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: 2010-04-06 07:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Mmmmh this Harvey makes me feel all fuzzy inside in a horrible, deranged way.

Date: 2010-04-06 08:18 am (UTC)
jlroberson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jlroberson
Very early Chris Sprouse. Different, but good. His Dent is great, though I think his Batman is a bit weak(and appears to be drawn from Maguire's version in JUSTICE LEAGUE). And a LOT of Dark Knight-ish layouts here. I do kind of miss Helfer--for some reason his version of grimdark was usually a lot more bearable and well-structured(and his characters better fleshed-out) than, say, Mike Grell or Jim Starlin around that time.

Thing about Harvey is that he's a character that has been ENDLESSLY retconned, starting with the two Two-Faces in the Golden Age, used briefly and then not again till the 70s, and I think there have been at least two or three backstories for him since.

As for how you do these--I think interspersed works better. It reads like an article and that's how the scans should be used, under those rules.

Date: 2010-04-06 10:58 pm (UTC)
badficwriter: Flying saucer-I WANT TO BELIEVE (Default)
From: [personal profile] badficwriter
God, he's gorgeous...(you know you can flip it in photoshop I think)

Date: 2010-04-07 04:24 am (UTC)
okkult3000: (Default)
From: [personal profile] okkult3000
He's looking in a mirror.

Date: 2010-04-06 10:06 am (UTC)
darklorelei: (Default)
From: [personal profile] darklorelei
I like interspersed. If it's interspersed, I actually read it. If it's a chunk at the bottom my brain goes into tl;dr mode no matter how interesting it is. Bad habit, I know, but that's the way it is.

Date: 2010-04-06 12:25 pm (UTC)
cygna_hime: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cygna_hime
I *really* like this story. It makes a lot more sense than "the acid made him crazy", easier, I suppose, and easier particularly on the writer who wants a straight villain to move the plot, but Batman villains are, at their best and most essential, not supposed to be easy. And Two-Face in particular works best IMO if the reader doesn't get to forget, any more than Batman does, that there was a good guy in there once -- and there still is.

The child abuse thing...In many cases I feel it's gratuitous, but in this case, DID (or similar) is so strongly linked to child abuse that the story, even the generic Two-Face story, makes a lot more sense with it in than with it out.

Date: 2010-04-06 11:06 pm (UTC)
badficwriter: Flying saucer-I WANT TO BELIEVE (Default)
From: [personal profile] badficwriter
The problem is that alcoholic abusive fathers are fairly common, as is various forms of child abuse. Protesting it as a cliche is kind of ridiculous, when the universe is based on noir/realism. Yeah, I miss the days when freaking ordinary people just flipped out and became supervillains *just because!* but--especially in Batman--that kind of hokey thing just wouldn't fit.

And for RL people with that kind of background, it seems to me kind of...disrespectful to mock it because one is tired of it.

Date: 2010-04-06 11:07 pm (UTC)
badficwriter: Flying saucer-I WANT TO BELIEVE (Default)
From: [personal profile] badficwriter
And when I say 'mock' I mean 'criticize it as a cliche' not that you were actually making fun..

Date: 2010-04-07 06:54 am (UTC)
cygna_hime: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cygna_hime
I do see your point, but when it turns into *all*, or even *most*, of the villains having horribly abusive pasts that drive them to do what they do...I'm not sure I like the implications of abused = non-neurotypical = evil. (And not all mental illness is caused/contributed to by child abuse, naturally.) From a pure storytelling point of view, using the same trope wears it out -- unless, like in this story, you have something different and character-specific to do with it. For far too many writers, Alcoholic Abusive Father #146870 is what they throw in when they can't think of anything else. And it shows.

But mostly, I don't find it disrespectful of people who have been abused to say that when abuse is used as a cheap gut punch, a generic way to win audience sympathy, then it is in fact gratuitous and itself disrespectful. In the same way I don't find it disrespectful of people who have been raped to say that the way rape is treated in comic books (as the go-to angst and/or backstory for female characters) is gratuitous.

Date: 2010-04-07 09:29 pm (UTC)
badficwriter: Flying saucer-I WANT TO BELIEVE (Default)
From: [personal profile] badficwriter
abused = non-neurotypical = evil

I hear more complaints about evil because..Evil! Though I disagree with that, as in my experience many people with otherwise decent money and upbringings simply decide other people are tools and toys plenty of times.

disrespectful of people who have been abused to say

If you've experienced it, yes. Again, in my experience, people talk Shit. People on this com mock Emos, fer if no one on this comm has ever considered suicide.

Date: 2010-04-06 03:27 pm (UTC)
sistermagpie: Might as well be in Chinese (Chinese)
From: [personal profile] sistermagpie
I don't mind the commentary at all--one can always skip it and read it all together at the end.

