about_faces: (Two-Face... FOREVER!!!)
In honor of today being 2/22, the intrepid [livejournal.com profile] lego_joker decided--for whatever inspired reason--to throw together collages of every single time that Harvey got hit in the face with acid. The result is oddly compelling in a way that's both hilarious and horrible. The colleges in question only cover the comics in the regular continuity, and he has plans to eventually put out a fourth collage of "Elseworlds/Impostor/Rescarring/Other Media stuff" once he figures out how they'll all be put together. I, for one, cannot wait. For now, I'll let [livejournal.com profile] lego_joker take over with his collages and notes.

Behind the cut, all of your favorites: 'Ugh! My face!' 'Aaghh! My face!' 'AARRRGGH!! M-my face--!?!' 'GAAHH--' 'YAAARGHH!!' 'NAAAGGGHHHH!' And many more! )
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So hey, remember when I said that I'd discovered an even-more-obscure Batman newspaper comic strip, one which featured what may well be the single rarest Two-Face appearance ever?

Well, good news, everyone! I have come into possession of several scans of the strips, including most of the Two-Face stuff! Not all of it, sadly, and I'm missing the surrounding strips, so the result kinda just feels like being plunked into the middle of a story. But the important thing is, hey, long-lost Two-Face appearance! What's more, as this pre-dates the O'Neil/Adams classic Half an Evil, this strip is actually Harvey's first true appearance during his seventeen-year absence in the Silver Age! So okay, it's crazy rare and historically important, but is it any good? Let's find out!

He was top of his class at Handsome Law School! )

And on that cliffhanger, I'm afraid I've run out of strips. If I ever get my hands on any other scans, I'll be sure to either revise this post or do a whole new, more complete version of this. So yeah, all in all, this strip is much more what I expected the 90's strip to be: an amusing and kinda cool little artifact with some neat bits, but ultimately nothing to write home about for any reason other than its sheer obscurity. Pretty much everything that I didn't include centered around 60's-style Batman detective work and riddle-solving, which didn't exactly make for compelling reading nor offer any character moments. Still, I'm glad to at least have found this much of something which isn't anywhere else on the internet! What think you folks?
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Part 1

And now, the conclusion of (my review of) Paul Jenkins' Batman: Jekyll & Hyde. At this point, artist Jae Lee left the mini-series for unexplained reasons, and artistic duties were taken up by B:J&H cover artist (and artist of Steps, that story from Legends of the Dark Knight) Sean Phillips.

For many, the loss of Lee is terrible, since he was undoubtedly one of the main draws to the story. Bear in mind, Lee was a rockstar artist around this time thanks to his work on such titles as Grant Morrison's Fantastic Four and his previous collaboration with Jenkins on Marvel's Inhumans mini in 2000. Seriously, as someone who grew up reading Wizard magazine in the 90's, I cannot stress how highly Inhumans was touted as THE shit, and how Lee (less so Jenkins, because the prevailing mentality was "who cares about writers?") was hailed as a superstar. As such, to lose Lee halfway though is to lose pretty much the main driving force behind this series' appeal to most comics readers at the time.

Personally, though, I think that Sean Phillips (who is now far more known for his collaborations with Ed Brubaker in absolutely goddamn brilliant stories like Sleeper and Criminal, not to mention the infamous Marvel Zombies) is a far more expressive and dynamic artist, and I prefer the way he draws Harvey anyway, so I approve. Besides, in a sense, this brings Jenkins' story full circle, considering that this all started with Jenkins and Phillips in Steps. Just be prepared for a jarring bit of artistic whiplash. Then again, considering the big revelations that Jenkins has in mind, perhaps artistic backlash is the least of your worries.

Ice cream, funny little hats, and traumatic childhood revelations, behind the cut! )

If you want to own Batman: Jekyll & Hyde, the collection is pretty commonly available, and can be purchased online at places like Amazon.com. There's a lot more which I couldn't include, including more Two-Face hijinks and an entire subplot of Batman recovering from the effects of the serum.
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There is no Two-Face story quite so nobly ambitious, so frustratingly misguided, so fleetingly moving, and so goddamn gloriously ridiculous as Batman: Jekyll & Hyde.

