thehefner: (Two-Face: FOREVER!!!)
thehefner ([personal profile] thehefner) wrote in [community profile] scans_daily2011-05-10 02:20 pm

Two-Face Tuesday! The final tragedy of Harvey Dent in Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns"

When people talk about some of the greatest Batman comics of all time, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is usually listed as number one.

I used to agree, but the older I get, the more I find TDKR to be unbearably ugly. Conversely, I find that Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One gets more powerful and humane with each passing year. I think it's because comics creators learned an awful lot of bad lessons from Miller and Janson's TDKR, and I can't read that book without seeing all the negative influences it's since had on Batman and comics in general. Regardless, TDKR a historic work, filled with scenes and moments that burn into a fan's memory.

But in all the retrospectives and articles I've seen about TDKR, I've noticed a distinct lack of mention for the Harvey Dent subplot. Sad thing is, I can understand why. Even for a fan like me, Harvey's story (and what it means to Batman) slips between the cracks when it comes to stuff like the Mutant mud-pit fight, the sounds of the Joker breaking his own neck, and the climatic battle with Superman. I suppose it's because those scenes are visceral, the kind of moments you can sense on several levels, whereas Harvey's story is more of a psychological portrait. Not even that: he's just there to serve as a reflection to Bruce's psychological portrait.

So let's shine the spotlight expressly upon this neglected subplot of a great work, to see what Miller had to say about who Harvey was, what Two-Face is, and just how exactly he relates to Batman.








Scans are from The Dark Knight Returns #1, and have been provided with permission by the great [personal profile] cyberghostface, who posted this to the original community back in the day. This post is dedicated to him.





Context: it's Gotham, it's the future, and it sucks. To make matters worse, Batman's been retired for over ten years, as an aged and mustached Bruce Wayne tries to ignore the rising tide of gang violence and general misery.








I've always wondered why he was bald. Did they have to shave his head to harvest scalp skin for something like a split-thickness skin graft? If so, where the hell's the scar for that? Eh, it's the future, they can do anything. Except cure baldness, apparently.





I wonder if this is where "I believe in Harvey Dent" originated. If so, that's yet another bit that Loeb lifted from Miller, whose groundwork and ideas are plastered all over Loeb's Batman trilogy. But then, Loeb was riding on The Godfather opening line of "I believe in America" over and over and OVER again, so who knows, it could have been a coincidence.

"We must believe that our private demons can be defeated."

Bruce is, of course, speaking for himself as much as for Harvey, if not more so. Even if Miller had gone no further, we'd already have had an obvious example of just how Bruce and Harvey are alike. This led into the scene of Bruce's nightmare of when he fell into the cave as a child, and was surrounded by screeching bats. This scene, of course, was recreated in Batman Begins, with the unfortunate addition of Rachel Dawes. But there, in the darkness, something approached him. Something with gleaming eyes that hissed.





I'm including this scene of Bruce directly refusing his inner Bat because it might shed some light on what is happening with Harvey, but what we never see ourselves. But if they're meant to be reflections, and if Bruce's Head-Bat is equivalent to Harvey's Two-Face, it REALLY calls Bruce's sanity into question.





I wonder if the loss of Bruce's mustache is meant to reflect with the loss of Harvey's hair. Eh, I'm probably reading too much into that, but it's hard not to with the panel of one directly followed by another.





And now we know where Loeb and Lee got the character design for Hush. I'm not kidding, either, considering that Harvey dressed and looked the same damn way in that story before bandaged-face!Elliot made his big reveal later.

Considering that Dr. Wolper's a jackass, I think it's safe to infer that Harvey was going to go (still be?) insane no matter what. However, I can't help but wonder if maybe he's not wrong about how Gordon's handling this. I think that Harvey's desire to reform was genuine, and while Gordon can be forgiven for not trusting Harvey one damn bit, he certainly didn't help matters.

I'm reminded of Psycho II, a wonderful and underrated film which is required viewing. Some people simply don't want to see the mentally ill guy as anything other than a monster, and will actively do things (intentionally or accidentally) to make sure he STAYS a monster. But then again, even if Harvey's desires for redemption were genuine, so was Bruce's desire to keep his own personal demons down. If this story has anything to say about that, it's that Harvey and Bruce were only fighting the inevitable.





And BOOM!(yummy) The Bat is unleashed. Was this inevitable, or was it triggered by Harvey's release? If you've read the book, you'll recall that Bruce was doing a pretty good job suppressing the Bat until Harvey's press conference, when the nightmare hit. I think that both men were trying their damnedest to suppress their inner demons, and both hit their breaking point at about the same time. What was the impetus? Was it just their time? And how did it happen at the same time for them both?

Also, notice's Harvey's dialogue to Bruce here. Depending on how you want to interpret who's in control, it can be read as either humbly grateful or ominously threatening. Maybe it's both.

