Gail Simone and Derlis Santacruz perform a bit of heavy lifting in “Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1: The Ventriloquist.” For people who haven’t read the character’s debut in “Batgirl,” they need to introduce the character. For those who are reading “Batgirl,” they still need to keep the book interesting. Last but not least, they’re tying it into the events of “Forever Evil” with Gotham City plunged into a blackout and the world fearing that the Justice League is dead. With all that in mind, I need to give them props in turning out a comic that hits all three of those points.
Simone livens up the telling of the Ventriloquist’s backstory by creating a deliberate dissonance between what Shauna says and what actually happened. Once you start to see the deliberate differences between the two, it simultaneously becomes fun to see just how far apart the two versions are, and also a little worrisome when you begin to understand just how far-removed from reality the Ventriloquist is. By the time that people start dying around her when she was still a child, it’s become quite clear that no one here is safe and that she’s truly mad.
At the same time, Simone also creates a bit of drama by setting part of it in the present day, which I appreciate. Everything in terms of the plot of “Batman: The Dark Knight” #23.1 doesn’t require outside understanding; if you don’t know what’s going on in “Forever Evil,” you can still read this because Simone establishes that there’s a massive power failure within Gotham City. You don’t need to know the finer details, and by deliberately keeping that from being a necessity, it’s much more new-reader friendly. Even the brief flash to what I can only assume is the Ventriloquist’s appearance and capture in “Batgirl” earlier this year goes smoothly, because once again I felt like I didn’t need to know more to still like this comic.
Santacruz’s pencils remind me so much of Don Kramer’s that I actually had to double-check the credits to make sure I hadn’t misremembered the artist for “Batman: The Dark Knight” #23.1. Santacruz (like Kramer) has a rounded, tight way of drawing people’s faces, and panels with good backgrounds and surrounding detail. The best thing about this comic’s art, though, is that he draws the young version of Shauna. With that nasty determined look on her face as a classmate dies, her sociopathic nature is revealed in a way that the words alone couldn’t convey.
There’s one final little twist three pages from the end that adds an extra level of menace, with the death of the last gang member inside the theatre. It’s that sort of moment that could mean any one of a number of things (a split personality, or some other force that’s also in control) and hopefully it’ll get followed up upon sooner or later. For now, though, it’s a nice final gut punch for a dark comic. Obviously this isn’t the sort of comic that you’d want to read on a monthly basis, but for a diversion into an all-villains extravaganza, this is what we should be getting.