Years before the book's release in 2005, I read an interview with writer Paul Jenkins where he discussed his intentions to tell--I clearly remember--"The Killing Joke of Two-Face stories." While other writers have made me realize that such a goal is doomed to fail, I was damn excited. I mean, sure, Harvey already had not one but two Killing Joke-worthy tales, but while both were brilliant, neither have earned the kind of esteem for the character that TKJ did for the Joker. He needs that kind of story! And hey, more Two-Face! Always a good thing, right?


Here's the thing: I love stories which peel the villains apart and show what makes them tick. I think most long-running villains--especially in the Batman rogues gallery--could benefit from that kind of treatment, and few more so than Two-Face. As such, I appreciate that Jenkins shoots high with bold ideas and revelations about the true nature of Harvey Dent's madness.

However, to say that Jenkins missed his mark would severely undersell the fascinatingly frustrating and frustratingly fascinating mess that is Batman: Jekyll & Hyde. In trying to give the character a new tragic poignancy, Jenkins instead oversimplifies Harvey's origin in a manner that's both cartoonish and offensive, all while simultaneously having Two-Face commit the single most irredeemably monstrous thing he has ever done.

And yes, the evil plan involves ice cream. Don't question it. )

Since this post is already long as hell and we're only halfway through, I'll stop here and post the rest a few days from now. In the meantime, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out [livejournal.com profile] wo_meimei's own critiques of Steps and the first two chapters of B:J&H here and here. She goes way more in depth than I do, and her insights (especially into this story's treatment of mental illness) are invaluable. She also fills in the gaps of the story in more detail that I cared to, which is great for those of you who haven't read the story and are unable to obtain a copy.

EDIT: Part Two is up! Go go go!
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Over at Comics Alliance, one of the main writers began his positive review for the new digital comic version of Batgirl: Year One with the following words:

"I'm skeptical of origin stories, particularly ones for characters that are decades old. I mean, honestly -- who cares? Are the specifics that important? Superman is going to be the same character whether he was found as a baby or a toddler. Batman is going to be Batman whether or not he captured Joe Chill. I'd much rather that everyone involved skip all the rigamarole and just get on with the story, you know?"

Something about that stuck in my craw. And not just because I've spent the last five or so years writing an extensive retelling of Harvey's origin as I see fit.

No, it's bugged me for other reasons, such as when people HATED the Billy Quizboy origin episode of Venture Bros. Personally, that episode became one of my all-time favorites because it added an unexpected new level of tragedy and poignancy to Billy and Pete White, who up to that point were little more than two-dimensional minor characters. Others, however, saw "The Invisible Hand of Fate" as a tedious waste of time that detracted from the forward momentum of the main storyline. Who cares about Billy Fucking Quizboy, they asked, when there's a whole other main storyline to follow?

Look, I know that origin stories are INCREDIBLY played-out, especially in movies. I mean, shit, why the hell are we getting yet ANOTHER FUCKING SUPERMAN ORIGIN STORY, when everyone already knows his whole deal and can instantly accept just being thrust into an actual, ready-to-go SUPERMAN movie? I'm tired of everyone trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to origins. There's a reason why X-Men 2, Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight, and Superman 2 (the original Donner cut, at least up until the last ten minutes fucking ruin EVERYTHING) are all vastly superior to their respective first films.

And yet, I feel compelled to challenge Mr. Brothers' hypothetical question about origins, mainly because of the examples he gave to back up his point. First off, a good origin story that change our perceptions of that character, making us view all the stories we've already read in different lights. To start with a loaded example, take Batman: The Killing Joke, which gave us the possibility that the Joker was never actually a criminal mastermind, but was just a poor lonely schlub. If you choose to believe that origin (or even if you consider that it's even one of several possible origins he might have), it casts a whole new aspect--one that is simultaneously tragic and chilling--on everything the Joker was, is, and does.

For fans like me who really love thinking about what makes these characters tick, specifics ARE important. Consider what it actually means to have a Batman who captured Joe Chill versus a Batman who never did. Either version means something very different for why Batman does what he does, whether it's out of his personal vendetta against crime or because he's a good person who wants to see justice done. Both are Batman, but they're different KINDS of Batmen. The specifics have far-reaching implications for the personalities and motives of these characters. In Batman's case, it could mean the difference between a Batman who's an inspiring hero and a Batman who's a vengeful dick.