Batman makes his grand return to the streets, and I can't help but imagine that Harvey's inner narration reflects what Batman himself is feeling at this moment:





Batman proceeds to terrorize the crap out of Harvey's thus, discovering a familiar coin on one of their persons with a depressing new twist:





I wonder if Miller purposely didn't go with a double-headed coin? Eh, he probably just forgot.

The Batman's return becomes the main topic of debate between Lana Lang and some blowhard on the nightly news, and when said blowhard starts ranting J. Jonah Jameson style about "Batman: Threat or Menace," Lana defends her position by comparing Batman to Harvey:





As I read through TDKR again, I have to wonder how many of these talking heads represent straw man positions and how many speak for Miller himself. I do find it interesting that there's apparently a contingent of sympathy for Harvey, at least insofar as they use him to tear down Batman. However, this contingent seems to be held by people who are jackasses at worst and misguided at best.

After Batman pumps another of Harvey's thugs for information--who referred to his boss only as "Face"--he confers with an old friend about what to do with their other old friend:





Sometimes I think that every horrible thing Two-Face does is just him screaming, "For god's sake, somebody put a bullet in me already!"








The fan in me who likes characters over social commentary would have greatly preferred if that military weapon had actually been engeneered by Professor Jonathan Crane. Hell, let's have it both ways. I like to think that after Batman's retirement, Squishy was hired by Reagan's government to produce biological weapons to scare the damn Commies to death.





Blow up the twin towers? Man, that's awkward.

















Huuuuuuugs.

Seriously, though, this is about the saddest moment in Two-Face character history. While Wopler later on mentions that Harvey's "recovering nicely," there's no reason to think that he's ever going to get better from this. It's the end of the line for the character, his last chance at sanity wiped out entirely along with his superficial scars.

And yet, how are the psychological scars still too deep? How has fixing his face made him one big scar all over, when it's clear to me that this is Harvey talking, not Two-Face. The tormented, not the tormentor. He seems less like the cold-hearted crime boss and more like a broken, sad little man who knows he's beyond hope and can't think of any other way to live than to die in a criminal blaze of glory. It seems to me that he WAS cured of Two-Face, but he still couldn't survive as Harvey Dent.

But that doesn't fit what Miller's saying here. The monster of Two-Face is the truth inside Harvey Dent, just as the Bat is the truth inside Bruce Wayne, who holds the presumably-weeping criminal with sad but understanding kinship. Maybe that's just what Bruce sees in Harvey, and my preferred version of his mental state can still work. Either way, that doesn't make it any less tragic.



If you're one of the few who's not yet read The Dark Knight Returns, it can be purchased via Amazon.com, but you're also likely to find it at most libraries that carry trade paperbacks and graphic novels. It's one of the standards, after all.

[personal profile] ebailey140 2011-05-10 09:14 pm (UTC)(link)

DKR was a landmark, not just for Batman, but for comics in general. This is where so much started The Rolling Stone story and interview brought comics to the mainstream. That was followed by 20/20's story on Byrne's Man of Steel, and Spin doing articles on Moore's Swamp Thing and Gaiman's Sandman.

For DC... Talk about a coup. In 1986, the three biggest names in comics were Frank Miller, John Byrne, and George Perez. So, we had the biggest names in the industry reviving Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Walt Simonson stayed with Marvel, preventing a complete coup. If they'd pulled Simonson over, as well, to do, oh, Green Lantern, that might have been a little too much awesome. :)

For Batman, this brought about the character's popular revival, giving him the top character spot in superhero comics he enjoys to this day. It's success led directly to Warner getting serious about a movie, The resulting Tim Burton film was a huge hit. That led to Warner getting Bruce Timm to develop an animated series, and the rest is history.

Carrie Kelly's appearance in the 90s animated series...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoZLPwRCjcQ

The problem with the series isn't really the series, itself. It was DC missing the point. What made DKR work was this was a possible future for the Bronze Age DCU where things had gotten that bad. What made the conflict between Bruce and Clark so poignant was these were best friends, like brothers. The Joker was supposed to be far beyond his normal self, going to this extreme because he sees this as the finale of his conflict with Batman, and he wants the biggest finish, possible.

The dramatic impact was undercut by DC making these the contemporary characters and relationships, how they always were. Bruce and Clark always didn't get along. The Joker was always a mass murderer. Bruce was always a Grimdark borderline psycho.
sigmund_droid: (Default)

[personal profile] sigmund_droid 2011-05-10 09:52 pm (UTC)(link)
wow that um wow um...

That sums up my views on DKR perfectly

GET OUT OF MY HEAD EBAILEY. GET OUT OF MY HEAD WITH YOUR DARK MAGIC!
whitesycamore: (Default)

[personal profile] whitesycamore 2011-05-10 10:00 pm (UTC)(link)
The dramatic impact was undercut by DC making these the contemporary characters and relationships, how they always were. Bruce and Clark always didn't get along. The Joker was always a mass murderer. Bruce was always a Grimdark borderline psycho.

