thehefner: (Two-Face: FOREVER!!!)
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Crime novelist Greg Rucka's first two DC comic stories kicked off a journey that he'd follow all the way up to his recent, lamented departure from the company. Everything from NO MAN'S LAND, HUNTRESS: CRY FOR BLOOD, 52, CHECKMATE, THE QUESTION, and BATWOMAN, it all stems from these two stories where a pair of Gotham's toughest heroines reluctantly team up with face-related men: one with no face at all, and the other with two too many.

"Two Down," which appeared in Spring 1999's BATMAN CHRONICLES #16, is credited by the first-page blurb as the story where "Rucka first proved his mettle in comics," although the previous issue--Winter 98's BATMAN CRONICLES#15--published Rucka's "An Answer in the Rubble." Maybe the second one was published first, but either way, they make a fascinating pairing. Particularly now, twelve years later, as we know how these pairings fell apart... and how the remnants of the two became one themselves.

If you're wondering why the first set of scans is so much more high-quality than the second, it's because they were done by Question authority [personal profile] kingrockwell from an earlier post back at the IJ comm. So yeah, mad props to him.

After the events of CATACLYSM but before NO MAN'S LAND, Gotham was still struggling to recover from the earthquake, and had turned into lawless wasteland. The Huntress watches as a corrupt National Guardsmen hijack morphine from medical supply trucks to resell them on the street.

She attacks the soldiers with characteristic hatefulness, not realizing that she too is being watched--studied, even--by someone else. And when the stranger approaches, she instinctively assumes that he's another of the criminals, and fires at him too:

God, I hated Helena. Still kind of do, whenever I remember these stories of her from the 90's. Did the writers ever intend her to be anything other than a hateful, bitter, uptight, angry, impetuous, rude, belligerent jerk? And yet Vic saw something of himself in her here, something that would make him reach out to her after NML.

Her potential shows through by the end of the story, where she has the corrupt Lieutenant at her mercy, ready to fire a spear into his skull. This is a man who betrayed his oath to steal medicine meant for the injuried, the people who've lost so much: homes, limbs, friends, family. Huntress has taken it upon herself to hear the screams for justice from them all, and over and over again, the Questions watches her and wonders, "Does she see?"

She fires.

Except the tragedy was that, no, as Vic would eventually learn, she couldn't. Not in the way he wanted.

Huntress went through a lot of humbling and learning during and after NO MAN'S LAND, and when Vic tried to help her build herself back up, she resorts to her vengeful "blood cried for blood" ways. Vic condemns her and leaves, his project with Helena resulting in failure. At least, that's how I remember CRY FOR BLOOD, so correct me if I'm wrong.

In retrospect, one can only imagine that Helena might have become the new Question in time, but it just wasn't in her nature, nor did she care to change. Vic had better luck with his second and final try with Renee Montoya, so it's oddly fitting that our other story should feature her along with the man who would eventually ruin her life and let her on the path to becoming the Question.

A few months later, in the next issue of BATMAN CHRONICLES hits with another Rucka story, an exhausted Detective Montoya searches for her brother Benny, who went missing after going out to help quake victims. She tracks down a group of what could be looters, finding Benny... along with someone else.

She leaps out, gun drawn, and demands that the group freeze. The man smiles and says, "Relax, officer..."

Heh, I remember someone thinking that this Harvey looks like Aaron Eckhart. What do you think?

A lot more happens in this story, including glimpses of Harvey's murderous dark half popping up, Harvey saving Renee's life, and Renee using her last bullet to save Harvey's life, all of which culminates in Batman showing up. As they fight, Harvey goes for his coin to decide fight or flight, and that's when Renee thinks, "I understand..."

And already, we see a fundamental difference from the Vic/Helena dynamic. Unlike Huntress, who acts in reaction to the Question reaching out to her, it's Renee who does the reaching out to Harvey here. She's the one taking the chance on him, just as the Question was the one taking the chance on the Huntress.

And thus ends one of my all-time favorite Two-Face stories, on a note of hope and possible redemption. So imagine my frustration when, a few months later, Renee and Harvey return in NO MAN'S LAND with barely any acknowledgment of this story. Clearly, something fell apart somewhere, but neither Rucka nor anyone else wrote what happened.

In Rucka's novelization of BATMAN: NO MAN'S LAND, he has it be that Renee takes Harvey back to Arkham while she gets to keep the coin, and then Harvey escapes with the Joker later. But at this point in the comics, Harvey was already released from Arkham along with the rest of the inmates. So basically, the continuity is completely borked.

As we all know, the Harvey/Renee dynamic eventually collapses even worse than the Vic/Helena one, which always makes me sad to reread "Two Down." Perhaps it's realistic to acknowledge that if you take a chance on someone crazy, you risk having your own life ruined in the process. Yes, realistic, perhaps. But damn depressing.

One can almost imagine post-GOTHAM CENTRAL: HALF A LIFE pre-52 era Renee looking back at this compassionate Renee and saying, "You should have put the bullet in his head when you had the chance." Frankly, I hate that.

But then, it was important for Renee to get to that point, after she'd already faced a moral crisis in OFFICER DOWN and before her breaking point in GOTHAM CENTRAL, when her partner Crispus' murder in GOTHAM CENTRAL led her to quit the force and sent her into a booze-soaked spiral of anger and depression. She was even angrier than the Huntress, and with more cause. Which is when the Question found her in 52.

And thus we come full-circle. Or something. By the end, with Vic dead and Renee as the new Question, I'm guessing that she never became as far gone into her anger as Helena did. Or maybe Vic just learned from his experience with Helena. Or maybe both.

Either way, it all started here, and it's a shame to think that if we're ever to see these stories reach their conclusion, it won't be for a long, long time. Not by Rucka, anyway. But then, isn't that the nature of superhero comics? They're out of his hands now, into the sandbox for someone else to play with or ignore as they please.

But whether anyone will, or if they'll have the talent to pull it off or else ruin the foundations of Rucka's work... well, it's almost so up to chance as to make Harvey Dent himself pleased.

I'm considering doing a series of NO MAN'S LAND posts focusing on Renee and Harvey, interspersed with pages from Rucka's own novelization of NML, which I think is largely an improvement over the comics themselves. I dunno how interested anyone would be in scans of just words, but I personally find the comparisons damn fascinating, nerd that I am. Hopefully some of you will too.

Suggested tags:

char: two-face/harvey dent
char: question/renee montoya
char: question/vic sage
char: huntress/helena bertinelli
creator: greg rucka
creator: roger cruz
creator: jason pearson

Date: 2010-05-12 01:37 am (UTC)
kingrockwell: he's a sexy (Default)
From: [personal profile] kingrockwell
Oh, I've definitely got a similar bead on him, which'll certainly inform his interaction with Bruce (especially being the fic'd take place between War Games and ICk, when Bruce is at his all-time most authoritarian). His snark might die pretty early into it though, given the recent death of Ted Kord and Bruce's role in the events leading up to it.

As to where it comes from, well, Denny gave him quite a history of punching people, after all. One of them was apparently drill sergeant during a failed attempt to join the army. Then Rucka gave us that scene in Cry For Blood #5, where Bruce is being all authoritarian and Vic responds by being insufferable. You can even go all the way back to his Blue Beetle appearance just after Crisis and the way he gets along with his station manager. I'd say Vic not playing well with authority's a a pretty prominent trait of his.

Date: 2010-05-12 03:07 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] psychopathicus_rex
Yeah, those sound about right. Bit of a rebel, our Vic.


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