It's not just limited to comics, either. Take John Gardner's wonderful novel, Grendel, a literary prequel which has forever changed how I'll view the monsters from Beowulf. A good backstory, skillfully told, can add a whole new dimension even to characters who are CENTURIES old, partially because a new telling can better reflect a contemporary viewpoint. So the idea that characters who are "decades old" are somehow LESS in need of new/revised origins is just bizarre to me. As these characters have evolved over the years, so too do their origins need to reflect that development. For a perfect example of how a classic chatacter can be improved by a new origin and subsequent writers building upon that origin, look no further than Post-Crisis Catwoman.

I think I've gone into those ideas several times here, especially every time I beat the dead horse of how much I love Andrew Helfer's "Eye of the Beholder," so I don't need to rehash all those reasons to explain how Harvey Dent has benefited from revised origins over the years, even as some great details have been lost in the shuffle (such as the fact that he originally would donate to charity between crimes).

All that said, not everyone cares about character first and foremost. I suspect some don't give character a second thought, focusing expressly on plot and action above all else. Nowhere was the division of audience preference more clearly divided to me than during the years that Lost was on the air, with seemingly half the audience hooked on the characters' subplots and arcs, with the other half increasingly more interested in the two dozen mostly-bullshit mysteries the show made up on the fly with no real intention of ever actually resolving. Me, I didn't give a shit about what the numbers actually meant, but god damn did I want to know what would happen to Locke, Hurley, Ben, Eko, Lapidus, and pretty much everyone who wasn't Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. The origins and backstories for each character were far more meaningful and interesting than anything we eventually learned about the island itself.

So when I read superhero comics, I don't give a shit about any of the big events. By and large, they're just empty posturing as characters are forced through the motions of some editor's mapped-out plot line, hitting each beat for maximum shock value. Many fans love that. To them, it means progress. It means stories that "matter." But not to me. I'm in it for the characters, both the ones I already know and love and new ones who might work their ways into my hearts. Anything that can flesh those characters out, make them deeper, make them even more interesting and explores their motivations and how they develop, that is what makes their actions MATTER.

Origins and backstory aren't the only ways to accomplish this, but they are an extremely effective one when used well. So to answer Mr. Brothers' hypothetical question: it's me. I care. Specifics are that important, at least for those of us who put character above contrived plots.
about_faces: (Schizy)
So I've been seeing these die-cast lead figurines of DC and Marvel characters for the past couple of years, which are apparently imported from either the UK or New Zealand. Have you guys seen these as well? This is the Harvey figure:

Many more pictures of it and other DC figures can be found at this Flickr account. They're all rather neat, especially the Riddler and Scarecrow figures. What I like most about the Two-Face one is how it makes the interesting choice to put the tacky suit on the good side, letting the horrific scarring play off of a rather nice light gray suit. It's very much Two-Face as ganglord, the kind of guy who gives orders and passes judgment rather than getting his own hands dirty, if he can help it. So yeah, it's neat.

But what interested me way MORE is the booklet that came with the figurine, which included the origin and history of the character, three recommended stories, profiles on allies and enemies, and more.

I was hesitant at first, fearing that it would be nothing more than one great big Jeph Loeb wankfest. And while it was a lot of that, it was also surprisingly comprehensive when it came to a post-Crisis history of the character! This is the only time I've ever seen anybody (in a professional publication, no less!) go into detail about Harvey's abuse, plus include the "contribution" of serial killer Dr. Rudolph Klemper to the unleashing of Two-Face. It's quite well-written and compiled, thanks to Jim McLauchlin, whom I believe was the same Jim McLauchlin who helped make Wizard magazine halfway readable back in the 90's. I keep forgetting if it was McLauchlin or Pat McCallum who made that mag great when it great.

That said, there are flaws. I know that some of you suggested the idea that Eye of the Beholder and The Long Halloween didn't have to negate each other, and could both count as canon. That's exactly what this does, and it actually kinda works... until you get to the part where the twist ending absolutely makes NO FUCKING SENSE. Don't take my word for it! Read it for yourself, both in the origin and in the last scan, which provides a synopsis for TLH specifically.

Warning: SPOILERS for The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Hush, and Face the Face. Really, is there anyone reading this who HASN'T read those storylines? If not... well, you ain't missing much. There's a reason why I haven't reviewed them here yet, even though those are arguably the most high-profile Two-Face appearances to date.