Yes!

[identity profile] brandiweed.livejournal.com 2011-05-10 10:02 pm (UTC)(link)
The dramatic impact was undercut by DC making these the contemporary characters and relationships, how they always were. Bruce and Clark always didn't get along. The Joker was always a mass murderer. Bruce was always a Grimdark borderline psycho.

Arguably, didn't Marvel run into a similar problem with X-Men and "Days of Future Past"-- treating it not as a future that might happen but a future that would happen?
kusonaga: (Default)

[personal profile] kusonaga 2011-05-10 10:11 pm (UTC)(link)
No, because while that was an uneasy and obviously dark portent of things to come and this naturally influenced the stories, after DKR the very fundamentals of Batman and the Joker were altered. As ebailey140 said, the extreme characterizations of the future world were directly transplanted to the present (and the past). Days of Future Past didn't really influence the characters so much as it determined every other X-Men alternate reality/future storyline afterwards.
icon_uk: (Default)

[personal profile] icon_uk 2011-05-11 12:28 am (UTC)(link)
Though it's perhaps worth mentioning that at least two important characters, Rachel Summers and Bishop, came FROM that future, so their presence always informed the future, and reminded us that it was there. Cable came from a further forward, but equally bleak future.
kusonaga: (Default)

[personal profile] kusonaga 2011-05-11 07:22 am (UTC)(link)
Bishop didn't come from DoFP, did he? Definitely a bleak future, but a different one, as I recall. It had the whole Summers Rebellion and the like.

[personal profile] ebailey140 2011-05-11 03:46 am (UTC)(link)
Arguably, didn't Marvel run into a similar problem with X-Men and "Days of Future Past"-- treating it not as a future that might happen but a future that would happen?

Not quite the same thing, and the problem didn't really happen until the 90s Grimdark era.

Then, it was decided that the Days of Future Past future was "the real deal" and inevitable, even though it was averted in the original story, and Rachel was established as being from what was now an alternate timeline.

The big problem with having that future as set in stone and inevitable was that it made every heroic act of the X-Men completely pointless. It left them morons for even trying, instead of trying to conquor the world. But, they couldn't even spin this Nihilistic viewpoint into a "Magneto is right" thing, because they insisted on portraying Magneto as a raving loon.

There was also a bit of sexism as a consequence of the time travelling offspring of Scott and Jean. We wound up with four of them: Rachel, Cable, Stryfe, and X-Man. They were constantly put forth as demonstrating the supremacy of Scott Summer's genetics. Never mind that all four inherited all their amazing powers from their mom.
fifthie: tastes the best (Default)

[personal profile] fifthie 2011-05-11 07:46 am (UTC)(link)
There was also a bit of sexism as a consequence of the time travelling offspring of Scott and Jean. We wound up with four of them: Rachel, Cable, Stryfe, and X-Man. They were constantly put forth as demonstrating the supremacy of Scott Summer's genetics. Never mind that all four inherited all their amazing powers from their mom.

Hahaha jesus, how did this never click before now

icon_uk: (Default)

[personal profile] icon_uk 2011-05-11 12:29 am (UTC)(link)
Motto. Very motto indeed, in fact.
lilacsigil: Batwoman, red/black/white art (Batwoman)

[personal profile] lilacsigil 2011-05-11 02:13 am (UTC)(link)
The dramatic impact was undercut by DC making these the contemporary characters and relationships, how they always were.

Yes! I started reading comics in the early 80s with random black and white reprints of various Silver Age stories, so when I was finally old enough to travel to the city and buy my own comic books in the late 80s, DKR blew my mind *because* I'd grown up with the earlier versions. Reading it now, it's an artifact itself.
althechi: (Default)

[personal profile] althechi 2011-05-11 11:46 am (UTC)(link)
...say what?

Sorry, I was distracted by the very idea of a Walt Simonson Green Lantern. =P

[identity profile] screamsheet.wordpress.com 2011-05-11 12:33 pm (UTC)(link)
Agreed. I initially didn't like The Dark Knight Returns because Batman was such a dick in it. Upon later readings, I realized that there was a good reason for him to be a dick - this was an old, bitter Bruce Wayne who had effectively lost his war on crime and much of his humanity in the process. The scene posted with Two-Face is a good representation of this - Bruce sees Harvey as just Two-Face, and he sees himself as just the Bat.

