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In 1996, trading card company Fleer decided that they wanted to release a different kind of card set for Batman. Inspired by the loose narrative of Topps' classic Mars Attacks! cards, the Batman Master Series set was the first series of cards to comprise a complete, original Batman storyline. The more cards you collect, the more parts of the story you'd have to piece together. And it was all written by none other than our old favorite, Doug Moench. Oh yes, we're in for a treat. :D


Source


The plot was simple: after the Joker once again escapes Arkham, Batman goes missing and is presumed dead, with the Joker being the likeliest suspect. Everyone posits their reactions and theories, including the Joker himself, who can't be sure whether or not he actually did it at all! This offered plenty of opportunities to hit all the big beats of the previous card series (major and minor characters, important events) plus create all-new settings for cards (scenes from the plotline, bizarre wacko takes on the rogues, the Joker popping up in classic Elseworlds). Along the way, we get TONS of cards dedicated to rogues, some of whom pop up several times. Visually, it's a feast of portraits, and that alone would warrant a master post here.

Except it gets even better, because apparently the cards had enough of a cult following amongst collectors that the entire deck was given its own coffee table art book:



Not only are all the cards lovingly reprinted along with Moench's text, but the book's editors actually included commentary from the artists, thus giving a rare insight into the creative process! The combination of characters, art, story, and commentary make Batman Masterpieces a must-have, and to show you what I mean, I'm going to post just the villain pages, almost all of which are by the painter Dermot Power (Batman/Judge Dredd: The Ultimate Riddle, and concept artist for Batman Begins).

Who's Who (could have possibly killed Batman?) behind the cut! )

So what did you guys make of the art? Were they indeed "museum quality" as the ads touted, or merely a dated and grotesque assortment of 90's-tacular artists? I lean more towards the latter, but I love the collection of the cards nonetheless, and I very much recommend checking out the whole of Batman Masterpieces if you can find a copy.
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Back during that mystical period known as the nineties, Batman writers Alan Grant and Doug Moench decided--for whatever reason--to give the Scarecrow a bizarre laugh that went "HAROO HRAAA" or sometimes "HAROO HRAAII."

At least, I think it was meant to be a laugh. Maybe it was meant to be the Scarecrow version of "BOOGA-BOOGA!" which would indicate that it was intended to be spooky or something. Personally, it just solidified my teenage perceptions of the Scarecrow as an annoying character who was neither cool, fun, nor--worst of all--scary. It wasn't until the CATverse that I realized just how enjoyable and chilling the character could and should be (if you're unfamilar with CATverse, this post will tell you everything you need to know about why that version is, IMO, the superior Crane), but the actual Scarecrow from the comics still largely leaves me cold.

That said, as with most things involving Grant and Moench, I've recently looked back on those older comics and have found so much to enjoy, and that especially goes for their "HAROO HRAA" Squishy. Although I must confess, much of that amusement stems out of how it reminds me of Billy West's impersonation of Richard Nixon on Futurama:



So yes, strange as it is, the thought of Billy West growling, "I'm Jonathan Craaane, the--" (shakes jowls) "--MASSSSSTERRR OF FEARRRR. HAROOOOOOOO!" honestly helped endear me to Grant and Moench's Scarecrow. I had wanted to compile every single Scarecrow laugh, but life being what it is, I had neither the time nor resources.

Thankfully, [livejournal.com profile] lego_joker--stalwart regular 'round these parts and all-around good guy--took the task upon himself, and provided collages of every single time "HAROO" from the comics. It's kinda awe-inspiring, if not likely to cause madness and/or seizures.




It... begins...

Two more huge collages behind the cut! )

At least I'm not the only one who's taken a shine to this oddball trait of Scarecrows past. In the months since I first declared my amusement of the laugh, I've seen it pop up as a meme among a handful of fans on Tumblr, thus creating the unholy alliance of comics and the internet. As such, I shall leave you with this image created by Tumblr user TheLoad:

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So not long after I wrapped up my Twelve Days of Who's Who marathon series, the great Grantbridge Street posted scans from that issue of Detective Comics with the awesome Dick Giordano cover of the Rogues Gallery. You know, this one.

