about_faces: (Two-Face... FOREVER!!!)
[personal profile] about_faces
Four months have passed since the release of Walt Simonson's excellent new graphic novel, The Judas Coin, so I think it's finally time for me to examine the story's Two-Face segment, Heads or Tails, in full, exhaustive, spoilery, scan-heavy detail.

First off, Heads or Tails works as standalone Two-Face story, so it's not entirely necessary to have read my previous two Judas Coin posts to understand what's going on. If you are interested in the greater context of this great book and you haven't already read my review (plus my pre-review tour of all the neat, obscure, non-Harvey DC characters featured within), then by all means, please do! But if you're like me under most other circumstances, you're probably only interested in the Batman/Harvey stuff, so I can't blame you for skipping those if you want. Even after all the hard work I put into them…! *sniffle*

Just to catch everyone up, the gist of The Judas Coin is that it involves six stories told over a couple millennia, each of which star a different DC Comics character as they come in contact with one of Judas Iscariot's cursed thirty pieces of silver. That's really all you need to know for the Two-Face segment, which is the only story to be set in "The Present." It's also worth mentioning that Simonson originally intended this to be a solo Two-Face story with no Batman, and although the Dark Knight does feature prominently, this is still Harvey Dent's story. It also happens to be one of the best Harvey tales I have read in years.

For Heads or Tails, Simonson drew and formatted his Two-Face story through the filter of the British 1960's James Bond newspaper comic strips by an artist named Yaroslav Horak. I'd never heard of Horak before Simsonson name-dropped him in an interview, but after checking out one volume of his Bond work, I'm amazed that he isn't more well-known today.

Horak has a gritty noir style unlike anyone else I've ever seen, kind of like Darwyn Cooke's recent, excellent Parker adaptations, but with a harsher edge. Simonson uses the influence of Horak to the fullest without letting it ever overwhelm his own art. The most Horak-like thing about Heads or Tails is how the good side of Harvey's face resembles Horak's James Bond. It makes both characters look both weathered and hardened.

Simonson's newspaper basis doesn't end with just Horak's style. In fact, newspapers play a major role in both the plot and the storytelling. Drawn in black and white and printed sideways (which is a pain to read), Heads or Tails is formatted like a newspaper comic strip complete with its own banner headline. To top it off, the story opens with Bruce Wayne picking up the morning paper at his friendly local news vendor. Wait, Gotham sells print media? I thought this was supposed to take place in the present day? /cheapshot

As you can probably guess, the main purpose of this scene will be for exposition, which is by far the least innovative use of newspapers in this story. What's more, Gene the vendor serves that other classic crime-story trope of being that guy on the street who sees and hears everything. Simonson at least softens the info-dump by showing the casual friendship between Bruce and Gene, especially from Bruce's end.

On one hand, it's almost poignant to see Bruce sharing casual small talk conversation with an acquaintance he's clearly known for some time. On the other hand, it's clear that Bruce is here in using Gene to gather intel on the dirty deeds of the day. In this opening, the line is blurred between the human Bruce Wayne and the mercenary Batman as he "off-handedly" feeds Gene a line in order to get info.

After reading the paper and lamenting aloud about how Wayne Industries lost a contract to a sinister-sounding outfit called Gatherton, Inc, Gene proceeds to talk about Gatherton's notorious CEO: the beautiful and deadly "Shiv" Morgana D'Ore.

With this page, Simonson introduces a recurring motif of having newspaper clippings set behind the panels to deliver additional information. In this case, it's there to show the official PR coverage of events while Gene dishes the real dirt about "The Shiv." As with Bruce's duplicitous nature, it's a rather Two-Face-appropriate way to show both sides of a story.

Assuring Gene that "Shiv" Morgana will slip up one of these days, Bruce takes his leave and mentions that maybe he'll get out of this weather and "take in a museum." Naturally, the scene cuts to the Gotham Historical Museum, which is hosting a collection of rare and priceless coins, the centerpiece of which is the Judas Coin itself.

Really, what are these museums in Gotham thinking? They might as well have just posted a huge banner outside reading "PLEASE ROB US, TWO-FACE!" Accepting the implied invitation, Harvey rsticks around in the museum after hours, incapacitates the guards, and proceeds to extract the coin from its glass case.

I can't help but feel a little apprehensive at the idea that Harvey would ever substitute his coin for anything else. Whether the coin is his father's or simply the classic scarred two-headed Moroni coin, it's always been so personal to him that I cannot easily imagine him abandoning it in favor of anything else.

I can accept this conceit if we're dealing with a Two-Face at his most superstitious, since having a "powerful talisman" might give greater weight to his fervent devotion to chance. Still, it does raise further questions, especially since we don't know why Simonson's Two-Face flips a coin in the first place. What kind of power does he hope to yield with the coin, or is he just speaking metaphorically? Does he want greater luck for himself, and if so, does that mean he wants to ensure that fate is in his favor? I guess it's best not to think about it too much and move on.

Harvey's triumphant acquisition is short-lived. In the very next panel, he's attacked by three gun-toting mercenaries (who burst in through the museum skylight, not exactly subtle) who plan to kill him and steal the coin for Morgana's private collection. The newspaper clippings that accompany these pages imply that the mercenaries are ex-army, and that they've been stealing a number of invaluable artifacts for Morgana. I guess everybody has their own little vices, don't they? Killing Harvey may not have been a part of their plan, but it's a happy bonus, since we also learn that he's been a thorn in her side, presumably hindering her plans to take over the Gotham underworld.