Many of the flaws of the present-day Batman can be traced to DC forcing The Dark Knight Returns into normal continuity without establishing context. Batman's suddenly a dick exceeding the levels of the Dark Knight Returns, but doesn't have the 20+ extra years of establishing motives for being such an ass. We get Bat-God because DC ignored the fact that it took a TON of preparation and sheer coincidence for Batman to come close to beating Superman, including Supes being weakened by a nuke and getting shot at with a kryptonite arrow. We get the Joker's ever-rising body count because there seems to be a desire to top not only this story but also A Death in the Family and The Killing Joke. Everything that causes me to dislike the modern Batman character springs from this story, yet in the context of Miller's tale it actually WORKS.

Personally, I think it's a real shame that current Batman tales draw so much characterization from The Dark Knight Returns and not much from Batman: Year One. The latter presents a much more interesting and human Batman, and is a sad reminder that Miller used to be much more than the parody he has become.

[personal profile] ebailey140 2011-05-11 03:30 pm (UTC)(link)
It should also be noted that Moore intended The Killing Joke to be an Elseworlds. Plus, the idea that Jason being dead in DKR meant they had to kill Jason off in the contemporary books ignored the fact that, in DKR, Jason's death was the reason Bruce quit being Batman.

At least, once we entered the Whatever We're Going To Call The Age After The Iron Age Now That We're Out Of Classical Ages To Name These Things After Age, the nicer Bruce who values family and friends has returned.

As for Miller, yeah, there was a reason he was considered one of the greats. I especially recommend his Daredevil work, which was also landmark. It defined the character, and gave him a more solid origin (introducing Stick, explaining how DD learned how to do all that). It re-defined older characters like the Kingpin, Punisher, and Bullseye. It even gave us Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which started as a big Miller homage (The turtles origin being tied to the radioactive isotope that blinded a young Matt but gave him the radar sense; Splinter was a homage to Stick, the Foot Clan to the Hand, etc.) Popularizing ninjas would even alter Ra's al Ghul's League of Assassins, which suddenly was made up mostely of ninja.

One of the most influential things Miller did was create Elektra. The hugely popular incredibly skilled female ninja would lead directly to such characters as Whisper and, of course, Cassandra Cain.

[identity profile] screamsheet.wordpress.com 2011-05-11 04:43 pm (UTC)(link)
I did know about The Killing Joke not being intended to be in continuity. I believe Moore has also expressed regrets that he wrote the story. Personally, I like it a lot, but I wish it had remained on the high end of evil things the Joker had done instead of being pretty mild for the stuff he pulls now.

At least, once we entered the Whatever We're Going To Call The Age After The Iron Age Now That We're Out Of Classical Ages To Name These Things After Age, the nicer Bruce who values family and friends has returned.

I'm not a fan of Grant Morrison's comics these days, but I do like that he's gone a long way toward humanizing Bruce Wayne again. I wish the rest of Batman's appearances in the DC Universe would acknowledge these changes, though.

As for Miller...he's an amazing example of a creator who seems to just lose his talent. His work on Daredevil and Batman was amazing. Then he either started believing his own hype or just stopped caring, and both his art and writing have become black holes of suck ever since.

[identity profile] screamsheet.wordpress.com 2011-05-11 04:49 pm (UTC)(link)
Wasn't Morrison the guy who had Bruce reach out and offer to adopt Tim as a son? If not, I'm assigning credit to the wrong writer.

There have also been some nice moments with Bruce and the Bat-family lately, although again I might have mistaken the writer.

[identity profile] screamsheet.wordpress.com 2011-05-11 05:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Darn. That means I have to give credit to the Cry for Justice guy.

[identity profile] screamsheet.wordpress.com 2011-05-11 09:07 pm (UTC)(link)
Huh. I glossed over the story when it came out. Was disappointed to see Harvey go bad so quickly, but happy to see the Batman and Tim interactions. I was planning on snagging it in trade but never did. Now it looks like I'm lucky to have skipped it.

I keep hearing that Robinson is a good writer, and maybe reading his Starman will change my mind, but I have yet to see solid evidence.

[personal profile] ebailey140 2011-05-11 05:35 pm (UTC)(link)
He has? From everything I've read, Bruce has been written less as a human being and more of an unstoppable and untouchable Bat-God, as he's quite literally been called. He's no longer the asshole of Miller's TDKR onward, but I don't think he's any closer to humanity. Morrison seems to prefer writing him as a walking ideal, not a person.

The Batman Rule is just DC's version of Marvel's Cap Rule, which states that no matter who you are, if Steve Rogers has enough time, he'll find a way to beat you.

There are a lot of parallels between Bruce and Steve, and have been for decades.

[personal profile] ebailey140 2011-05-11 05:50 pm (UTC)(link)
As for Miller...he's an amazing example of a creator who seems to just lose his talent. His work on Daredevil and Batman was amazing. Then he either started believing his own hype or just stopped caring, and both his art and writing have become black holes of suck ever since.

I blame Sin City. Everything being so over the top in that fit the setting and story. It worked, there. Unfortunately, it seems he got stuck in that mode when doing anything else.