The issue itself was something of a filler, with Batman and Jason Todd going through all the rogue profiles with the purpose of catching readers up with the villains before the big blow-out anniversary issue, Batman #400. Both issues were less remarkable for their stories by Doug Moench and more for the showcase of several great artists, including main Detective Comics artist Gene Colan, who drew the pages below.

Colan, who recently passed away, has a devoted following from his decades of comics work. While I love his artwork as a whole, the way he draws characters has often felt lacking, and the below images give a nice sampler of his portraiture talents. The bios by Doug Moench also show

Dare you prowl the dark knight's rogues gallery (by Gene Colan) behind the cut? )
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Okay. I've put this one off long enough.

One of the reasons why I've come to love Hugo Strange is because of how the character was uniquely developed over the decades by a handful of writers, each of whom directly built upon the previous stories. While Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, and other villains varied wildly in how they were written (Continuity? Character consistency? BLASPHEMY! MOAR EVIL PLOTS AND DEATH TRAPS!), Hugo was the only character to have a linear progression from the Golden Age all the way to the early 2000's! It was so rare, so precious, so goddamned unusual, that it was well past time for SOME writer to come along and fuck things up. That writer happened to be Doug Moench.

Now, I know I've ragged on Moench a lot, but until this point, his track record with Hugo Strange had been stellar! He wrote two fantastic Hugo stories, including one of the greatest Batman stories ever. I suppose it was only inevitible that his general Moenchness would catch up with him by the time he made the foolish decision to write a sequel to Prey over a decade after the fact, so he could properly depict the return of Post-Crisis Hugo Strange.


Yes, Catwoman, spines work that way.


Here's a thing, though: Devin Grayson already told Hugo's return a few months earlier in the pages of Gotham Knights, in her fantastic Transference storyline. That story, set in modern continuity, made it clear that Hugo hadn't been seen since the events of Prey way back around the Year One continuity. Got all that? Well too bad, because Doug Moench decided to make that even MORE convoluted with Terror, which clashed with established continuity!

More importantly, though, is the fact that Terror sucks. The main problem is that Moench tries to cram in several plotlines--all of which he's regurgitated lazily from earlier in other, better stories--and falls flat in every instance. But I don't want to undersell its quality, nor conversely, oversell its entertainment value for awfulness.

Behold the ill-fated team-up of two fear-based psychology-driven mad professors, behind the cut! )



If you'd like to read Terror in full--including the extensive Catwoman subplot and full details of the Scarecrow's revenge campaign--both it and Prey are finally being collected in one single volume. It's probably the smartest thing to do, even if the sequel is vastly inferior, but the whole collection's worth tracking down for the first story alone.
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Happy Halloween, Face-Friends!

I'm not sure if that's what I'd really wanna call you folks, but eh, I've got a little alliteration-lovin' Stan Lee in my heart.

This is a post I thought I wouldn't get to for many more months to come, so we have the intrepid [livejournal.com profile] cyberghostface to thank this time! Over at Scans_Daily, he's taken it upon himself to post Doug Moench and Kelley Jones' Batman: Red Rain trilogy, the Elseworlds saga of Batman versus vampires, which becomes Batman AS a vampire versus vampires, and then, finally, Vampire Batman versus everybody! Including Two-Face! As written by Moench at his very Moenchiest! Ohhhh yes, it's gonna be crack. But much of it is also legitimately great!

If you haven't read the trilogy, I urge you to check out the following links before reading this post. It's not necessary to enjoy the crack I'm about to bring you, but you don't wanna be left out, do ya? Course not! At the very least, check out the first part, which is deservedly something of a minor classic of alternate reality tales:


Must... end life... in classic Lorne Greene pose... from Battlestar Galactica!