Ten HUGE scans behind the cut! )

The rest of the booklet looks at profiles of allies and enemies (with Harvey, sometimes they're both), which was an assortment of choices that were alternately basic (Batman, Gordon, Gilda, Renee), knowledgeable (Paul Sloan), acceptable (Penguin? I guess) and bizarre (the Suicide Squad? Oh, Salvation Run, yeah, I guess that kinda doesn't make any sense at all?). After that, we get a history of Gotham's organized crime, from Falcone up through to Black Mask, which of course completely goes for the skull-face Mask characterization. Whatever. Why do I care? I'm really wondering. Eh.

I know my tone was largely critical and exasperated, but in all honestly, this was a pretty great history of the character. I'd be very happy if this were somebody's first exposure to Two-Face, rather than just any one story. It's certainly a fair sight better than his pages on Wikipedia or ComicVine, although I'm certainly doing my part on that count.
about_faces: (coin flipping through the air)
Henchgirl and I watched a bunch of the cinematic portraits of characters from DC Universe Online, all of which were pretty damn terrible. The Two-Face one is no exception, where he sounds like some combination of Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach and some kind of goblin. Be warned: the acid scarring is appropriately gruesome and horrific.

Not much to write home about, really, and it just serves to highlight the main problem with most takes on Two-Face, including The Dark Knight. There's just no logical progression from "my face is horribly burned" to "I'm gonna listen to the coin now!"

But I do like how the video's main purpose is to illustrate that Two-Face can just as easily go after villains as well as heroes. I still think that it's perfect that Harvey be an ally for good and evil alike, which is something that not even the classic DC Comics RPGs did with the character.
about_faces: (coin flipping through the air)
Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

Contrary to what some might say, madness is not like gravity. It doesn't take "a little push" or "one bad day" to drive a person insane. What I've loved about this Batman strip is that Harvey Dent's road to Two-Face is a long one, spaced out over the course of four storylines so gradually and logically that it's hard to say just when he's crossed the point of no return. This goes for even after the acid hits.

The grand unveiling, behind the cut... )

But the story's not over yet. Coming up next, a brand-new, Harvey-free storyline: the origin of Robin! Ain't that always how it goes with friends, Bruce? You win some, you lose some.
about_faces: (Default)
Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

I should have mentioned it in the last entry, but we're now in the middle of a trilogy of sorts, with today's entry being part two of a continuous storyline within the comic strip started in the previous storyline. But it could just as easily be argued that it's all one big story: that of Harvey Dent's rise, fall, rise again, and...?

I think it's fair to say that Harvey is the true protagonist because he's the only one who really changes, and not just in ways you'd expect from the character who becomes Two-Face. Even when he disappears and we get standalone story arcs about Robin's origin (followed by the Most Pathetic Riddler Story Ever), the final storyline still comes right back to Harvey. Obviously, that's why I love it so much.

So with that said, this storyline is the hardest for me to take. This is the point where Harvey crosses a line, and Bruce--for whatever reason--decides to not step in, but actively oppose his supposed best friend. Do the characters have justified reasons? Absolutely. Do I like it? Of course not. Does it work within the context of the story? You be the judge (pun not intended, I swear).

The people (ostensibly represented by Harvey Dent) versus the Joker, behind the cut... )

Coming up next... well, do I really need to say it?
about_faces: (coin flipping through the air)
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).

Oh, and it also features some new criminal guy named the Penguin, but I'm sure he's not all THAT important... )
about_faces: (Default)
Oh boy oh boy oh boy, here we go!

Five months after the smash hit release of the Tim Burton film, a new Batman comic strip ran in newspapers from 1989 to 1991. Following the film in spirit but set in an entirely new continuity, the first storyline was written by Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition, creator of Post-Crisis Jason Todd) and illustrated by the late, great Marshall Rogers (Batman: Strange Apparitions, which still looks stellar today).

I've fallen head over heels in love with this comic strip. Naturally, my love doesn't really kick in until Harvey Dent becomes a major supporting character in the next storyline, which may be one of the most original and interesting takes on the character I've seen anywhere, in any medium. I actually suspect that it influenced the creators of Batman: The Animated Series.

