about_faces: (Two-Face... FOREVER!!!)
First things first, I wanted to mention this yesterday, but my son Hal just turned two, and oh my god, the Terribles Twos have arrived in (what I sure as hell hope is) full force. As a fan, this amuses me greatly. As a father, my ears will never stop ringing from the tantrum screams and I will never sleep again. Hey, look, I'm of two minds about it! Whee! ... Well, what do you want from me, I'm exhausted and have a toddler, it's the best I can do right now.

Secondly (enough two puns, Hefner!), guess what, you guys? After I posted about The Beautiful Ugly--the newest Two-Face story appearing in the digital-first Legends of the Dark Knight--I was contacted via Facebook by the story's co-author Derek Fridolfs! Besides the nice things he had to say about this blog, he brought to my attention that he's hosting an interview/discussion about The Beautiful Ugly with co-author Ken Jones over at his own blog! The first part from last week is here and the second just came out today, in conjunction with the release of the second part of TBU!

I had my reservations about the art last week, but wow, THAT is a Two-Face!

These discussions by Fridolfs and Jones are very cool, as they provide a rare insight into the creative process of writing a Batman story without any of the PR-soundbite-ness that comes from normal interviews at comic news sites. Reading through Fridolfs' blog, it's clear that this is a guy who loves Batman and the villains the same ways that I (and presumably many/most of you) do, which certainly explains why his work on Batman: Arkham Unhinged was always a solid read, often handling the villains better than the regular DCU did. He's first writer to actually explore the origins of Killer Croc and Black Mask for the first time since... well, since their original stories in the 80's, and he also has a greater understanding and appreciation of Talia than certain other comic writers and filmmakers do. I now wish I'd reviewed more of Arkham Unhinged, but I put it off so I could first review the rest of the Hugo Strange stories and then Arkham City itself, so I'm taking the opportunity to talk it up now.

Fridolfs is a cool guy and a great writer, so he's definitely worth supporting. Definitely check out his blog and read his discussions on TBU, and hopefully I'll have my own review ready to go shortly after the final issue and discussion both come out next Thursday. With one or two reservations, I greatly enjoyed the second part, and I'm anxiously awaiting to see how it wraps up!

With that, I'm off to enjoy the rest of my holiday. I was thinking about maybe doing a picspam of whatever patriotic Two-Face stuff I could find, but ultimately, I think I'll just stick with this. I've always been ambivalent about this piece from Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum, mainly because--in true Morrison fashion--it's all about using a character as symbolism rather than as a person. In this case, it's showing how America itself is two-faced, which is a perfectly valid idea, but not exactly one which applies to Harvey himself, especially considering that he's supposed to have written it. Nonetheless, for today at least, it's appropriate enough.

On that cheery note, I'm off to find a TV network that's airing 1776, which has its own things to say about the light and dark sides of how this country was founded. I shall try not to incessantly sing "The Lees of Old Virginia" around Henchgirl for the next week, but I make no promises.
about_faces: (Default)
I've found a handful of little things which don't really warrant posts on their own, but by their powers combined, you get a thinly-connected grab-bag assortment of Two-Face goodies and baddies alike!

Chris Sims at Comics Alliance gave a feature story wrote a feature story about the Capcom-style fan-made Batman fighting game that's still in progress. I think one of the creators commented to me about something on an old scans_daily post, but maybe that was somebody else trying to create MUGEN Batman character sprites. Either way, what we've seen so far is damn exciting, but you can guess the part that really got my interest, right?

Really, all you need is a courtroom setting and you're good. Hell, maybe then someone could finally create a piece of Two-Face fanart with him doing a proper Phoenix Wright "OBJECTION!" In a better world, where the character would actually be popular with fans, we'd have seen that sort of thing yesterday, right alongside a Two-Face mashup with Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.

Why yes, I would indeed buy that for a dollar. Thankfully, the game (if it's ever completed) will be free, unless DC realizes the potential here and actually gives these fans money to get it properly produced. They reportedly have a long, long way to go yet before it's completed, but they're still dedicated to the project for the time being. Would that I could find their actual site or blog where they could update with their progress from time to time!

There's so much I'd love to see in this game. Like, maybe the Joker could use a crowbar to beat up a Robin. Or Two-Face could use a baseball bat to beat up a Robin. Or the Riddler could run a Robin over with a tank. Why a tank? Because fuck Robins, that's why a tank. Hmm, I think my sleep depravation is showing.