In a great moment of badassery, Harvey flings the Judas Coin (which he had still been holding with the tongs but never, it's worth noting, with his own hands) into the air, and while they're distracted, he shoots and kills two of the mercenaries. However, the third one clips Harvey in the shoulder and proceeds to catch the coin. All of a sudden, things aren't looking too good for our hero, nor his wardrobe.

"Do you have any idea how much one of these suits costs?" The answer is anywhere from around $5000 to $20,000! Egad! I don't know what impresses me more: that Harvey has that much money to throw around, or that a respected (real-life) tailor would agree to make one of Harvey's tacky split suits! Also: "I'd heard the special coin exhibition museum was killer." Yeesh, is Batman auditioning for CSI: Miami?

Batman takes down the surviving mercenary, whose name, we learn, is Sawney. In the scruffle, the coin goes flying into the air, landing square in Batman's open palm. It looks as though that's the end of that chapter. *flings scarf over shoulder dramatically* Well, there's still the question of what's to be done with Harvey.

This page is another brilliant example of how Simonson uses the newspaper clippings to convey new information mere panels before that we see the payoff. You wouldn't think that a story about bribed building inspectors would be pertinent to what's going on with Two-Face, and then, BAM! The ceiling caves in, presumably after the shoddy structural integrity was affected by the invasion by Sawney's men.

Well, this is certainly an unexpected development! I love how the newspaper clipping this time doesn't convey plot details, but is instead juxtaposed with Harvey's own situation in an ironic manner.

Throughout all six segments of The Judas Coin, Two-Face ends up being the only character who figures out the coin's true cursed nature on his own. This seems fitting, especially as it leads to him figuring out a way to make it work in his favor, even as he abandons any hopes he had for personal gain.

I love that this clipping outright addresses ideas of flippist philosophy, and again, it's used to nice ironic effect. While it takes about how coin-flipping can give people "new access of our interior selves" that will "produce a serenity rarely found in the vicissitudes of everyday living," that doesn't entirely jive with Harvey's rather telling description of the coin being "damaged beyond redemption." It doesn't sound, to me, like he's really talking about the coin itself. But the act just might lead him to some introspection after all.

That last interaction between Batman and Harvey floored me when I first read it. It may not be an exaggeration to describe my reaction as "heartbroken." To me, especially following the "damaged beyond redemption" moment, I read this exchange as Batman having finally reached a point where he's ready to give up hope for Harvey's redemption. Worse, Harvey's own response implies that he gave up on that hope long ago, seeing himself as "a senseless waste of human life" who's "not worth it."

Couple both of their reactions with the "Breaking Bad Habits" article, and this moment felt especially poignant, even if I couldn't put down my finger as to why. Batman's always held out hope for Harvey's rehabilitation, and that hope has been a lifeline for Harvey to hopefully take someday and, to paraphrase the remake himself into the person he would like to be. But now it may be too late. Harvey's own "bad habits" have constantly put a strain on whatever's left of his friendship with Batman and/or Bruce, and this latest murder might have been just one too many.

The real tragedy of this scene is that Harvey has already damned himself long ago, that remaking himself will never be an option, and now he's possibly converted Batman to his way of thinking. While the article talks about getting past bad habits with the help of "friends who understand and will not judge you," Batman has instead passed judgment on Harvey, and found him not worth saving. I wouldn't want this event to be status quo, but in the context of this story… yeah, I think I was right the first time: it's heartbreaking.

All that said, Henchgirl didn't see any of this when I showed it to her, so it's entirely possible that I'm just talking out of my own ass here. As always, I leave it to you folks to let me know what you think either way.

While I loved this moment entirely, I can't overlook those last couple panels there, which push the boundaries of suspension-disbelief to the breaking point. I know there's a lot of commotion going on with police heading into the museum, but surely someone would notice the bleeding, hideously-scarred, infamous criminal in the loud split suit. Okay, sure, there is that one woman who sees Harvey, but she doesn't really look too concerned either way. Her reaction just seems to be more along the lines of, "Huh. Must be Tuesday."

We conclude this story back where it all started: at the newsstand between Bruce and Gene.

This is the only page in the story where the newspaper almost covers the entire background of the page, with just four panels in the foreground. It's also a nice touch that we see only the barest hit of Morgana, keeping her status as a mysterious, almost mythical villain intact even in death.

So. Harvey won. That doesn't happen too often, does it? And even when it does, as with this case, it's kind of a hollow victory that sucks for everyone involved, to varying degrees. But at least for good people like Gene, life goes on, and it's business as usual. But as of this story, it's hard to tell whether the same can really be said for Bruce and Harvey anymore. Again, I wouldn't want that to be the status quo for every Two-Face story, as that potential for redemption is the most compelling thing about him. But as a standalone character piece free from any continuity ala the best of Batman: Black and White, this may well stands as one of my favorite Two-Face stories ever.

As I've said before, The Judas Coin was the best comic I'd read in 2012, so I strongly recommend checking out the whole thing even if you only care about Batman-related stuff. The full cover price is a bit out of my price range, but you can find affordable copies over at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, which also offers it for Nook. Other ways you can get it digitally include Kindle (the best deal of them all), and iBooks for iPad/iPhone. And if you are willing to spend the full cover price, then awesome, go support your local bookstore/comic book shop!


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