The first part, Batman/Dracula: Red Rain is pretty goddamn fantastic all-around. It doesn't hurt that Dracula himself is pretty much, as a rule, awesome. I don't like vampires, but Dracula is always a magnificent villain who just happens to be a vampire, and the threat he brings to Gotham (and what Gotham, in turn, does it him) is the kind of thing that can only be done in an alternate continuity.

EDIT: I just realized that [livejournal.com profile] cyberghostface was unable to include the page where Dracula reveals that, just as birds drinking from a contaminated stream will sometimes go insane, so too has the blood of Gotham drove Dracula mad and thus turned him into an even worse monster. I love that detail of the city itself being able to corrupt even someone as already-evil as Dracula.

It's not only a great Elseworlds--an achievement unto itself from a genre that too often falls back on "Plug X character into Y setting"--but it's also a sterling achievement from both Moench and Jones, two creators whose work is often plagued by excess and bad ideas gone awry. Which, not coincidentally, brings us to the sequel:


Holy god, what the hell is wrong with you KNEE, Vampire Batman?


Batman: Bloodstorm is my least favorite of the three, although it's not technically the worst. There's a lot of good in it, mainly derived from the fun of seeing the Joker become the non-vampiric leader of the vampires, but otherwise, it too often wallows in the posturing melodrama inherent in most vampire stories. This tale of Conflicted Vampire Batman too often struck a tedious balance of hand-wringing angst and grotesque violence, with the usual dose of Selina Kyle T&A thrown in, what with her being a naked purple were-cat and all.

Taken as a whole, it's still a pretty powerful tragedy, and by all accounts, the story should have ended there. There was absolutely no need for another sequel, and yet, we got the third and final part five years later:


JAZZ HANDS!


Now Batman: Crimson Mist--which I bring out today--IS technically the worst of the trilogy. It indulges in Moench's propensity for overwrought and, yes, hilariously melodramatic posturing and shouting, while Jones' art pushes the characters and the extreme graphic violence to levels of grotesqueness that simply do not belong in Batman comics. It takes all the intense excellence of Red Rain and ratchets it up to cartoonish levels. But just like similar works in that respect, particular the late-period work of Frank Miller and Neal Adams, there's something entrancing about seeing a creator given free reign to crank their bad habits up to 11. It's that trainwreck quality.

And again, this is Moench writing Two-Face at his Moenchiest. There are few writers who depict Harvey as this much of a ranting, raving madman, like Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face from Batman Forever but entirely devoid of humor. So just resign yourself to that knowledge that Harvey finally enters the trilogy just in time to become the second-worst villain of the story:




Welcome to DARK KNIGHT! ...For REAL. )

If you'd like to read these stories in full, they've been collected in this handy-dandy single volume, Batman: Vampire. The only downside is that it was published as a result of the idiocy that was Countdown, and so they've replaced the classic Elseworlds branding and logo with the short-lived "Tales of the Multiverse." Blah. Bring back Elseworlds, dammit! And Harley Quinn's old costume! And Matlock! And get off my lawn!

And whatever you do, have a safe and happy Halloween!





You're so cool, Brewster!
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Someone (forgive me for forgetting who or where, but the baby stole my brain... was it [livejournal.com profile] yaseen101, maybe?) was wondering if there has ever been a female Two-Face.

Appropriately enough, there have actually been two! Naturally, they both appeared in Elseworlds stories, the first in 1998 and the second in 1999, so I guess there was just something in the air at that point. The first, Jenna Clark, is an oddball of a half-baked character from Mike W. Barr's Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty, whereas the second, Darcy Dent, is a magnificent trainwreck courtesy of Moench and Jim Balent in Catwoman: Guardian of Gotham.




