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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #479

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COMIC LEGEND: The Ventriloquist was originally intended to be a Judge Dredd villain.

STATUS: False, but Close to True

Reader Jim S. was curious after reading the second Judge Dredd/Batman crossover comic book from 1992, written by Alan Grant and John Wagner…

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why Ventriloquist was featured so seemingly oddly prominently. He did a little research and he came across the idea that it was a nod to the fact that Grant and Wagner had intended the character to appear as a villain in their Judge Dredd series in 2000 A.D. before instead using him in their debut series in Detective Comics…

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The answer, Jim, is pretty close to that, but not PRECISELY that.

It is true that the Ventriloquist was intended for 2000 A.D., but not for Dredd, but rather as part of another Grant/Wagner collaboration, the Mean Team, one of a string of 2000 A.D. series that involved futuristic sports teams fighting in deadly matches…

meanteam

Grant told 2000 A.D. View:

Both John and I love ventriloquist acts, and always wanted to see a bad dummy. We created one for use in a 2000AD story we were writing (it may have been some sort of Mean Arena thing, but I’m not sure). Then came Denny’s phonecall, and we immediately pulled Scarface from the script.

In an interview with Gotham in Rain, Grant elaborated further:

Gotham In Rain: Together with John Wagner you created an unforgettable Ventriloquist/Scarface duo. How was this character invented? Was it inspired by William Goldman’s novel Magic?

Grant: We created the character as a newsreaders with a dummy for the 2000AD comic strip “The Mean Arena.” But we decided the character was too good to use in that story, and filed him away…until we needed a new villain for Batman.

To the best of my knowledge, neither John nor I ever read Goldman’s novel. I stopped reading novels 30 years ago, after a leading British sci-fi writer accused me – in front of around 30 people – of stealing his ideas to use in Judge Dredd.

Grant keeps saying Mean Arena, but I am pretty near positive he means Mean Team.

Well, Batman fans sure are lucky that Grant and Wagner pulled the character from 2000 A.D. as he has been a great Batman villain ever since.

By the way, another reader named Michael actually had asked me about whether Goldman’s Magic was an influence on the creation of the Ventriloquist. There’s your answer, I guess, Michael!

Thanks to Jim for the suggestion and thanks to Alan Grant, 2000 A.D. View and Gotham in Rain for the information!

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58 Comments

I have to say, as much as people talk about the killing thing and the collateral damage, what bugged me most about the movie Man of Steel (besides how boring it was) was how wrong it got the character of Pa Kent. His advice was, consistently, “DON’T use your powers to help people! Are you nuts? They’re gonna getcha!” I dunno who the hell that was supposed to be, but it sure wasn’t Jonathan Kent.

If memory serves, the phrase “power and responsibility” appears on a Superboy comic years before Amazing Fantasy #15. Stan borrowed quite a bit from Superman to create Spidey, though he did so in such a way that you’d never notice.

Jeff Nettleton

July 11, 2014 at 10:06 am

Ah, steel cans…………….back in the day when things were still made to last (more or less). It’s amazing that so many of my toys from the 70s held up much better than most household tools of today! So, here’s a question; if there was a Sunday Funnies cereal and cola, did anyone ever market peanuts with Peanuts? It’s a natural! Let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes!

In regards the Superman serial, you have to wonder if anyone involved had ever been through a tornado. That looked more like a blustery day, to me. Meanwhile, why does Clark now have glasses, if he is being presented, for the first time, with the idea of becoming a force for good? He has no glasses as a teenager, so why the sudden change? I know it’s a movie serial and Clark Kent has glasses in the comics; but even kids come up with these kinds of questions. I’m just gonna assume that Clark just happens to be sitting there in a suit because they just recently came home from church and he is still in his Sunday best (pretty stylish for a farm boy, even then). All in all, it’s a pretty good serial, though the cartoon flying stuff had to seem silly even then. Even there, Captain Marvel was beating Superman.

Was Mean Team any good? It looks awesome.

Young Clark Kent before the travesty that was Superboy. “drools like Homer”.

Seriously, this description is fantastic, “In this version of the Superman mythos, Clark Kent is content with just living at home with his parents and not using his powers to help mankind. His adoptive father, though, sits him down and tells him that with all of Clark’s great powers that he has a great responsibility to help the rest of mankind (pretty much the opposite of what Clark’s dad tells him in the Man of Steel).”

No Superbaby. No Superboy. No glasses. None of that crap. It’s very Smallville-esque.

Jason M. Bryant

July 11, 2014 at 10:33 am

I don’t think the lines from the Superman serial are all that similar to the Spider-Man line. The idea of power and responsibility has been around forever. I’m pretty sure Ulysses said something like that to Achilles when he wanted him to join the Trojan war. It’s the specific phrase that is associated with Spider-Man.

