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.


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, 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.