thehefner: (Two-Face: FOREVER!!!)
[personal profile] thehefner posting in [community profile] scans_daily
I had a lot more planned to scan upon my return (hi again, everybody!), but the more I worked on the posts for PRODIGAL, ROBIN: YEAR ONE, or anything else, I realized that I needed to post this here.

Old-School folks will recall that I posted 1990's BATMAN ANNUAL #14, "Eye of the Beholder," to the original scans_daily at least twice. That's because I frickin' love this story. Not only is it one of my all-time favorite comics--BATMAN or otherwise--but it is also just above BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES for being the gold standard on everything related to the character of Harvey Dent.

It's a story that's borrowed/ripped-off from (THE LONG HALLOWEEN, and subsequently THE DARK KNIGHT) as often as it's been ignored (ROBIN: YEAR ONE), but so far, in terms of a sheer character study, I'm firmly believe that it has yet to be surpassed. Because even when it's not ignored, other writers don't quite seem to have a grasp on the complex subtleties that Andrew Helfer imbued to his new post-CRISIS origin of Two-Face. And attempts to develop it further fall hilariously flat too (why hello thar, BATMAN: JEKYLL & HYDE!)

Of course, this is just a 1/3 excerpt of a great entire issue--one well worth tracking down until DC finally wises up and reprints it in some capacity--but I have to say, I'm really pleased with how this edit actually tightens up the story rather effectively. It's much leaner and brutally to the point.

But enough of my yammering. If you've never read this before, you're in for a treat. And if you have, well, hopefully this falls under the beloved old category of "Never Gets Old."

When comic fans saw the rooftop meeting of Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon, and Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT, they most likely thought to themselves, "Hey, they're paying homage to that iconic scene in THE LONG HALLOWEEN! I recognize things!"

But just like Jeph Loeb rode largely on characters and themes from Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE, so too did he directly lift that scene from somewhere else, an issue that's much less well-known.

The partnership between the DA, the cop, and the vigilante proves to be extremely fruitful. Among the collars include a city towing agency car theft ring, a downtown extortion racket at the hands of a criminal named "Mad Dog" Pike, and best of all, Gotham's number one crime kingpin, Vincent "The Boss" Maroni. Where seven DA's before him failed, Harvey Dent succeeded. Indeed, the future has never looked brighter...

Readers of THE LONG HALLOWEEN will likely recognize Harvey's assistant Adrian Fields by his more timid version, Vernon Fields (kind of like Adrian by way of Arthur from THE TICK). They'll also recall that Fields is duplicitous (hey look, a theme!) and secretly in the pocket of Boss Maroni. In fact, it'll be Fields himself who buys the acid for Maroni on that fateful day in court.

Thing is, the origin of Harvey was classically that it was that one moment which pushed a good man over the edge. The shock of what happened there was all that was needed to drive him bonkers and turn a crusading DA into a split-suit pun-spouting supermobster. Only one other story previous to this hinted that there was something else going on in Harvey's head before the climactic events occurred.

SECRET ORIGIN SPECIAL # 1 posited that it was Harvey's resentment that Gotham needed a Batman--that the real enforcers of the law like him and Gordon weren't enough--that started to eat away inside him long before the acid hit his face. I still like that, and think it can easily play into this origin.

The thing about this one is that Harvey is still fighting the madness, still trying to hold onto his sanity and resist the darkness burbling up inside him. He doesn't give in suddenly, nor willingly. Would his madness have been inevitable or could it have been avoided, even with the acid?

Those panels are one of two parts in this story that *still* give me chills. Pike actually survives, and soon thereafter, Harvey heads into court for the Maroni trial. You all know what happens there, but after what we've just seen, the effects of the acid attack are almost moot. Harvey's pretty well already over the edge into Crazyville, Population 2.

(Heh, he called her "Grace." A slip-up on the writer's part, forgetting which of her two canonical names she was going by in this story? Or perhaps a term of endearment on Harvey's part? Eh, even I know that's flimsy. It's a cute slip-up.)

I've encountered some people who actually loathe it when Two-Face refers to himself in the plural, "We." One person even went so far as to say, "That's Venom's bit, damn it!" I guess they feel it's cheesy and campy, or something.