A Tale of Two Female Two-Faces behind the cut! )


Oh, Moench. Oh, Balent. Oh, god. It's definitely in keeping with their work on Catwoman, so I can't fault them for playing to their strengths. Nonetheless, I just find Balent's idea of sexiness to be so... obvious. It's about as clever as making your female Two-Face a smooshed-together version of both Sugar and Spice from Batman Forever. Ultimately, when it comes to a female Two-Face who's both awesome and hot, I'd prefer the likes of Meagan Marie any day. Funny how a cosplayer did it better than any actual comic writers to date!
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As you know, I've been reviewing Doug Moench's various Two-Face appearances for some time, going in chronological order. They've been a mixed bag, but a far more interesting mixed bag than I thought from back when I read the stories originally. Even the infamous Face Schism story had more going for it than I originally thought! So maybe the *next* Harvey story of his might not be so bad either! Hmm... wait, what *is* is the next Moench story?

... oh. Oh no. Not that one. Not... it... I... I can't...

... Ummm... Henchgirl? *singsong* Oh my beloved Henchgiiiirl? Hellooooooo, [livejournal.com profile] bitemetechie?

Mmmyeeeeeees?

Hi! Thank god! Say, uh, how masochistic are you?

...is this the sort of question I should be openly answering on your fanblog? You know my tendency to overshare.

Erm... *cough*... it's just, I only ask because... well, I am about to review a story which is very relevant to your interests! I mean, considering that you moonlight as [livejournal.com profile] dr_von_fangirl, expert in all things Catwoman, queen of Selina... *cough*even the Jim Balent years...*cough*

You don't mean...





OH GOD, WHY?!


Because... because it has Harvey in it! And also, I thought that maybe you and I could maybe kinda sorta do a dual review together maybe? You know how much I love your geek brain. Not to mention your geek everything-else...

Oh, hush. Look, don't get me wrong, there is a lot to enjoy about Selina's nineties series, but you have no idea what kind of clusterfuck you're getting into here. BECAUSE CATWOMAN'S ENTIRE NINETIES SERIES IS A CLUSTERFUCK. I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH THE CLUTERFUCKNESS OF THE CLUSTERFUCK. I MEAN LOOK AT ALL THAT EMPHASIS. EVEN THAT FALLS SHORT.

Yes, but Catwoman: Year Two, which ran through Catwoman #38-40, is at least a *standalone* clusterfuck! And besides, the events of this story follow pretty directly after the events that you so excellently covered in your comprehensive, complete, and definitive origin of Selina, which tied all her Post-Crisis stuff into a neat little package.

Oh, you mean that post that everyone everywhere should read because it totally took nearly a year to complete, you shameless flatterer? That one?

Exactly! So you might be interested to know that C:Y2 is the only story thus far to bridge the gap between Frank Miller's gray-suit Catwoman into the purple-suited Jim Balent character from the 90's solo series!

But even still, this story is kind of...not-great.

Oh, it's awful. Lousy. Dialogue is horrible, characters are all over the place, and the art is the visual equivalent of being unreadable. You'd probably know better than I, but it might just represent the absolute nadir of Selina's 90's series. BUT it features both of our favorite characters "facing off"!

I see what you did there, HURR.

Basically, what I'm saying is that I want... no, I need to drag you into this mess with me, so that perhaps we can at least get some entertainment value out of this crap.

Hooray! I'm helping!

Besides, I think it'd be fantastic to see what happens when our two favorite characters meet up for the first time. Just imagine: Selina Kyle and Harvey Dent, hanging out together! Do you think they'll get along as swimmingly, as perfectly, as absolutely lovey-dove-ily wonderfully as we do?




I'm guessing not.

On with the trainwreck! Choo-chooooooo!

When Selina met Harvey (...and the Joker... AND the Penguin) )
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During the 90's, when every title had an Annual and most Annuals had different themes ranging from crossing over into the ridiculous Bloodlines event, giving the characters their own Elseworlds take, or taking a look at the heroes back in the Year One of their tights-wearin' careers, I think the Legends of the Dead Earth theme was one of DC's oddest ideas of the whole decade. Yeah, it's kinda like an Elseworlds, except not. Except sorta. Kinda. What? Exactly.