“I stopped reading novels 30 years ago, after a leading British sci-fi writer accused me – in front of around 30 people – of stealing his ideas to use in Judge Dredd.”

$5 says it was Harlan Ellison.

““I stopped reading novels 30 years ago, after a leading British sci-fi writer accused me – in front of around 30 people – of stealing his ideas to use in Judge Dredd.”

$5 says it was Harlan Ellison.”

Well as Harlan Ellison is American I’ll take your $5. And my £5 says it’s Michael Moorcock

Harlan Ellison isn’t British.

“(pretty much the opposite of what Clark’s dad tells him in the Man of Steel).”

One of many, many problems with that film. Another: Pa Kent’s death in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE teaches Clark that even his great powers have limits. Pa Kent’s death in MAN OF STEEL teaches Clark…….what exactly? That Clark should have gone back to get the dog?

Scott Wilkinson

July 11, 2014 at 11:13 am

The reason Alan keeps refering to Mean Arena is that the name of the Mean Arena strip was Mean Arena, don’t know why the collection is called Mean Team . . .

Come Brian – you must be able to find out which Sci-Fi author it was – and which idea it was – and whether Alan Grant really stole it!

Laurence J Sinclair

July 11, 2014 at 11:28 am

Oh, going back to get the dog. Coming from a family of dog-owners, I can assuredly say that there is no way the Kents would have forgotten to take the dog with them from the car. It’s the most unbelievable part of the movie.

I think a few people here didn’t pay much attention during Man of Steel. Comics Pa Kent has always told his son that he has to conceal his powers from the world because it will fear him, which is what the famous “maybe” scene was about. Read any Superman origin comic and you’ll see Pa Kent being worried that someone would take him away from them or hurt him. Go watch the Chris Reeve Superman movie where Pa Kent lectures him about showing off his powers in football. It’s entirely consistent.

In any case, Man of Steel Pa Kent clearly urges Clark to be a force for good. Here are a few lines which seem to have been forgotten. There is no ambiguity about this. Pa Kent expects his son to do right, but he has to be careful about how he does it right now, when he’s young, until he and humanity are ready.

“It’d be a huge burden for anyone to bear; but you’re not just anyone, Clark, and I have to believe that you were… that you were sent here for a reason. All these changes that you’re going through, one day… one day you’re gonna think of them as a blessing; and when that day comes, you’re gonna have to make a choice… a choice of whether to stand proud in front of the human race or not.

“You are my son. But somewhere out there you have another father too, who gave you another name. And he sent you here for a reason, Clark. And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.”

“You just have to decide what kind of a man you want to grow up to be, Clark; because whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s… He’s gonna change the world.”

Harlan Ellison is so mean and ornery that he would somehow manage to get British citizenship just to accuse a fellow countryman of stealing his ideas.

All of which is undercut, Jeff, by Pa pondering whether Clark should have saved that kid (rather than telling him he has to find ways to do it, but in secret).
The meaning of Pa’s death in the film is that someone really thought Clark needed an “Uncle Ben” moment.

Sorry, Jeff, no deal. He basically scolded Clark for not letting those kids on the bus die. That movie spit in the face of the mythos, don’t even try that.

All of you are right, as the flaw in the movie’s handling of Pa Kent is in the contradictions.

Fraser:”The meaning of Pa’s death in the film is that someone really thought Clark needed an “Uncle Ben” moment.”

Which merely goes to show that the filmmakers don’t understand the role of Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man mythos. Uncle Ben’s death was caused by Peter thinking only of himself.Pa Kent’s death was caused by Clark and Jonathan being idiots. People can work to reform their morals, but stupidity lasts forever.

The reason Alan keeps refering to Mean Arena is that the name of the Mean Arena strip was Mean Arena, don’t know why the collection is called Mean Team . . .

I’m pretty sure that the Mean Team had their own strip separate from Mean Arena.

It’s just not true that Pa Kent was that fearful in the comics. Sure, he worried like any dad, although he rarely showed it, but the one thing he was absolutely consistent in every version until Man of Steel was that Clark had to get himself out there and help people:
http://imagizer.imageshack.us/a/img13/2769/action12.jpg
http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com/2013/02/review-action-comics-17.html

Sure, he wanted to make sure Clark kept his secret identity secret, but that’s just good sense.

I think the way they handled Pa Kent in MAN OF STEEL was not supposed to evocke Spider-Man exactly. It was consistent with New 52, and the way people are generally more paranoid in this rebooted reality.