Here, though, we get one of the best arguments for plural-speaking Harvey out there, simply because of what it means for the character. It's not so much that he's two distinct personalities, like the Ventriloquist and Scarface. The key to remember about Harvey's two sides is that they're both Harvey. His madness is not so much a typical case of split-personalty or MPD (where the personalities exist separately, not simultaneously), but something else entirely. The story itself diagnoses Harvey with hebephrenic schizophrenia, but even that doesn't entirely wash.

Anyway, Harvey escapes from the hospital and kills Fields, accidentally leaving the coin at the scene of the crime. Batman and Gordon have no idea what it means, but they know someone who might...

And thus is spelled out the true root of Harvey's madness: his abusive father. Correction: his abusive alcoholic father.

Now, I imagine there must be an entire TVtropes page devoted to this cliche (and I bet some poor sucker will be kind enough to find it too, before getting sucked into that particular time abyss). Let's face it, that might well be the single worst, laziest cliche for a villain origin ever.

It seems like whenever anyone decided to give a long-established character a new revelatory origin, boom, it's the abusive father. Bullseye and Captain Cold immediately come to mind. No wonder other stories have tried to piggyback on other unwieldy elements to this origin (BATMAN: JEKYLL & HYDE) or pretty well shoved it aside (TWO-FACE: YEAR ONE). Even the generally-great TWO-FACE: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT essentially simplified it down to the cliche of "I'm crazy cuz my Daddy beat me."

But that's not what's happening here. That's the real genius of this origin. It's not the physical abuse so much as the psychological abuse that really fucks Harvey up from the start. Thing is, it's not an entirely easy concept for just any writer to grasp.

It's subtle and complex, made all the more so because of how it's a painfully accurate depiction of the kind of psychological abuse that alcoholic parents play on their children. Not the sort of thing that your average writer understands or can really do much with, so I don't blame them for just opting toward, "Uh, yeah, the acid made him crazy. Done!"

And thus we have an elegantly powerful summation of everything at the core of Two-Face. He's not about choosing between "good" and "evil" decisions exactly. After all, those ideas are just so subjective and fluid, all to easy to twist and cheapen, as many lesser writers are wont to do.

He's caught between two warring and equally powerful sides of himself: his idealistic, hopeful self that believes in fairness and justice... and the side that sees hypocrisy and corruption everywhere, the side that sees no point to playing any of the games because the games are all rigged.

I'll say it again: Deadlocked. That's the key word here. If Harvey let his good side down, he has the potential to become a complete monster. But he cannot allow himself to do that, for whatever reason.

Thus we have the coin. It's what keeps the monster in check, and allows him to actually function, even in his own screwed-up way. As I've said in the past, it's his coping mechanism. Without it, Harvey would probably be trapped in deadlock, possibly in a frozen state of inability to choose anything. Imagine the broken-down Two-Face from ARKHAM ASYLUM, but worse.

Speaking of Arkham, that's where Harvey ends up, of course. In their infinite medical wisdom, the doctors at Arkham decided on a from-the-outside-in plan to treatment, giving him experimental plastic surgery to repair his face before they get working on his mind.

Thing is, it actually seems to be working. The doctor makes it clear that Harvey wants to be cured, or at least half of him does, but the other half has been strangely quiet as of late.

And that's the other part which never fails to give me chills. The great [personal profile] cyberghostface posted those pages for "One Perfect Moment Week" last year, and I am in no position to disagree with his choice. It's a crime that this story isn't in print. Why DC didn't see fit to include this issue in the BATMAN VS TWO-FACE trade paperback is utterly beyond me.

Finally, a question, readers: do you like my commentary interspersed through the scans like this, or would y'all just prefer I leave my essaying until the end in one big chunk? I imagine some people don't care for my blathering on and just want to read the scans, which I understand. At the end of the day, the comics really do speak for themselves, or they should anyway.

Suggested tags: char: two-face/harvey dent, char: batman/bruce wayne, char: jim gordon, creator: andrew helfer, creator: chris sprouse

Date: 2010-04-07 05:49 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] psychopathicus_rex
This is pretty cool, all right. One thing that I would have kept from the original version is Harvey's coin actually being evidence from the fateful trial - Maroni's lucky piece, that he left at the scene of the crime. I don't think it would necessarily interfere with the bit about Harvey's Dad - two-headed coins are fairly easy to lay one's hands on, after all - and there's something oddly RIGHT about Harvey, who is, after all, a lawyer, using evidence from a trial as a means of breaking the deadlock between his two halves.
Also, I'm fine with your style of commentary.


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