And speaking of video games, let's look at a real one, now that alert reader Vito tipped me off to this "secret tape" from Batman: Arkham City. God, it's like every time I think I'm done with this damn game, something pulls me back in again! But how could I resist a dialogue exchange written by Paul Dini (I assume) featuring the first-ever meeting of my two all-time favorite Batman villains, Harvey and Professor Hugo Strange?

Ohhhhhh, so many conflicting feelings. First off, I'm annoyed that after DC Universe Online, this is the second time that we've had Harvey's face (body?) scarred by Falcone, not Maroni/Moroni. Why the change? Hell, Falcone's arguably LESS well-known and related to Harvey than Maroni thanks to The Dark Knight.

But I'm more annoyed by the snarling, nasty, humorless Two-Face character here. When I was lamenting the sad lack of Two-Face fic on FanFiction.net, Henchgirl summed up a major reason why Harvey has so few fans in fandom: he lacks charisma. I feel like this take on Two-Face is a perfect example of what she means. There's not much here to really love or even like, just a self-righteous monster who needs to be kicked in the face and taken down. Compare that with the other "leaked secret tape" of the Riddler vs Hugo, where Eddie isn't depicted perfectly, and yes is still practically sparkling with charisma compared to Harvey. That said, I do like hearing the voice shifting from good side to evil and back again, which gives him some dimension.

I also think I'm in love with Hugo Strange's voice performance, and the way he's properly being written as a psychologically manipulative bastard. I wonder what this game will do to his non-existent fan base over the next few months. He can also be heard in the third and final (so far) leaked audio interview, this one between him and Catwoman. I'm still not digging her voice (it's supposed to be Grey DeLisle, and if so, it's the weakest performance I've yet heard from that talented actress), but I like that Holly is canon in the Arkhamverse. Take THAT, everyone who hates the Miller/Brubaker origins!

And speaking of Arkham, I just found a fascinating Two-Face sketch by Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth artist Dave McKean:

McKean has expressly said that he didn't care about the Batman characters when he did the story, which I think helps give this sketch such a uniquely abstract flair. I could and will eventually rant at length about McKean and Morrison's graphic novel, but I can already tell you that most of my positive notes will be about McKean's artwork, which I love (but not without reservations and considerations). This sketch reflects that. It's not my favorite Harvey sketch, but it's one of the more interesting I've seen.

And speaking of sketches, I was just remembering the failed Portraits of Villainy project that Dini and Alex Ross were going to do, but which DC rejected. Like their tabloid-sized Secret Origins book, I believe it was going to be two-page origin portraits of several DC villains.

I go hot and cold on the work of both creators, but as a great fan of villains, I'm very sad that this never happened. At the very least, I wish these could have been inked and painted up properly. Even in pencil, I think the Penguin one is my favorite. I like how he's focused on Harvey's good side because, well, not enough people focus on that aspect. At the same time, I'm especially sad that we didn't get to see a full Dini/Ross origin for Harvey, considering that Ross (at least, over Doug Braithwaite's pencils) painted one of my very favorite depictions of Harvey's scarring.
about_faces: (coin flipping through the air)
In an interview for his one-shot story, Joker's Asylum: Two-Face (which I'll look at on its own later), writer David Hine explained the appeal of writing Harvey:

"Two-Face is the perfect distillation of the Dice Man character. 'The Dice Man' was a novel by Luke Rhinehart that featured a guy who led his life according to the role of a dice. I read that novel when I was a teenager and I loved the idea that you could actually reject any kind of moral choice and let Fate decide for you. No guilt feelings, or anxiety about the future. The Dice made me do it. Of course, he had six alternatives every time he came to a turning point, which leaves a whole range of possibilities in any given situation. With Two-Face there are no shades of grey. It’s just heads or tails, good or bad. But the philosophy is the same."

Is it the same? Let's look at The Dice Man itself, which I immediately tracked down after reading Hine's interview.

Have any of you read this book? It seems to have been quite the cult classic, based on the fact that those very few who knew of it loved it.

It has the kind of following that I'd normally see ascribed to Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves or Chuck Palahniuk. Especially Palahniuk. I can easily see the same people taking Fight Club to heart doing the same with The Dice Man. Similarly, those are the same kinds of fans I want to smack in the face with a large-print copy of The Brothers Karamazov.

