Thursday, February 02, 2012


Why We Love Detective Comics

The Ventriloquist and Scarface

Yes, it's true. One of Batman's villains is a ventriloquist's dummy.

The dummy's name is Scarface, and he's a real piece of work. He talks tough and he knows no mercy. He runs his gang with an iron hand. He knows what to do with snitches. (Kill 'em!) He knows what to do when other gangs roll onto his turf. (Bribe somebody at the local armory, get a tank ... and kill 'em!) He knows what to do with the Batman. (Kill 'im!)

His faithful assistant, The Ventriloquist, is always at his side. He takes a lot of grief from Scarface, who frequently yells at him and threatens to kill him, but The Ventriloquist and Scarface have been associates for a long time. The Ventriloquist has learned to put up with Scarface's abuse, and Scarface probaby realizes that he just couldn't get along without The Ventriloquist.

I picked up a few scattered issues of Detective Comics today, all from the late 1980s and early 1990s, and some of them weren't so great, but #642 is a real treasure. One of the things I love about Detective Comics is this: You got a pretty good chance of getting something good from any time period when you pick up a random issue of Detective. Some of them are pretty dumb, sometimes in a good way. Yes, there are some bad ones. But I know I can count on a lot more good comics as I keep collecting Detective Comics.

#642 is the middle story of a three-part opus. I do not have the other issues, but they will come to me in time. Right now, I'm perfectly content with just this issue.

Great art by Jim Aparo. He truly is one of the great Batman artists. I could just flip through this and only look at the art and not pay any attention to the story.

But I don't have to do that. The words are pretty good as well.

The story, by Alan Grant, is a very entertaining tragicomedy as Scarface, just out of prison, berates his old gang because they seem to be ready to give up crime and go straight. It's great, the way they all argue with Scarface instead of with The Ventriloquist. Scarface is the boss, dammit! And he's not putting up with this crap. He keeps the gang in line because he has a little machine gun, which he uses to blow one of the guys away! Just like that, everybody in Scarface's merry little band is ready for another go-round with Batman.

And The Ventriloquist, ironically, is not a very good ventriloquist. All Scarface's B's sound like G's. So the dialogue is stuff like this:

Call yourselves a ganga gig-time gad-guys? Look atcha! So help me, I seen meaner-lookin' gagies!

And this:

I ain't no glocka wood. I got da grains to take us places!

And this:

You getrayed me, old guddy. In my gook there's only one reward for traitors!

Detective #642 also has a very early Renee Montoya appearance. I think it's her second appearance overall and her very first appearance in Detective Comics!

Batman is in the book as well. But who cares? The Ventriloquist doesn't appear very often because he steals the show every time. Oh, sure, Bats can beat the snot out of a balding guy whose only weapon is a wooden puppet. But the reader quickly gets the idea that the Caped Crusader is just jealous that nobody is paying any attention to him because they all want to find out what's up with the puppet!

And that's why Scarface (and The Ventriloquist) are two more reasons why we love Detective Comics.


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