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With original writer and creative mastermind Max Allan Collins forced off the Batman strip by dickwad editors, the new creative team of William Messner-Loebs (The Flash, The Maxx), Carmine Infantino (Silver Age legend, co-creator of Barry Allen and Elongated Man), and John Nyberg (The Flash, Doom 2099) took over for the rest of its run.

Here's where things start getting interesting when it comes to Harvey Dent, seen only briefly in Collins' first storyline as a stuffy bureaucratic who resents Batman and fears that the vigilante's actions could result in lawsuits against the city. Under Messner-Loebs, Harvey becomes a full-on supporting character, not just as District Attorney and antagonist for Batman, but also as Bruce Wayne's best friend... two years *before* BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Until that show, it seemed that no one had ever written Bruce and Harvey as being friends. Batman, yes, but not Bruce Wayne. But this strip did it first, and I can't help but think that Dini, Timm, and company read this strip as it came out.

What I love about this Harvey Dent is that he isn't a saint, but he isn't corrupt either. He isn't a guy with anger issues consumed by his obsession with the mob, nor is he the White Knight of Gotham. This actually may be the most human-sized take on the character before he becomes Two-Face, decidedly different from the festering ball of pain we usually see (my favorite version).

Note: Scans taken from Comics Revue magazine, issues #44-47, from 1990, the only places that these strips have yet been reprinted.

Man, Harvey, that's a harsh way to talk about your best friend, isn't it? But then, I'd have to imagine that Harvey's probably been increasingly frustrated with the apparent apathy of Bruce. You'd think that being a best friend would mean knowing the other person a bit better, but I suppose that could be a combination of Bruce being really good at playing the part, while Harvey himself is perhaps too narrow-minded and introspective to be too observant.

That introspection is what really gets to me. What really took the edge off of Harvey's dickishness here were those next two panels, the ones I used as the preview above. It's one thing for Harvey to be a dick, but his self-doubt and admission of possible jealousy immediately, for me, made up for Harvey being a jerk. More on this in a bit.

Also: Alice Dent? Why is Gilda/Grace now suddenly Alice? I suspected a possible reason would be revealed in the Mad Hatter storyline, which would have serves this continuity's more insular storytelling, but no such connection was ever made. So she's just arbitrarily named Alice. A shame, because man, this will be the most visibly active Mrs. Dent we've ever seen, and it would have been nice for her to have been properly Gilda.

You may be wondering what's up with Alfred's cunning disguise there, or why he's suddenly in the Batmobile, killing time like a patient mother waiting for her teenage license-deprived son to finish up his community theatre rehearsal (by which I mean, like my Mom). There was no explanation, and indeed, the panel there looks out of place. That's because it probably is.

The problem with the Sunday strips was that they often just repeated previous strips' events, making the Sunday versions feel longer and redundant. As such, the editor at Comics Revue chose to omit most of the Sunday strips entire, save for a choice panel here or there. As such, it can make reading it all in one go a bit awkward.

But even still, I'm amazed at how well these strips hold together as a narrative regardless. You wouldn't need to do much more than a nip and tuck edit to make this story work as a single volume.

Y'know, it'd be easy to just write Harvey as being a petty, jealous bureaucrat who hates Batman in a similar way to how and why J. Jonah Jameson hates Spider-Man. Sure, this Harvey has legitimate legal and ethical reasons to hate Batman, even if it also stems out of personal hatred.

However, unlike Jonah's fleeting moment of introspection, Harvey is well aware of his personal reasons for resenting Batman, and this leads to much questioning and self-doubt, which I think is key to making this version of the character work.

The waters of legality and morality are being muddied for strict lawman like himself, and he's partially turning the blame inward on his own failings. Even when he can boil down the conflict to a single, simple bottom line of "Any way you look at it... I must destroy this Batman!", the tension within is only growing tighter.

I love Alfred. I kind of wish would see more of Alfred as Batman's dashing, bowler-wearing butler sidekick. He'd be like Kato, but with dry sarcasm instead of martial arts.

Also, I love how Infantino draws smoke screen effects in black and white.

With no warning, this Penguin's story's abruptly become an international crisis! It had actually become strangely common in the 80's for the Penguin to be involved in espionage, nuclear ransoms, and the like. Here were the first signs that people plainly had no idea what to do with the character anymore, and that poor Ozzie was a refuge from the Golden and Silver Ages, with no place in the Bronze Age onward.

Look, I dearly love the Penguin, and I hate the fact that he's consistently spat upon and considered among the worst Batman villains. People who think so are fools who've never read stories like Penguin Triumphant or the Joker's Asylum one-shot by Jason Aaron.

But sadly, I don't care for Ozzie in this particular story. Unlike the strip's neat new takes on Two-Face, the Riddler, and the Mad Hatter, Ozzie here is given no depth of character. This Penguin features none of the character's dramatic flair, nor his aspirations of acceptance as a human being and/or a member of high society.

This Pengers, like so much classic Pengers, is a boorish, snickering thug with a bird gimmick. Perhaps the great Burgess Meredith could have breathed life into this version in live action, but here, it falls flat for me.

At this point, I'm afraid the following pages are water damaged to various degrees, so forgive the quality.

My initial reaction is "Wow, Harv, way to be an ungrateful dickwad to the guy who saved Alice's life!" Once again, Messner-Loebs pushes this Harvey to the limits of jerkdom, threatening to make the character thoroughly unlikeable, and thus robbing his eventual transformation of any tragedy.

But here's the thing: just when I start to get disappointed, Messner-Loebs renews my love for his Harvey with what happens below:

Aw, everybody's happy, and there's absolutely nothing horrible looming around the corner! But seriously, I think it's nice that even Harvey can find a way to be positive and happy about this outcome, while himself overcoming his own bitterness and feelings of inadequacy.

That said, I can't shake the feeling that this ending is missing a few panels. Also, I don't quite buy why Bruce would think that a (two-headed? It's never said either way) silver coin would somehow be a present that Harvey or anyone else would love. There's an element or two missing here as to why that'd work, beyond simply laying the foundation for Two-Face...

... who, by the way, still isn't coming as soon as you'd expect. The beauty of Harvey's story here is how slowly the events work away at him, and you'll soon find out just how much further he has to fall while Gotham itself slips into chaos. Heavy stuff for a newspaper strip!

Date: 2011-02-14 08:25 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] psychopathicus_rex
Well, in this case, the cash was no longer proper legal tender. It couldn't be spent outright, and simple laundering wouldn't do the job - from what I've heard, they punch holes in the bills before they take them to the burn-site, to prevent just this sort of situation. Therefore, the only way to make a profit off of it would be to have it fenced to a collector of some sort - hence the Penguin's involvement.


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