I read 7/8th of the novel, but never finished the rest, because there seemed little point once I suspected that the novel was a celebration of the philosophy, rather than some kind of satire. Now, I've heard that the actual author (Rhinehart is a pseudonym, and the actual main character of The Dice Man) isn't serious in his advocation that people "live by the die," and that this subsequent handbook was intended to be tongue-in-cheek:

But many have taken Dice Living to heart. At least one philosopher considers it a bold way to live, while others have decided to use Dice Living in their daily practice.

That last link is what really stuck with me, because that author chose to give his will over to the Die for the same reasons that the fictional Luke Rhinehart did: because he was bored. In the book, the character is a successful family man steeped in ennui, and he starts using the Die on a whim, only to be converted in a way that's explicitly linked to being born again in religion. It's the ultimate answer to people who feel stuck in a rut, directionless, bored in modern society.

In other words, it's for self-centered, well-off jackholes who need to get a life but are too lazy/scared to make it happen themselves. Or at least, that's how it reads to me.

Bad enough that it's already a relic of the same sort of egocentric philosophical leftovers from the 60's and 70's which inspired the Sutherland Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake. But the thought that someone could think it applies to Two-Face, it just speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding about what the character's about, right alongside the people who think that he's Taoist.

Yeah, not really. Although that question has been explored by others.

Look, there are definitely aspects of the Dice Man in Harvey, depending on the writer. There have definitely been stories where he's spoken of the coin and chance and fate in reverent, holy tones. Take Batman Forever, where he's virtually delivering a sermon on the coin! But even in that shallow, lousy version, Harvey's motivation isn't ennui from the tedium of everyday life. It's rage and insanity.

And that's the biggest difference between Two-Face and the Dice Man. In almost every version of the character, Harvey went to the coin only after suffering a severe mental and emotional breakdown. The coin is a crutch, a coping mechanism, and while he may celebrate its virtues as the true way to live, he cannot actually function without it. Whether the coin is a crutch keeping him insane, or the only thing keeping the true monster within him at bay, he's a broken man either way, and the coin is the only way he can live. Without it, he breaks down again.

The Dice Man, on the other hand, is sane. He made the conscious decision to give himself over to the Die, and knowingly, willfully allows his true sense of "self" be slowly eroded away.

But then, it occurs to me, could that description not also apply to Harvey? Even if the impetus to employ the coin greatly differs from Rhinehart's use of the die, what if they result in the same thing? [livejournal.com profile] abqreviews raised similar thoughts about the possibility that there IS no true "Harvey Dent" left. What if Two-Face is no real character at all, just shifting personalities depending on... on...

... On what? That's the next messy, murky question here. Here we enter a realm entirely devoted to personal interpretation of the character, since there's no consistent canon. In fact, making the "no true self" aspect canon is perhaps the only way one can reconcile the many inconsistent takes on the character, much like Grant Morrison's ideas about how the Joker reinvents himself.

Wank wank wank. Sorry, thought I needed to break up my WALL O' TEXT with something.

The problem with Harvey having no true "self" is that he becomes a nothing character. Now, you folks know as well as I do that Harvey Dent is capable of being a rich, complex character. But thanks to several writers over the years, Two-Face has often been written as a nothing villain. He's not even a cipher upon which readers can project themselves, like Bella Swan. And when Bella's a more resonant character than Harvey Dent, you KNOW there's something wrong.

This could get to the heart of why so many people write Two-Face badly, and why so many fans don't really care for the character. But if we accept that Harvey's lack of self is why he's not so popular, how to explain the cult phenomenon of The Dice Man? Because people can at least identify with the philosophy, especially bored, self-centered people who want an easy route to adventure while being free from responsibility.

Maybe someone should write Harvey as being in the right. Maybe readers need to be challenged with a story that asserts the notion that Harvey is correct to give his free will over to the coin. Do I agree with this? Hell no. But nothing could stir up shit quite like a controversial, provocative story like that. Then again, do we really need people like the Dice Man fans actually letting coins make their decisions for them? Last thing we need are real-life Two-Face cultists, and the sad part is, I can easily imagine that happening.

Know what I'd love to read? I'd love to see a story where someone in Gotham actually DOES start up a coin-flipping movement, "inspired" by Two-Face, and see how Harvey reacts to his coping mechanism, his way of life, being co-opted by the average, bored Gothamite.

I can think of no better person to react to the Dice Man philosophy, especially one that refutes the attitudes of people like David Hine. If you think he might be right in comparing Harvey to the Dice Man, then you haven't yet read Joker's Asylum: Two-Face, which I'll be posting here sometime.


about_faces: (Default)

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