The idea: Earth is... well, dead, and so are pretty much all of the DC characters (except for immortals like the Shade, who endures through the sheer power of dapper snazziness). But the legends of Earth live on in countless worlds and civilizations, passed down through oral tradition, myth, and legend. It's kind of like Matt Wagner's Grendel, where the character's legacy lives on in a post-apocalyptic future through various tribes, cults, and... um... robots. I imagine that it was borne out of the idea of superhero comics being our "modern mythology," and how these stories might evolve/devolve through the centuries. Yeah, needless to say, this was a bit high-concept, and of all the themes used for the annuals, it was probably the most ambitious.

I've only read about three or four, and just on the basis of those, I'm tempted to dub Legends of the Death Earth to be a noble failure. And me, I love noble failures. I'll take a dozen noble failures over any safe, stable, standard superhero comic any day. I think that's why I've gained a latter-day appreciation for Doug Moench's Batman work. When he's good, he's fantastic. And when he's bad, he still bloody interesting. Which brings us to his contribution to this event, Batman Annual #20: "Fables of the Bat-Man," which has the distinction of looking at the myths and legends of not just Batman, but also his Rogues Gallery:





I like how Harvey looks pretty standard, as does Ozzie, more or less, whereas everyone else are like, "What the hell?"

These are the Rogues as imagined through fables told by an old man to a group of children in a totalitarian dystopia, on their way to being brainwashed in the re-education center. But what the government stooges don't realize is that the old man is using these fables to subvert the system, using the Bat-Man and the Rogues to impart thinly-veiled metaphors about oppression, virtue, and justice. The Joker and Catwoman ones are a bit silly, and the Scarecrow one is just plain sad, but the Two-Face fable is actually fascinating because Moench uses the format to not just comment on themes central to what Harvey Dent represents.


Legends of the Bat-Man and this Villains, behind the cut )
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If you asked me six months ago what I considered to be the worst Two-Face story of all time, I'd have immediately answered, The Face Schism, published in Batman #527-528, by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, and John Beatty. Now, I'm not so sure.

Over the past few months, I've given Moench's work far more consideration and analysis than ever before, and my last few posts make me feel like I should step back and look at where Two-Face stood when this story was published. Let's contextualize Harvey in comics by this point with a little help from our li'l pal, Schizy: the Smiley/Frowny Face of Continuity!

*Poof!*

Heya pals, go to hell! It's your old pal, Schizy! Let's take a gander at how Two-Face's character and motivations (d)evolved over just six years! Yippee yee-ha I hate my life!

In 1990, we got Eye of the Beholder, which was the first story to really show Harvey breaking down psychologically before the acid even hit, putting a strain on his partnership with Batman! Oh noes! Then, in 1993, Doug Moench took this idea a bit further, retelling the scene with Batman outright calling off their partnership, leaving Harvey feeling abandoned and betrayed, and thus giving Two-Face a reason to hate Batman! Motivation, in MY comics? GTFO! Finally, a year later, Chuck Dixon ran with that motivation like wowzers, writing Two-Face as a vindictive madman who raved about dealing his own fixed brand of "justice" in the Prodigal storyline!

So as you can see, Harvey went through several filters from his 1990 reboot by the time Moench wrote him again for
The Face Schism in 1996! It really instills confidence about the story you're about to read, don't it? Have fun, suckers, I'm outta here! Wheeeeeeeeee continuityyyyyyy!

*Poof!*

Thanks, Schizy! You make continuity such a not-at-all-tedious thing to understand!

In all fairness to Moench, I suppose he deserves credit for continuing using actual character development, even if it's to go straight downhill. At the same time, he once again deserves credit for giving Two-Face an actual motivation. It's the right thing to do with the character, but done in the worst possible way.

Also, clowns are involved. Clowns and Kelley Jones art. You've been warned.





Two-Face and Batman go to the circus behind the cut! )


Personally, I think I might have to grudgingly give some major credit to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, whose Long Halloween was released that very same year. Maybe that's why I was such a huge fan of their story when it was released, because it was the first story since Eye of the Beholder to actually treat Harvey Dent like a heroic, tragic figure, while the rest of DC's Bat-books were depicting him like the above.

