COMIC BOOK REVIEW

DETECTIVE #844


Author: John Bierly
Sunday, May 11, 2008

SYNOPSIS: "Batman and Zatanna struggle against the combined threat of Scarface and the new Ventriloquist as the villains attempt to take out an entire Gotham crime family. Plus, more on the origin of the Ventriloquist!"

It's "curtains!" Literally. "Curtains" is the title of the second and final chapter of Paul Dini's latest DETECTIVE COMICS two-parter which concludes in the now-available #844.

And kids, it's a good one.

By the end of the previous issue, Johnny Sabatino's new club opening had been hijacked by Scarface and the pretty new Ventriloquist, whose identity was revealed as Gotham socialite (and mob daughter) Peyton Riley, who used to be engaged to one of Bruce Wayne's friends.

Bruce found this out the hard way, of course, because he and Johnny Sabatino are now Scarface's hostages, with Zatanna in hot pursuit. (Emphasis on the "hot." Whew.)

And to complicate matters, Bruce's kidnapping occurred in the middle of a spicy heart-to-heart between Bruce and Zatanna about their history and their feelings for each other, with Zatanna really laying it all out on the line.

Bruce's opening narration says it best: "So far, I've been propositioned by Zatanna, kidnapped by Scarface, and shot at by a dead friend's fiancee. Hell of a night and I'm not even in uniform yet."

Even kidnapped, out of the suit and trapped within the cramped confines of the limo, Bruce does some fancy footwork to dodge the dummy's bullets and toss it out the window, temporarily breaking whatever spell it was holding over Peyton. But even Batman gets caught off guard sometimes, as a sharp blow to the head from the driver puts him out cold.

By the time Bruce regains consciousness, he's tied to a chair and Peyton's back under Scarface's spell, with the dummy showing some creepy jealousy over its voluptuous ventriloquist. Peyton tells Bruce the story of how she was once engaged to his late friend Matthew Atkins until her father tried to forge a bond between Gothan's Irish and Italian gangs by offering her against her will to Johnny Sabatino. When Matthew went to Peyton's father to bravely defend her honor, he was beaten so close to death that he fell into a bottle and never climbed back out.

Petyon was promptly married off to Johnny, whose lazy business sense got him in trouble all over town with a list of scary players including -- you guessed it -- Scarface and the original Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker. Even then the dummy took notice of Peyton, whose quick wit was about the only thing keeping Johnny alive.

Johnny actually honored his word to give cuts of his weapons deals to Scarface, but he took out his frustrations on Peyton. The Sabatinos ended up offing Peyton's father, with Johnny dragging Peyton into an abandoned apartment building to off her, too. The gunshot to her face took out her right eye (which explains the constant swoop of her bangs) but didn't quite finish her off. And fate made sure it was the same night that Arnold Wesker was murdered in the same building. (See James Robinson's “One Year Later” story, "Face the Face," for more details about how all of this ties in with previous issues.) Peyton found the Scarface dummy and the two broken souls became the new Scarface/Ventriloquist team.

Peyton and her driver/bodyguard take Johnny Sabatino and his brand new pair of cement shoes to the docks, leaving Bruce tied up and rigged to a bomb just in case he gets any bright ideas about escaping.

And even though Bruce could get out of the trap with his eyes closed, Zatanna shows up with her magic touch. Luckily, she's able to zap Bruce into his Batman garb and gear, and the two heroes are off to stop Johnny Sabatino's impending voyage to the bottom of Gotham Harbor.

(How about that awesome full-page shot of Batman crouched like a springing tiger on top of the yacht, with Zatanna all tall and hot behind him, with Scarface's terrified reaction reflected in the windscreen? Awesome.)

Batman goes after Scarface's hired muscle (and almost gets a flare to the face) while Zatanna tries to talk Peyton out from under Scarface's spell.

A few more action beats later and Johnny Sabatino is trying to strangle Peyton with his ropes. And in a super creepy turn of events, Scarface tells Peyton to jump off the yacht. She does, taking Johnny Sabatino and his cement shoes with her. Without a ventriloquist to operate him, Scarface fizzles out and Bruce and Zatanna take him back to the Batcave, where Bruce puts him in a trophy case.

But is the bond between Scarface and a Ventriloquist broken so easily? Might Peyton Riley have somehow survived? Given that she knows Bruce Wayne, and given that her (literally and figuratively) possessive dummy is in Bruce's headquarters below Wayne Manor, I'm kind of hoping we haven't seen the last of Peyton Riley. Especially given how much interesting history Dini gave her in this issue. I really ended up liking her as a character.

And the last order of business for this issue is the final conversation between Bruce and Zatanna. I don't know when this occurs in relation to all the Jezebel Jet stuff going on over in BATMAN right now, but if I were Bruce I don't think I'd be hesitating.

This is written really well, too.

Bruce: "Part of me wants to open every door to you."

Zatanna: "And the other part?"

Bruce: "Cares enough for you to keep them closed."

Zatanna: "I'm no stranger to tragedy, Bruce."

Bruce: "But you're not driven by it, either."

Oh, come on, Bruce! Stop making things so complicated. Oh, well.

Anyway, Bruce and Zatanna continue to speak honestly about their emotions and maturely agree to parts ways as friends…for now. I, for one, am rooting for this relationship to happen at some point in the future. Deep down, I think that Bruce Wayne is, too.

All in all, another excellent issue of Dini's DETECTIVEwith more handsome, unique art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. And I can't get enough of how John Kalisz colors this book.

And next month, it looks like we're getting a visit from another woman from Bruce's past. See you then. -- John Bierly

Indiana native John Bierly started writing for publications when he was 17 and never stopped.
His favorite things in life are family and friends, concerts, burgers, Mountain Dew, and of course...
...THE BATMAN!
You can read his blog at JOHNBIERLY.COM.

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