But even from the start, I love how Collins (and his successor, William Messner-Loebs) didn't try to simply regurgitate the old stories for newspapers, but came up with distinctly different characterizations, origins, and plots, while the stories themselves feel completely divorced from comics of any era. They're fun, suspenseful, moving, and occasionally, even a bit on the cracky side.

A rather different look at Gotham City behind the cut! )

Coming up next, Harvey finally takes center stage, but not as Two-Face. I'm so excited, you guys.

Note: These scans are from Comics Revue magazine, issues #41-43, published in 1990. It's the only time these strips have been reprinted anywhere. As they're incredibly rare, I've posted the entire story, and plan to post every other strip as they appeared in CR, as these wonderful stories deserve attention and preservation. If you are someone who has an objection to this, please feel free to either say so here, send me a private message via LJ, or e-mail me directly at jhefner2@washcoll.edu.
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The wonderful, untitled Two-Face origin story from Secret Origins Special is noteworthy for two reasons:

1.) It's the first time a writer has hinted at Harvey's psychological problems before the acid even hit.

2.) It's the best depiction of Harvey's wife to date. In fact, one could argue that it's her only good appearance.

For some reason, Gilda Dent had been renamed "Grace," which you'll recall is what Harvey's fiancee was named on Batman: The Animated Series. Funny thing is, Grace on TAS acted much more like Gilda has in every other story but this one. Typically, she's been a crying, weak, self-pitying martyr, ever pining for her poor Harvey's return. While Grace is very much rooted in the same spirit as the character of Gilda, you can notice the differences right from the start:

This is one of the finest Two-Face stories ever printed, which is why I'm going over my normal page limit. If you want to read the whole thing, it can be found in the otherwise-disappointing trade paperback, Batman VS Two-Face. I'll be frank: it's a lousy assortment, worth owning solely to have the original Harvey Kent trilogy and this story. Really, having this one goes a long way.

In all honesty, just try to track down the back issue of Secret Origins Special, which also features a great Penguin origin and Neil Gaiman writing the framing sequence and the Riddler origin. Those two usually get more attention that the Two-Face story, which is a shame.

But enough from me. Let's let Grace continue telling her story.

A different perspective on Harvey Dent behind the cut )

Grace is the living embodiment of hope--however slim--for Harvey's redemption. Perhaps the real tragedy is that it's almost certainly a false hope for one reason or another, that fate/DC will never let him have his happy ending. But then, even false hope can give way to great things, and as long as Harvey has that tether, he'll never be too far gone.

So why haven't we seen this character since? Why have the only Gilda appearances between then and now--Two-Face Strikes Twice! and The Long Halloween--rendered her as being the same ineffectual throwback she was in the Golden Age? Well, "ineffectual" is arguable when it comes to TLH, but that's up to how one interprets that story's nonsensical and perforated plot.

Either way, bringing her back would go a long way to giving Harvey more humanity. But not without risk. In a day and age where writers like Zeb Wells see fit to strip away the Lizard's humanity by having him eat his own kid (which many fans hail as a good thing! WTF), I would very much fear for Gilda/Grace's safety. It'd be too easy--and too fashionable--for someone to bring her back just to kill her off, and thus make Two-Face an even more dangerous enemy.

That's the twisted, short-sighted logic of writers today. They'd fridge her to make Harvey a better villain, but a weaker character. Maybe she's better off in limbo, waiting for Harvey's return. In the unending cycle of status quo that is superhero comics, perhaps that's the most poignant ending for which one could hope.
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In 1994, SkyBox put out a series of Batman trading cards called The Dark Knight Saga, which single-handedly introduced pre-teen me to a whole chunk of Bat-history. In fact, when you consider that I hadn't even read Batman: Year One by this point, you might imagine how the li'l Harvey Dent fanboy I was reacted upon seeing this card:

I still have great fondness for that card. DCAU Batman comics regular Rick Burchett does a fine job capturing David Mazzucchelli's Harvey, but in a way that looks rather different than the one we'd see from Tim Sale within a couple years.
about_faces: (OMG!)
Somehow--I don't know how--Mark Chiarello seems to have become the Two-Face artist for DC.

Chiarello is currently the artistic director at DC, wherein he's overseen and produced such wonderful (or at least, extremely interesting and admirable) projects such as Batman: Black and White, Solo (very sadly canceled), New Frontier, and Wednesday Comics. In short, he's one of my favorite people working behind the scenes in comics.

