If you were to ask me who is the creepiest member of Batman’s rogues gallery, I have one answer that comes to mind: The Ventriloquist and Scarface. A meek man with a ventriloquist dummy is already enough to creep out some people, but that isn’t what bothers me. This is a criminal duo that should not be; as time has gone by there is something infectious about Scarface and how he corrupts those around him. He’s an abusive personality that wants to be a big man and doesn’t care who he hurts, totally willing to bite the hand that “feeds” him. So what’s the story about these two? Let’s find out.
Arnold Wesker was a quiet kid; his parents died in a car crash, leaving him alone. When he was an adult he got into a barroom brawl and killed a man. This landed him in Blackgate Prison, where his cellmate was a strange pair, Donnegan and Woody. Woody is a ventriloquist dummy, one that Donnegan had made from the gallows tree of Blackgate, so you know, just an all around not unnerving piece of wood. Arnold eventually starts to hear Woody speak to him, telling him of Donnegan’s old escape tunnel that he nearly finished before giving up on it. Donnegan fights with Arnold, knowing that he has been talking with Woody, and in the ensuing fight Woody is damaged by Donnegan. Arnold ends up killing Donnegan and escapes Blackgate with Woody, who has now decided that his damaged face shall lend his new name, Scarface.
Once out in Gotham, Arnold and Scarface begin to build a drug-running empire, collecting a dedicated set of henchman, most of all Rhino. Scarface is often only spoken of in whispered tones, as he often stays hidden away while his assistant Arnold is seen the most. Scarface tears apart Gotham’s drug world by murdering and robbing his way to the top, all while Arnold hold’s him close.
These were in the days when Batman was taking care of Gotham, so you can’t become a successful crime lord for long before he shows up. Batman was stunned to learn that Scarface was a wooden doll controlled by what looked to be a man with split personalities focusing his anger and hate through a doll that looked like an old timey gangster. Arnold would end up in prison for a short stint then return to Gotham with Scarface to rebuild. Eventually Batman was able to get them locked up in Arkham Asylum.
Even on a good day, being locked in Arkham is like being trapped in a room with a small couch blocking the door; most people can get out if they really try hard enough. This was during the time Bane arrived to take down Batman, so Arnold was able to escape, but Scarface remained trapped in the evidence locker. Unable to cope, Arnold made a sock puppet named Socko and was effectively the answer to “What if the wrestler Mankind became a supervillain, but also had no physical strength?” This was short lived, and Scarface joined Arnold once more. I just thought it was worth mentioning that the supervillain who is known for speaking from a wooden dummy can always get weirder.
Arnold and Scarface eventually ended up in a gang war, and were taken in by Batman and Robin. While locked up, Scarface’s old enforcer, Rhino, got a hold of Scarface. Totally faithful to Scarface, seeing Arnold only as his boss’s assistant, Rhino attempted to aid Scarface in leading his gang. Strangely enough, Rhino would eventually get Scarface’s commands across. This could maybe explain some future events, but who knows. When a new player in the Gotham underworld sent out one of his hitters, Arnold and Scarface became targets, and Arnold was shot dead alongside Scarface.
You’d think that’d be the end of the tale, but you’ll notice the name of this article is The Ventriloquist and Scarface, not Arnold Wesker. See, something really weird happened. Copycat killers usually just copy the M.O. of the killer they are mimicking, but Peyton Riley took it much, much further. Peyton Riley had a Scarface dummy made, and was able to pick up his voice, strategy, and all around personality. Scarface would call her Sugar and she seemed all too happy with the nickname.
Unlike the previous Ventriloquist, Peyton rigged her dummies to explode, and had a collection of Scarfaces ready to use and dispatch to keep Batman off her trail. Turns out that Peyton Riley was the daughter of a mob family and forced to marry into another family to unite the two. To make things worse, her husband was terrible as a mob leader. Eventually, she became the reason that their families were able to make a deal with the then alive Ventriloquist and Scarface, whom she’d impressed with her intelligence.
Peyton found love with Bruce Wayne’s old friend turned villain (of course that’s how it goes) Tommy Elliot a.k.a. Hush. The two had similar family problems and bonded over it, though sadly after the two committed many murders together to be together, Elliot left her behind. This all went down toward the end of the original Ventriloquist and Scarface’s run, when their empire was falling apart. Peyton’s husband used this time of weakness to try and kill her family so he could have more of the power draining from the empire. He shot Peyton in the head, leaving her for dead. She survived and witnessed the murder of Arnold Wesker and Scarface. As she saw this happen, she swore she could hear Scarface talking to her. She thought it was an hallucination, but he was there in her mind when she woke up.
Now with Scarface at her side, Peyton planned to take down her husband and his gang. She had him trapped on his yacht when Batman and Zatanna arrived to stop them. In the ensuing chaos, Batman and Zatanna were held up by the gang fight happening on board, while Peyton, Scarface, and her husband plummeted to their deaths in the cold waters below. As they began to drown, Scarface told Peyton he loved her just as they went below the surface of the water.
There’s a Ventriloquist in the New 52, but not much has happened.
So ends the very strange tale of a ventriloquist and the puppet who played them. There are a lot of Batman’s rogues gallery I wouldn’t ever want to meet for a variety of reasons. Most will kill you or maim you, but I think seeing this sick vaudeville act just before you die may be one of the worst.
Detective Comics #583
Detective Comics #818-819
Dr. Alexander Bustos