Also, I hope Chuck Dixon doesn’t accuse the guys that wrote that 1948 Superman serial of being dirty liberals tainting superheroes. Because they left out “American Way” and added “tolerance” to Superman’s motto! Those damn commies.

JoeyJojoJrShabadoo

July 11, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Sorry, Iron Jam, no deal. He basically scolded Clark for not thinking hard enough about how he was going to go about using his powers in the best way. That movie was very consistent with the mythos, don’t even try that.

Pa Kent is always protective of his son, and wants to make sure that Clark thinks long and hard about how he’s going to use his abilities. He encourages his son to do the best he can with them, but what exactly that means is a decision only Clark can make. He just wants Clark to actually think about it and fully consider the repercussions of revealing himself. “Maybe” isn’t “yes,” it’s “that’s something you, and only you, can decide, and you need to think about it before being overly rash.” He doesn’t want his kid to just blow his cover, ruin his life, and potentially ruin his chances of being able to use his powers as well as he can, because he was too nervous and young to think about what he was going to do with his abilities. He dies because he still sees Clark as a child and doesn’t want his son to sacrifice his future and his options for him.

I think the way they handled Pa Kent in MAN OF STEEL was not supposed to evocke Spider-Man exactly. It was consistent with New 52, and the way people are generally more paranoid in this rebooted reality.

Sure, but not Pa Kent, whom Morrison (nostalgia hound that he is) wrote as being as brave as ever in the New 52.

JoeyJojoJrShabadoo

July 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Morrison barely wrote anything with The Kents, he just had it so they died when Clark was a teenager again. Most of the stories that involved them more were backups by Fisch.

James Kosmicki

July 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm

I doubt that Peanuts the strip was ever used for a peanut product because Schulz hated the name Peanuts. As long as he had any say in the licensing/marketing – and who knows if he did – he would have opposed that sort of branding.

The cereal’s name was Morning Funnies. And it was DISGUSTING.

Is that Judge Dredd/Batman crossover the only time the Ventriloquist has ever been shown actually throwing his voice to make Scarface speak? I ask because in at least a few stories, there has been a certain vagueness put in by the writers over whether the Ventriloquist genuinely suffers from multiple personality disorder, or if the Scarface dummy might actually be some kind of supernaturally cursed object possibly possessing its own separate personality.

Ben – I can’t recall exactly what issues, but I do know there were other instances in Grant’s Batman stories where something like that would happen. It would usually be a small subtle thing.

Pete Woodhouse

July 11, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Yes Mean Team was separate & much later than Mean Arena.
Mean Team fits in more with the Scarface creation timeline. Mean Team was written by Wagner/Grant (under a pseudonym, “The Beast”, IIRC). Mean Arena was not.

Here’s an interesting legend, Brian. I’ve read an interview (may have been a history of Dredd or 2000AD) where either Wagner or Grant amusingly tells the story that they were TOLD to write under pseudonyms by IPC management because they were writing so many stories under the IPC comics’ umbrella in titles like 2000AD, Battle, Eagle, etc!

Echoing what Pete Woodhouse has just said, Mean Team was a spin-off from Mean Arena (just like Anderson: Psi-Division was a spin-off from Judge Dredd, Durham Red spun off from Strontium Dog… and so on). Like in a lot of 2000AD strips, they all die at the end!

That’s something a lot of American readers would probably find very refreshing about 2000AD, should they ever read it. Stories have a beginning, middle and an end, and when characters die, they stay dead! MACH-1 has never been resurrected, Johnny Alpha was never resurrected – the current Strontium Dog stories are “the truth”, with the previous ones before his death being “the legend” – and they do play like that. There’s a very “Spaghetti Western”-type atmosphere in those stories.

Was Superman a magical Spider-being, too? Did he have Spider-stingers coming out of his arms and could cocoon himself just like Spider-man?

Man, I’m never letting that go of that.

Travis Pelkie

July 11, 2014 at 4:50 pm

There’s a 2 parter from one of the ’90s Showcase books where Scarface is shown to be part of, I think, wood from the gallows at Blackgate and has somehow come to life, although it’s been a while since I read it and it might have been still ambiguous about it — if he has his own life or not.

There’s a comment showing re the merchandising of the comic strips that was something I was going to bring up. So I hope there’ll be an upcoming Legend about it.

Ben Herman- The possibility of Scarface being supernatural was something that Alan Grant developed a bit later. At first he was just portrayed as crazy, but eventually Grant introduced the concept that the (future) Ventriloquist was thrown in prison for an “accidental” murder, and ended up with a cellmate who had carved a ventriloquist dummy out of wood from the old Blackgate Prison gallows. Eventually, the Ventriloquist started hearing the dummy talking to him and… well I am sure you can imagine how it went from there.