That's right. This story actually made me admit respect for The Long Halloween. On second thought, maybe I wasn't being too harsh in the first place.

If you'd like to read this story in full, you can find it collected this Batman VS Two-Face compilation, where it's included instead of such far superior and out-of-print Two-Face stories as EotB and Straczynski's amazing Harvey/Cyborg story from Teen Titans Spotlight. Seriously, WTF, DC?!
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I've decided to create about_faces.dreamwidth.com as a back-up. I'm not planning on fleeing LJ anytime soon, and even if I eventually do, I'm not sure I'd want to set up shop at Dreamwidth. Having something of my own site would be ideal (ala similar fan sites such as the Aquaman Shrine), but who knows how many people would find it? Hopefully, y'all will be able to follow me no matter what happens.



So, because YOU demanded it(!!!), here's a look at the second half of Doug Moench's Two-Face story from Knightfall.

Unfortunately, we have to skip entirely past the real point of the story, which the tension between Robin and a burnt-out Batman. What is it about Two-Face stories that really brings out the tension between Batman and any give Robin? Anyhoo, fast-forward, Batman decides to try taking on Harvey alone, and gets his ass ambushed. He wakes up in the ruins of the old courthouse where D.A. Harvey Dent once presided, with a "judge and jury" comprised of the late Mr. Lyman's enforcers. Oh yeah, we know where this is going...





Two-Face puts Batman on trial for the murder of Harvey Dent (coo-coo!) behind the cut )


Seriously, WHY does Harvey do anything other than become a violent vigilante in the style of the Punisher or Jason!Red Hood, or simply spend the rest of his days in Arkham just flipping his coin? There's no real leap from D.A. to mob boss, yet writers are just so used to that role from Pre-Crisis that no one's trying to reconcile it with the way the character's grown otherwise!

Once again when it comes to Moench and Two-Face, I don't love the story, but it's still a better attempt than many writers would make. Although I fear even that won't carry through to his next story, The Face Schism.
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Today, we look at a bit of Doug Moench's next Two-Face appearance... but NOT the whole story. I have a specific goal in mind, one inspired by Henchgirl's awesome, definitive look at Catwoman's origin (which you've ALL checked out, right?), wherein she set the following guideline:

Events must be either CONFIRMED by another comic or UNDISPUTED throughout continuity to make it onto the timeline as canon.

Considering that I'd like to create a similar timeline for Two-Face, I'm faced with the problem of reconciling stories I don't particularly like, such as The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, both of which were confirmed by the very first issue of Tony Daniel's current Batman run. I just don't want those events to supersede the events of Eye of the Beholder.

Y'know, I think I mention and/or link to EotB in every other post here. I can't help it. EotB is not just my favorite Two-Face comic, but I truly believe that, objectively, it's one of the best Batamn comics ever published. And yet it's painfully obscure, kept out of print for unknown reasons, and its contributions either going ignored or credited to lesser works.

As such, I was afraid that Loeb's legacy now ruled the character's timeline (as far too many fans already believe). But then I recently discovered that EotB was, in fact, confirmed three years after its publication, in Showcase '93, written by--of all people--Doug Moench! You might know which story I mean:





The story is better than average, but ultimately hindered by the fact that it's tied into Knightfall. What really intrigues me is that it's the only story to DIRECTLY follow themes and motifs established in EotB, making it--in my view--a spiritual sequel! No other Two-Face comic so explicitly references EotB, not even DeMatteis' Batman/Two-Face: Crime and Punishment, the only story to tackle the issue of Harvey's abuse as a child.

So with your indulgence, I'd like to look at just the strongest part of the story (the first half), which I trust will prove that EotB is true canon. It gets especially interesting (to dorks like me, anyway) to see where this version is subsequently taken by Moench and, later, Dixon.


