loveable little sack of pathetic should be thankful that Batman didn't just let his ass get run over just to teach him a lesson.
Meanwhile, the train driven by the world's most oblivious driver runs right into the robot (with Wesker's head hearing one final "Dummy!" before Scarface gets demolished), completely destroying it and causing gold bars to rain from the heavens.
...okay, several things. One, how was that train not totaled? It just ran into a pretty solidly built robot filled with tons of gold and yet managed to just keep on driving on its merry way. Two, good job, Batman, because all of those gold bars that Scarface just robbed from the federal reserve are now littering the streets of Gotham unprotected. Unless clean-up is very efficient in Gotham City, you know some thief is going to make off with a couple bars.
And three, how is it that these two can be this close to an explosion and escape unscathed? How did they not suffer a concussion from any falling gold bars? Explain, cartoon!
|Trains were his one weakness.|
...so subtly, Batman is blaming the fact that he missed his date with Becky on Wesker's mental disorder. Harsh.
|"You'd better be ashamed. Thanks to your crippling dementia, I couldn't go out with someone I met online!"|
You know what Batman should've done? Hooked her up with Wesker. That probably would've cheered the little screwball right up and the psychologist would've had someone to share an iced tea with. Then everybody wins!
...except for Scarface. Because he got hit by a train.
|"Yeah, your date couldn't show up because he was busy fighting a mentally ill man |
and his giant robot. I love your hair!"
...uh, deep? I mean, geez, he only knew her for like a day or two. I'm sure he could find another girl on that website just as easily. Don't give up hope yet, Bruce!
|"I love this job more than I love taffy. And I'm a man who loves his taffy."|
The Moral of this Cartoon
Ventriloquists are crazy and are able to build giant robots.
Yep, this is not Batman: The Animated Series. But for what it's worth, this is a really good episode.
I think the main thing that will effect whether or not you enjoy this episode is whether or not you like The Ventriloquist, even if his portrayal in this episode is really strong and, in my opinion, full of some really powerful acting. This episode does a great job at introducing the concept of this character and you can really feel this man's pain in his voice work. And, oddly, it was the Batman sections with the online dating that ended up being the parts that dragged. Wesker was puppeeteering this entire episode from the get-go.
This was no "Read My Lips" though (the introductory episode to The Ventriloquist in Batman: The Animated Series), especially when it came to the climax. Yeah, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to deduct points for the random robot that just appears completely out of nowhere. But I can understand why they used it, since by himself, Ventriloquist doesn't offer much in the way of firepower. He's more of a "stay on the sidelines and let the hired help do the talking" kind of guy. Especially now that his puppet no longer carries a gun. Plus a robot's the surefire way of adding excitement to any cartoon, and the big huge Scarface just using cars as weapons and plowing down buildings was kind of fun to watch. If a little goofy.
But all in all, it's a really solid episode, and I honestly have no complaints about the liberties they took with this character besides the odd-looking Scarface and the giant robot. They made some big changes, but Wesker ended up being a strong character in his own right. I can even go the extra mile and say that this is one of my favorite portrayals of this character.
...even if he only appeared in like three episodes in this entire show's run.
I'm just as saddened about this as he is. Come on, a man who can make his hair into such epic spikes should really appear in at least five episodes, not three!