I really liked the fact that Alan Grant kept whether something supernatural was going on or whether the Ventriloquist was just crazy ambiguous.

tom fitzpatrick

July 11, 2014 at 5:58 pm

I don’t know about steel cans, but I seem to remember seeing ASTRO CITY images on soda bottles (I forget the brand name) a few years back.

Or was it something else?

Travis Pelkie

July 11, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Jones soda, tom. They also featured a bunch of characters like Danger Girl and Monkeyman and O’Brien, iirc.

Ethan Shuster

July 11, 2014 at 6:27 pm

I don’t think that one line was spitting in the face of the mythos. Just instead of having him be an infallible and extremely wise person, he’s a little more confused and conflicted. I mean, I agree it’s a weird thing for him to say, but I hate taking one single line and making it spoil the entire movie. I’m more on the side of thinking maybe they didn’t play the scene exactly right, with Costner seem more uncertain or something. As another example, maybe a lesser one for some people, on Smallville, Jonathan wasn’t that far off from the Man of Steel version, very afraid they’d take Clark away. In fact, he kind of sort of dies to try and protect Clark’s secret.

I seem to find myself defending Man of Steel often, which is weird because I definitely wasn’t a huge fan of it. I just don’t think it was as bad as some people say. I feel like they had some interesting ideas in it, but didn’t necessarily convey them that well.

That soda is the only thing related to Hagar the Horrible that has ever been funny.

Man of Steel wasn’t horrible, but I really hated that Jonathan Kent death scene, for so many reasons:

1. Dying to save a dog? Realistic or unrealistic about leaving that dog behind, it’s a dumb reason to die. I’m sure that given the choice, Martha would rather have had her husband alive and not her dog
2. If you are going to go back toward the raging tornado to save a dog, why wouldn’t Clark be the one to do it? Better, stronger, faster, more able to survive. Maybe the idea was that he was supposed to be helping the people, but we see nothing to actually support that idea, which makes the death more pointless
3. It’s ridiculous that Clark couldn’t think of saving his father in some way that would preserve his secret. Do they really think that during a life-threatening tornado, all the bystanders are going to be all that distracted some blurry shape zipping by?
4. It’s dumb that the film makers didn’t do something else to sell the scene – like having Clark be actually too busy helping someone else to save his father – but I guess that would have somehow defeated the “lesson” that for some reason, in this situation, it was better to let someone die than give away your secret
5. The scene becomes especially pointless when you realize that Clark didn’t actually learn any lesson at all. The next time we see him chronologically – at the beginning of the film – he is doing exactly what his father didn’t want him to do: using his powers in a way that helps people gives away his secret. He saves those guys on the oil rig, but ends up being tracked down by Lois Lane as a result.

And of course, we’re all relieved that he did! Imagine if the movie had begun with Clark seeing the fire on the rig, making moves to go help them, but then changing his mind because he remembered his father’s warning. “Hmm, better to let those people die, even though I could help them, because it might jeopardize my secret…”

I agree that the film’s Jonathan Kent had genuine reasons to be concerned for his son, and his message to his son wasn’t to just ignore people’s needs, but the way it’s actually handled by the film makers is inconsistent and a bit confusing. He comes across more as a hindrance to Clark becoming a hero, rather than an inspiration, which is how he’s treated in almost every other version I can think of (maybe not Smallville?).

Yeah it should be called Hagar the Horrible Comic Strip

Tom, I believe Harlan Ellison is American not British.

ha ha ha Sorry Tom I mean Ian, but you already corrected him.

Scott Wilkinson

July 12, 2014 at 1:13 am

Carl
“Johnny Alpha was never resurrected”

Current story is Johnny Alpha leading another revolt after being resurrected by Middenface . . .

tom fitzpatrick

July 12, 2014 at 7:40 am

T.P.: thanks. You DO know everything!! ;-)

Pa Kent was a fear-monger in Hobo of Steel. Yes, previous iterations of Pa Kent (Donner Superman, Byrne, Lois and Clark, Smallville) have show Pa Kent concerned for Clark’s safety. NONE of them ever showed such a dour, somber, and downright fearful Pa Kent, who never once inspires his son to find a way to help people while also being careful.

The exchange between Clark and Pa Kent before the tornado scene was lifted pretty much whole-cloth from Raimi’s first Spider-Man film. “You’re not my real father.” What a bunch of crap. It irritated me to hear Peter Parker say it (he loved Ben and May like his own parents, so there was never any resentment) and it certainly isn’t something Clark Kent would say, either. He’s not an ungrateful punk. It was Goyer’s way of trying to put angst where it didn’t need to be.