But when I first discovered Chiarello, it was for his comic art and covers. I hated them at first, but have come to prefer his minimalistic elegance over the overly detailed garish grotesquery or hyper-realistic (to the point of lifelessness, in some instances) styles of other painters from the 90's.

And of course, when I discovered Chiarello, it was for his one-two punch of Two-Face pieces. I'm gonna put four big ones behind the cut, and leave the last two outside, since I'm gonna be discussing the content as well as the art.

Four Two-Face pieces by Chiarello: two from the mid 90's, and two from 2008, each pair with decidedly different styles )

But I found it interesting that Chiarello, who hadn't drawn much of anything that I know of for the past fifteen years, came back to do these covers. Not to mention that he was the artist they got to do the Two-Face origin in the misbegotten Countdown series (origins which were mostly illustrated by artists with some notable association with the character they depict):

Now that makes me want to see a whole Two-Face story drawn by Chiarello in this new style of his, which combines the slick, cold noir style with his current messier elements. The duality works rather well for Harvey. In that second page reveal of his new face, it almost looks like the scars are going to come loose and unravel his own head! Plus, I love how his bad side's suit is no longer a uniform checkered pattern, but more like a piece by Piet Mondrian (and the winner for most pretentious artistic reference goes to...)

As for the content of Waid's origin, it doesn't entirely sit well with me. Waid seems to have an unpleasant pattern of never having any good or humanity in his villains, particularly with his view of Dr. Doom as a petty monster who would happily wear the love of his life's skin as armor if it meant proving that he's smarter and prettier than Reed Richards. So that's what I think of when I read the line "forces Dent to act honorably," as if he wants to be all-evil, all the time, but the coin sometimes keeps him from doing it. This is a classic "Two-Face as pure monster" view of the character.

Also, that's an interesting idea: li'l Harvey collecting as many number-two related items he can find. That's all new on Waid's part, and it would be fascinating to see a writer try to work that into Harvey's past somehow. Assuming, of course, that they could pull it off in a compelling way that actually adds to the character rather than just continuing the trend of him being obsessed with the number two.

Finally, that's what passes for "Essential" Two-Face storylines? Glad to see Batman Annual #14, as that's Eye of the Beholder, and I reluctantly understand Long Halloween's inclusion. But Faces is a flawed tale that would have been brilliant with Penguin in the lead (indeed, it could have been one of the greatest Penguin stories ever, and lord known Ozzie needs more good stories), whereas Harvey is just out of character and misused in the lead.

By the way, I feel like I should apologize if I end up trashing a story any of you guys particularly like. Lord knows I'm rather exacting and opinionated, so hopefully I haven't tread on any toes here. If we disagree on a story, well, hopefully we can at least discuss why in a mature and constructive manner.

That said, seriously, fuck Face the Face. ;p

But that's a rant for another day. In the words of a wise skeleton, "I sleep now."
about_faces: (Default)
The Untold Legend of Batman was a three-part miniseries from 1980 by Len Wein, John Byrne, and Jim Aparo that served as my first introduction to all things Gotham. And what an introduction! The mini served as a perfect distillation of Bat-mythos up to the Bronze Age, all in the framework of a mystery.

Like any good mystery, one needs suspects, and this led to Batman giving a brief tour of Rogues 101, with the Joker and Two-Face getting full page origins. In keeping with the series, they boiled Harvey's origin down to the pure, iconic minimum, and you can bet this page made an impact on li'l Heffie:

Between this and my other earliest comic, the third part of A Lonely Place of Dying, Aparo's Batman cemented itself as the Batman in my mind for many years, and his Two-Face (usually wearing an oh-so-70's white turtleneck) remains one of my personal favorites.

So yeah, you can throw The Untold Legend of Batman on the list of great comics that are sorely in need of being collected. Keep an eye out for the back issues, if you can find them. Sure, it's a bit hokey, but if you have a taste for Bronze Age Batman, this is truly one of the best gems that era ever produced.

Fun fact: I got these issues as prizes in the Batman movie breakfast cereal. I think they just recycled the same crap for the Mario/Zelda cereal. I can still taste them now. Oh, so gross.
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Two-Face: Year One was a mess.

I don't know any other way to describe the most recent retelling of Harvey's origin, released to coincide with the release of The Dark Knight. The odds were against it from the start, as the main problem with retelling origins is that you've got to interest people in reading a story they already know, or at least think they know.