The former D.A. returns to the scene of the crime, behind the cut )


I'm not certain that it's worth posting the rest of this story. From here, Harvey proceeds to put an exhausted and bestubbled Batman on "trial," which I believe is the first time anyone's written Harvey staging his own insane kangaroo court scenario. For my money, that trope never gets better than the one in No Man's Land in both the comics and novel, for different reasons.

Moench's is good, but ultimately, I think it's undone largely because the focus permanently shifts away from Two-Face and is put entirely on Bruce and Tim, reducing Harvey to being a raving madman. Disappointing, considering how promisingly this story began.

If you would like to read this whole story, it can be found in the second Knightfall trade paperback, which is hopefully still in print. I wish that it, along with Eye of the Beholder, had been included in the abysmal Batman VS Two-Face trade paperback instead of crappy stories like... well, like the NEXT time Doug Moench wrote Harvey. We'll get to reviewing that infamous tale in due time.
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Let's talk about the other Harvey of Gotham City.

Doug Moench didn't technically create Harvey Bullock, but he's the one writer most responsible for making the fat, slovenly, heart'a-gold pig cop one of Batman's most enduring supporting characters. Everything we associate with the character was originated by Moench.

It's hard to imagine that he was originally a corrupt toady trying to sabotage Jim Gordon on Mayor Hill's behalf," but thankfully, Gordon's own decency won over Bullock, and the two are now crime-fighting buddies! But even with that change of heart, Moench kept hinting that there may still have been more to Harvey Bullock than met the eye.





From the title alone, you can imagine how this story actually IS relevant to the themes explored in this blog... )
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I've been thinking a lot about Doug Moench lately. Not just his dubious Two-Face stories, but also Black Mask and Circe. And it's not just because I've been planning to post today's story, Moench's first Two-Face tale which also features the return of Circe.

I've been putting off this issue for a long time, as I generally consider it one of the worst Two-Face stories of all time. For one thing, Moench is trying to juggle five or six plots at play over four issues, so the resulting story is a mess. At least I'll be simplifying things here by just focusing on Harvey and Circe, who actually meet here.





Masks, flesh, scars, and makeup, all behind the cut! )

So what really happened to Circe? Anybody know? I'm thinking of making a whole profile page about her for ComicVine, because really, who the hell else will?

Moench would go on to write Harvey several more times, several of which are infamous (to those of us who care) as being among the very worst Two-Face stories. But perhaps memory is being too harsh. When I review them here, I'll do my best to give them a fair shake. Yes, even with The Face Schism.
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I've been meaning to look at Doug Moench's infamous handful of Two-Face stories, but his first one directly follows events and characters from an earlier storyline: the first appearance of Black Mask. Even still, I never wanted to actually read that story, because if there's one classic* Batman villain I've come to hate over the past ten years, it's Black Fucking Mask.

Thanks to his prominent roles in War Games, he dominated the Bat-books for a couple years, getting big parts in Nightwing, Catwoman, and Under the Hood, thus also appearing in the last one's DVD adaptation, as well as Teh Batman. So I really shouldn't be surprised that this one-dimensional, nasty, pointless, generic, hollow non-character actually has fans. Not surprised, but disappointed.

But why? How the hell did this character become a thing, while better gangster-style villains (the Penguin, Harvey, the Ventriloquist and Scarface) got shoved to the side?

So, as I was already writing about a related Two-Face story from 1985, I decided to check out the original Black Mask appearances by Doug Moench. What I was surprised to discover was that Moench's original Mask in no way, shape, or form resembles the version which DC rose to prominence a few years ago.

I'm not saying he's a good character, mind you. But he's a far more interesting (and cracktacular) character. Hell, just look at the cover blurb:





So yes, prepare for the ultra-modern Batman villain who makes all the other villains look like CRAP! At least, according to Doug Moench.

Push it to the limit (LIMIIIIIIIT) behind the cut )

When Selina killed Roman a second time, I reacted with a weary "finally." But now, after reading Moench's originally stories, I feel disappointed for Ed Brubaker and subsequent writers for wasting what little potential there was for this character, and further distaste for anyone who actually likes the skull-faced version of Black Mask.

