thehefner: (Two-Face: FOREVER!!!)
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The second and final part of "Dead Reckoning," a seemingly-forgotten six-part DETECTIVE COMICS story by Ed Brubaker featuring one of the most intriguing (and since unused) new villains to appear in BATMAN comics over the past decade.

At the end of the last part, the Charlatan--aka Paul Sloane--warned Batman that "the next death would be on your head." And who *is* the next target?"

See what I mean about Brubaker's inability to write the Rogues? Jervis only has one line, but come on, "What the hell?" That's not Jervis. It's too common. He'd say something like, "What bandersnatchery is this...?... Oh dear..." Tell me you can't hear Roddy McDowell say those lines. Now imagine him saying, "What the hell...? ... no..." It just doesn't work, does it?

Rule of thumb for Batman character dialogue: if you can't imagine the voice actors from B:TAS saying those lines, then they're being written incorrectly.

Jervis survives, but ends up in a coma on life support. Batman decides to interrogate someone who might just know what's going on... before Sloane gets to him next:

Batman shows up in the garden of Jim Gordon, where the two had talked during that wonderful scene in NO MAN'S LAND.

The favor is that he wants to talk with the Joker, who at this point is incarcerated in the Slab (the metahuman super-prison in Antarctica where the Joker ended up in JOKER: LAST LAUGH).

To Brubaker's credit, his Joker actually sounds somewhat like the Joker. Furthermore, it's a marked improvement over the cliched, unfunny Joker of Brubaker's BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS. I know many people love that story, but I honestly found it contrived, and his Joker to be painfully trite.

Joker asks Batman to think back eight years, "Any Two-Face job seem a little... off to you?"

Batman remembers a Two-Face gold heist at Binary Airlines, a job that--Joker notes--Sloane-Face was never supposed to pull. "But he just couldn't help himself. He had to know the thrill of the crime... know how Dent really felt inside." Which, as you can imagine, is just a great iea.

Batman shows up, and Sloane-Face tries to escape, but gets shot at by a security guard. Sloane-Face shoots the guard, but what really tooks Batman's notice was that "He hesitated..."

Now that's the Joker: playing all angles for his own amusement, and utterly destroying a man just for the sheer fun of it. I've said it a thousand times: any great writer knows that there are far, far worse things you can do than just kill a man.

And frankly, this monster-conversion you're about to see? I find it far more compelling and believable than the sudden flip of Harvey Dent in THE DARK KNIGHT. I always hated the line, "Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push." No, it bloody well does not. No one thing drives a sane person crazy... at least, not as crazy and Two-Face and Sloane get driven.

Take a look at what Sloane goes through. He was already unhinged (as most method actors are a bit) before the Rogues approached him. Then think about what he goes through next. You've already seen him inhabiting the soul of Harvey Dent, which is risk enough, since many actors can't quite shake the demons they channel in certain dark roles. On top of that, he shot and presumably killed a man, clearly something he wasn't quite prepared to do. That's a hell of a thing to go through.

But that's not even half of Sloane's ordeal:


But even that isn't what pushes Sloane over the edge. You see, being the resident medical expert of the gang, Scarecrow pronounced Sloane dead, and graciously offered to dispose of the body. Which is to say, Sloane was still alive, which really, really sucks for him. I'll let the only "unscathed" Bat-Rogue finish telling the nasty origin of the Charlatan:

(I can't shake the feeling that the art really, really wants to be Bernie Wrightson's FRANKENSTEIN)

And there we have another similarity to Darkman: Peyton Westlake's injuries resulted in him being unable to feel any pain, whereas Sloane is unable to feel any fear. That said, while he rips off Darkman in a lot of respects, these attributes seem more logical for a crazy method actor than... well, what the hell kind of scientist was Peyton Westlake anyway?? Even if he could make the faces, there's no doubt that someone like Paul Sloane would be better at impersonations.

So anyway, Crane decides to keep Sloane as a plaything in his hideout until Sloane escape. He left a note, promising Crane that they'd meet again when it's time for the whole ordeal to come "full circle," and thanking him for "giving his life new meaning."

Time to backtrack for a sec, to fill in details on stuff I couldn't include:

At the end of their meeting, the Joker revealed that he learned all about Sloane's ordeal with Harvey because Sloane already told the Joker himself. Joker was being uncharacteristically cooperative because Sloane wanted him to keep Batman busy while he kidnapped Two-Face from Arkham. Kidnapped... or maybe helped to escape?

Sloane's lines above put me in mind of something I've wondered about Two-Face. If Harvey ever did stop using the coin, what would take mean for his evil side? After all, the coin is something of a coping mechanism for Harvey's warring sides. Before Two-Face was unleashed, the "good" side was mostly in control, with the "evil" bubbling underneath.

So without the coin keeping them in check, what's to keep the bad side from doing the same thing, utterly taking over and obliterating Harvey's conscience, insecurity, doubt, and humanity? He'd be a complete and utter monster, and far more of a threat than he even if now.

But now, thanks to the Rogues's actions (direct and indirect), on top of his own instability, Paul Sloane has a freedom of evil that Harvey cannot or will not experience (and that half-humanity is also what leads to his own suffering, thus why it sucks to be Harvey Dent). In this respect, I have to wonder if Sloane's a greater monster than even Two-Face.

Unfortunately, I can't show the final epic battle because I'm pretty much reached my page limit. Suffice it to say, an epic fiery battle ensues with Harvey and Sloane trying to kill Batman. Eventually, it gets to the point where Batman has to save Sloane's life, which gives Harvey the chance to shoot Batman, when he flips the coin. It comes up clean. Harvey sighs and leaves, "Another day, I guess..."

Sloane falls from a great height, and Batman gives a classic "NOOOO!" Sloane survives his fall, and tells Batman, "You're... you're so afraid... just like... like everyone else... pathetic..."

Two days later at Wayne Manor, Bruce takes the time to angst upon the possibility that Gotham does nothing but breed monsters. Alfred counter than it's bred its fair share of good as well, and calms Bruce with a sensible cup of tea.

The story ends at Arkham Asylum, where a recovering Sloane recieves a visitor.

... Where the heck did he get that mask? He never had a mask anywhere in the story. For that matter, why are they calling him "Charlatan?" When did he ever refer to himself as "the Charlatan"?

What, when he showed up, did Jeremiah Arkham say, "What, he doesn't have a costume? But it's important for my inmates to wear their costumes! What else will they take off when they're sane? Orderly, dig through the bargain bin and get this man a mask! Something with a drama theme! And think up a spiffy villain name, stat!"

Kind of makes you wonder what the Charlatan would have looked like in full costume. Would he have kept the hooded Darkman costume, but wear the drama mask instead of the bandages?

It kind of boggles my mind that no one's done anything with the Charlatan since this story, back in July 2003. He hasn't even gotten so much as a cameo in an Arkham cell! Such a shame. Just think of the potential for an insane method actor and master of disguise with the inability to feel fear!

Plus, just imagine: he could have an in-Arkham romance with Jane Doe... assuming the two could find one another. And maybe since he's a lover of Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, perhaps Sloane's an admirer of Basil Karlo! I could totally see the Charlatan and Clayface putting on a grand theatrical production of crime and horror. But then, maybe that's just the ham actor in me.


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