Snyder and Goyer wanted to deconstruct Superman, and since the real source of Superman’s powers is and has always been Jonathan and Martha Kent, they knew they had to neuter Pa Kent. So Clark becomes an aimless, wandering hobo who’s afraid to use his powers to help humanity because his dad told him to be careful.

It’s not made clear in the tornado scene, but if Clark could raise a school bus from a river, I’m pretty sure he could have saved his dad at super-speed and no one would have noticed what happened. Clark spends the whole movie doing what everyone else tells him to do: his mom and dad, then his space dad’s ghost. Hide your powers, don’t save me, put on this convenient suit.

If Clark had saved Jonathan at super-speed, took him back to the farm, and said “I’ve made a decision for myself: I’m going to use my powers to help people. I’ll be careful, but it’s not like anyone can hurt me and I refuse to let anyone die, especially you.”

THAT would have been real character development and true to the character of Superman. Superman’s angst comes from realizing as he begins his heroic career that he can’t save everyone, not that he’s a loner or adopted or a freak because of his powers. That’s more Marvel than DC, but Hobo of Steel is the Marvel version of Superman, after all.

Brian, You say that the drink cans were out in 1969. There has to be a conflict here. I’m positive that Hagar the Horrible didn’t premiere in the Sunday Comics until after Terry And the Pirates was cancelled in Feb. 1973. HTH was not around in 1969 to be on a “soda can”.

@Rob – That story in the Showcase anthology series was definitely what I had in mind when I said that I had been suggested that there might be a supernatural element to the Ventriloquist and Scarface.

On the other hand, I also recall that during “Knightfall” the Ventriloquist escaped from Arkham Asylum he did not have the Scarface dummy with him. So one of the first things he did was to make a sock puppet, which immediately started ordering him around just like Scarface would.

So it does see like Alan Grant as attempting to make it deliberately vague over whether or not the Ventriloquist was genuinely crazy an suffering from multiple personalities.

“Was it inspired by William Goldman’s novel Magic?”
Too bad the question wasn’t about the movie Magic (based on WG’s novel), costarring Burgess Meredith, who also played a famous Batman villain. Might have been a different answer.

Hagar started in 1973, but you refer to the “1969 cans” — need to explain that a bit better!

Hagar started in 1973, but you refer to the “1969 cans” — need to explain that a bit better!

Fair point – the Sunday Funnies line of cola began in 1969, so it must have lasted for at least four years.

“He basically scolded Clark for not thinking hard enough about how he was going to go about using his powers in the best way. ”

Movie-Clark disagrees with you, specifically in his dialogue:

“I let my father die, for I believe him.
Because he assured me, I have to wait.
Because the world is not ready.”

“I let my father die, for I believe him.
Because he assured me, I have to wait.
Because the world is not ready.”

And then he ignored his dad’s advice and saved the men on the oil platform. And right away, a reporter was sent to investigate him, so obviously Pa Kent was right that if your primary concern is avoiding attention, then yes, don’t use your powers to save people. I think it’s weird for that to be Clark’s primary concern, but eh, whaddayagonnado?

@jeff_14 Finally someone mentions this time. You’re right Jeffrey. I feel less alone in thinking this.

Brian Cronin:”And then he ignored his dad’s advice and saved the men on the oil platform. And right away, a reporter was sent to investigate him, so obviously Pa Kent was right that if your primary concern is avoiding attention, then yes, don’t use your powers to save people. I think it’s weird for that to be Clark’s primary concern, but eh, whaddayagonnado?”

Not to mention the scene where he demolishes the jerk in the bar’s truck. Guess that petty revenge also trumps Pa Kent’s advice about keeping your powers under wraps and not drawing attention to yourself.

Stop trying to make Man Of Steel happen. Its not happening!

MoS, sigh… Such a waste of good actors, effects and even director to a… reprehensible script. Take out the drama from Pa’Kent-Clark relationship in that movie and you got a Homer-Bart situation.
“Son, don’t ever use your powers to save people, or you get in trouble…Hey, tornado is sweeping my doggy! I’m coming!” “D’OH!!”

I couldn’t even finish “Man of Steel”. And while the depiction of Jonathan Kent was one of the reasons, it was far from the only one. I turned the Blu-ray off at the moment that Lois found the “Sorta’ Fortress of Solitude” at the same time that Superman did.

I don’t know what character that movie was about, but as sure as shootin’ wasn’t Superman. The fact that DC has officially made David Goyer the screenwriter on most or all of their upcoming projects means that I probably won’t be seeing any of them.

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