They may have read it multiple times in flashbacks and expositions, or maybe they just have one specific version they adhere to as the definitive version. For me, the definitive Harvey story is Eye of the Beholder, by Andrew Helfer and Chris Sprouce. For most others, it's The Long Halloween, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Either way, TF:YO was met with opposition and apathy before it was even released, and in the years since, it's shown no signs of being embraced by fans nor creators nor canon any more than Michael Green's recent Joker origin Lovers and Madmen (BUNNY!) managed to escape the shadow of Alan Moore's Killing Joke.

This isn't to say there shouldn't be new attempts at retelling origins. If they held steadfast to the Golden Age or Bronze Age origins of Two-Face, we never would have gotten Eye of the Beholder in the first place. The question is always "What's this new take going to bring to the old story?"

To its credit, TF:YO had a couple novel and intriguing aspects to bring to the table. Unfortunately, for a slew of reasons, the final story was problematic to say the least. Maybe that's why it was seemingly ignored upon release, getting virtually no coverage from comic sites/blogs (I don't recall seeing a single review), or maybe the truth is more depressing than that: maybe people just didn't care.

But while I certainly cared, I also found myself alternately annoyed and bored, particularly by the poor pacing and awkward misuse of flashbacks. It read like a movie hacked apart and frankensteined together by a bad editor.

So in the interest of a cohesive story, I've decided to try something a bit different with this Two-Face Tuesday, and present the story edited into chronological order. Thus today, I offer you Two-Face, Year One: The Hefner's Cut!

A different look at a different look at Harvey Dent, behind the cut )

All in all, what we have here is a story that wants to be many things: a detective story, a psychological thriller, a character tragedy, a courtroom drama, a political satire, a companion piece to a more famous work, and a fresh look at a classic origin, not to mention a springboard for an intended spin-off series featuring Gotham Central characters.

They're all noble goals, certainly more of the sorts of things I want to see in comics, particularly if they give Two-Face a chance to be utilized properly. But in my opinion, it sadly failed in all these accounts, and the story seems to have been relegated to obscurity before it was even released. Time will tell if any of these ideas will carry on in future stories, even perhaps to better effect than they were used here.

Maybe in the next retelling of the origin in about a decade. As I'm sure Harvey would appreciate, all I can say is, "Better luck next time."

Again, if you're interested in reading it yourself, it can be found in this collection: "Batman: Two-Face/Scarecrow, Year One. Also included is Scarecrow: Year One, which was rather good.
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Dig that great Aparo Two-Face, eh? I have a deep-rooted fondness for Aparo's turtleneck!Harvey.

While the story I bring you today is sadly not drawn by Jim Aparo, it's a fascinating one nonetheless: Two-Face's canon origin from 1977-1987, as seen in DC All-Stars #14: Secret Origins of the Super-Villains. The key twist to this take is the revelation that Harvey Dent wasn't Maroni's real target when the acid was thrown!

See for yourself in... The Secret Origin of Two-Face: Double Take! )

It's an interesting take only because it gives Harvey full cause to see himself (and by extension, everyone else) as pawns in the hands of destiny, and he's cool with that. The "vengeance" mentioned in the teaser image doesn't seem to matter to him either way. He's calm, sometimes even joyous in his madness: a common take on the character, especially in the Bronze Age up to the post-Crisis era, and this story gives it a sensible enough foundation.

However, it's precisely this take which makes Two-Face a character who only works as a supporting figure to make others react. He himself is almost a non-character, because action reveals character, and this Harvey makes no action unless the coin tells him so. One could say this applies Two-Face in general, but smart writers know how to subtly reveal character in other ways, which I'll explore in future posts.

This is why Two-Face was (and to many, still is) an under-loved character: because he was less of a character than a foil. As a result, the Bronze Age which brought Two-Face back into comics is also what kept him from becoming one of the greater presences in DC until the post-Crisis era. Yet even now, some writers go back to this take, which is frustrating. It can make for good stories of other characters, but it doesn't make Harvey himself an interesting character.
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Let's go back to where it all started: August 1942, with DETECTIVE COMICS #66.