I think you really put your finger on what's great here. It's not that he's got an abusive father, it's that coin toss psychological abuse and how it shaped the way he saw the world. Which is, now that I think about it, probably one of the most important things in the Bat-verse, I mean the way it defines all the really important characters. It's the way they deal with exactly this question. Harvey does it this way, and it's a way that naturally makes him one of the most iconic figures in the Batverse.

Date: 2010-04-06 04:09 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] saralakali
Interspersed is fine. Anyone who doesn't want to read your commentary can skip over the text pretty easily. The font is small compared to the scans, the eye is naturally drawn to the colorful pictures first anyway. For those that want to read the commentary, it helps to have the scan you're referring to right there to look at.

Date: 2010-04-06 06:13 pm (UTC)
kingrockwell: he's a sexy (Death of the Endless)
From: [personal profile] kingrockwell
Interspersed, definitely! It serves the rhythm of the whole post a lot better.
and look at me actually reading one of these on time (i always read them, but sometimes it takes me a while)

Just from what you've posted here, this addresses the problems I had with Two-Face: Year One a lot better. I'll definitely want to keep an eye out for this one if I can find it.
Any time they decide to redo Harvey's origin, they should reprint this instead. That they haven't is a crime (though January's Legends of the Dark Knight 80-Page Giant did end with that cover, so i wouldn't be surprised if readers' curiousity about it was already piqued)

Date: 2010-04-06 08:27 pm (UTC)
kingrockwell: he's a sexy (Death of the Endless)
From: [personal profile] kingrockwell
Hmm, there's, um, well...
The art was nice!

Date: 2010-04-06 06:19 pm (UTC)
crabby_lioness: (Default)
From: [personal profile] crabby_lioness
Thank you. I love the way you do your commentary.

Date: 2010-04-06 06:31 pm (UTC)
slippy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] slippy
I'm right there with you on the "getting chills" part. The first moment especially.

(A fine example of the story rising above the art. For the most part the art is good, but those colours...! But this story still pretty much hit me the exact right way.)

Date: 2010-04-06 07:19 pm (UTC)
btravage: (Default)
From: [personal profile] btravage
I liked this story better when it was in an issue of Namtman.

Date: 2010-04-06 08:25 pm (UTC)
kingrockwell: he's a sexy (Bizarro)
From: [personal profile] kingrockwell
(i tried it with the other half, not as fun)

Date: 2010-04-06 10:38 pm (UTC)
foxhack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] foxhack
That almost looks like something out of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.

Date: 2010-04-06 09:28 pm (UTC)
yaseen101: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yaseen101
Hey, you're back!

I really love this story and I still have memories of it from SD 1.0

Anyway, what do you think of the idea of Harvey having a sort of vanity to him? That he has this drive in him to look perfect and handsome. This could go along with the abusive father idea that his getting his perfect physique getting ruined was just one first domino that got knocked back and eventually lead to his break down and becoming Two Face.

Date: 2010-04-06 10:47 pm (UTC)
quicksilver: (Default)
From: [personal profile] quicksilver
I love this issue. I found the annual for ten cents at a yard sale, and I've read it to tatters. :) I should probably buy a new copy...

Date: 2010-04-06 11:19 pm (UTC)
morgana006: Human Torch saying "Et tu universe?" (Et Tu Universe)
From: [personal profile] morgana006
I remember this from the old S_D, and was so pleased to have found an issue in a BMV some time ago.

Of all the Two-Face origins I've read (At least four, I think... if you include this one, the Golden Age version, Long Halloween and the more recent Two-Face Year One) this one is by far my favorite. Long Halloween is a great comic, but it's not quite as good an origin.

Date: 2010-04-07 05:33 am (UTC)
magnetic_regina: Lazin' in a flower (Default)
From: [personal profile] magnetic_regina
I'm chiming in for interspersed.

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.

Date: 2010-04-07 02:45 pm (UTC)
kagome654: (Riddle me this)
From: [personal profile] kagome654
Consider this another vote for interspersed commentary. I prefer the more natural flow to a 'wall o' text' at the end.

I'm pretty sure you're the one who encouraged me to buy 'Batman: Featuring Two-Face and the Riddler,' and thanks again for that. It's got some pretty neat stories in it, including this one.

One of the things I like about this story, and there's a lot to like, is the fact that despite the seemingly plausible story and characterization there's still a touch of the fantastic to it. Harvey's particular illness doesn't have to manifest in a way that is immediately recognizable as something to be found in the DSM for it to be compelling, and for Harvey to seem like a genuine human character. It's as seemingly simple as 'everyone has an internal monster, let's see what that means for Harvey,' but with a good mixture of all the subtly and nuance a talented writer can bring, AND all the fantastic visuals and extremes in storytelling you can expect from the medium. It's a serious story that doesn't forget it's a comic, and uses that to its advantage.

Which is one of the reasons I like the 'we.'

Date: 2010-04-08 04:48 am (UTC)
ar_feiniel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ar_feiniel
One of my favorite discount bin finds. It's a shame it doesn't get more love. I like the desperate sense of inevitability that Harvey struggles with throughout the story.


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