While Bob Kane gets too much credit for everything Batman, it seems that Two-Face was entirely his creation, taking the look from this poster of Spencer Tracy's JEKYLL & HYDE film, and giving him a coin-flipping gimmick originated by George Raft in SCARFACE. Bill Finger then ran with the idea, and the two introduced a startling new villain for Batman's Rogues Gallery: Two-Face, AKA Harvey... Kent?

Yes, as you might know, Harvey's original last name was Kent, presumably changed to Dent so as to avoid any connection with Superman. What's more, the first Two-Face story was a cliffhanger in a time when most superhero stories were standalone. What's more more, it actually ended up being a trilogy, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end of Harvey Kent's career as Two-Face!

It's one of the earliest examples of a complete story arc told in multiple parts from the Golden Age, one that cemented Two-Face from the outset as one of Batman's greatest foes, not to mention his most tragic.

And I can pretty damn well guarantee you that the saga of Harvey Kent doesn't end the way you'd expect! As an epilogue, I've included a never-reprinted, little-known postscript to the life and career of Harvey Kent, the original Two-Face.

Grab some popcorn and get a drink! The original Two-Face saga--thus, lots of scans and commentary--behind the cut! )

On a final note: it's good to be back. I finally have some free time again to dick around on frivolous matters, which means more [livejournal.com profile] about_faces in the near future! Hope you enjoy it, and as always, I highly encourage all comments, feedback, suggestions, and ideas! If you have a post you'd like to do, or fic to recommend, or anything like that, let me know via the comments or a DM!
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Text by Scott Beatty (editor and co-author of ROBIN: YEAR ONE) and drawn by Scott McDaniel, who was already well-known for drawing the character in TWO-FACE: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and the DAREDEVIL AND BATMAN crossover.

It's easy to see why so many people hate Scott McDaniel's artwork, but I've always been fond of it. He's just so beautifully kinetic in how he draws action, making him dead perfect for characters like Nightwing, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. Two-Face, however, is another case. This is a character who's not all about the fight scenes and action, and as such, he doesn't play to McDaniel's strengths.

That said, I still like his Two-Face... usually. CRIME & PUNISHMENT was pretty darn great, and there were some excellent pages from the DD/BATMAN crossover, both of which greatly deserve posting here down the line. Hell, he even drew a flashback cameo of Harvey in NIGHTWING that I adore. But this? Ugh, I really don't like this piece, all the less so because it was the Two-Face profile pic online back in the late 90's, no matter what site you frequented.

There are things I like about it, particularly the scarred side, the detail on the gray hairs, and especially the fact that the division is jagged, not a clean cut. I love it when artists actually show some gradation between the scarred and unscarred sides. If I have one big pet peeve with Two-Face art, it's when artists draw it as a clear division between "good" and "bad" sides. That was fine in the Golden Age, and that's where it should stay.

But man, everything else is stylized to a point of inhumanity, as if Harvey never had any human facial dimensions before the acid hit. The clean circumference face is unnatural (what is he, a Charles Schulz character?) and the similarly curved hairline makes him look like he's suffering male pattern baldness.

And while we're on the subject of nit-picky, petty annoyances... seriously, what's with so many artists scarring up his left hand? People were doing this even before THE ANIMATED SERIES, where it made sense with his origin there, but there's no reason why his whole hand should be scarred. At most, his palm should be the only thing that's scarred, from reaching up to touch his burning face, but, eh, I guess that's the kind of specific consistency one can't expect from artists-for-hire.

As for the profile itself, there's not much to say. Pretty straight-forward. Although I like his occupation. He's a professional!

One thing, though: notice the lack of what the coin meant to Harvey, and its connections to his father. That was present in the Sprouce-drawn profile by Mark Waid, but that whole vital subplot is absent here, as it was in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. All we get is the abuse, which robs this origin of anything uniquely powerful about Helfer's origin, essentially making Harvey yet another supervillain case of "I was beaten as a child and now I'm evil!"

It's the single biggest origin cliche for villains, but Helfer actually made it work by adding the psychological element, which was even worse than the physical abuse itself. That's forgotten here, as it will be by pretty much every single other writer to this day, aside from the briefest of allusions in both THE LONG HALLOWEEN and THE DARK KNIGHT.

Maybe it's just as well, as I worry what a lesser writer would do with that complex material. But the fact that it's rarely observed is saddening nonetheless, as that's one of the key things that keeps the character from being just another gimmicky villain with a skin condition.


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