Finally, a question: anyone else think that Jeph Loeb ripped off Black Mask when he created Hush? Really, everything that Loeb tried to say with Tommy Elliot, I feel like Moench already said better with Roman Sionis. Just another little way that Moench's original creation has been swept under the rug by DC.




*I hate Hush and Dr. Hurt more, but they ain't "classic" just yet.

**The seven scans from the first issue are generously provided by [livejournal.com profile] superfan1, as the first issue is impossible to find. Because apparently the first appearance of Black Mask is SUCH a collector's item, ZOMG!
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When Eye of the Beholder was released in 1990, it reinvigorated the character of Harvey Dent, giving him long-overdue psychological insight, deepening his tragedy, and making him a greater character than he was before. should have drastically impacted Two-Face the same way The Killing Joke did for the Joker.

It didn't.

If anything, the character became even more flat and one-dimensional. Hell, while the Joker popped up immediately after TKJ, it took two whole years for anyone to write Harvey, and three to use him in actual mainstream regular Batman continuity over the 90's, with the majority of those issues were tangled up in crossovers. In these overblown events, plot ruled all, and characterization suffered. Given the option to follow Eye of the Beholder's example of character depth or just going backwards and using Two-Face as an evil villain, the writers of this period generally chose the latter.

But hey, at least the covers are neat. Well, some of them anyway. Mostly, I think it's just fascinating to chart the drastic evolution of comics over these six years


Grab a snack, because we have an ass-ton of covers behind the cut! )


If you'll indulge me a moment of extreme anal retention, Harvey's eyes (or eye, at least) are supposed to be blue. Always. It's not just canon for every bio, but it plainly just makes a better impact. Of all these covers, only one gave him blue eyes, and I try not to let it bug me lest I feel like a total nit-picky loser. But bug me it does! Eh, maybe I can just use this as an excuse to pretend that most of these crappy Two-Face appearances over the decade were just Paul Sloane in disguise. Yeah, that's the ticket.

While we've finally reached the end, I haven't posted even half of Harvey's cover appearances from the 90's. So if I've missed out on your favorite, don't worry, I'll almost certainly be getting to it. Eventually.
about_faces: (Two-Face... FOREVER!!!)
This time around, I seem to start talking less about Harvey and more ranting about comics in general. So this should be fun!


Seven covers from the Bronze Age right up to the Crisis reboot of continuity )

Finally, I think this cover deserves to be outside the cut:





Really, I love superheroes dedicating a room to their arch-enemies, whether it in their headquarters or in places like the Flash Museum. Really, why wouldn't Batman create an entire "Hall of Infamy" in the Batcave, with framed portraits, no less? Do you think he painted them all himself?

I've always loved that cover, particularly for how innocent and friendly the Mad Hatter looks. Have I mentioned how much I love the Mad Hatter in TAS, but hate him in comics?

It's all Grant Morrison's fault, because ever since Arkham Asylum, Jervis is now always considered a pedophile. It's the same kind of late 80's-early 90's mentality that turned Toyman into a child murderer (and then also a pedophile). I hate it so much, and between Jeph Loeb bringing back Jervis as a little man who speaks nothing but quotes, it's pretty much ruined the character. I was hoping Gail Simone might revitalize the character, but instead, now he also fucks hats.

Let me say that again. He. Fucks. HATS.

NO.

I still plan to do posts dedicated to each of the rogues, especially the ones who deserve better writing. Jervis, Ozzie, and Eddie have all been victims of terrible writing and wildly inconsistent characterization. Nobody seems to know what the hell to do with Poison Ivy, ever since they forgot her original origins centering around her obsession with Batman. What's her motivation? What actually drives her and why? We still don't know, and no one seems to care, because why should Pam actually get character development when most people aren't really interested in her as a character?

Also, I imagine Killer Moth being all flustered and flattered to learn that he's included. "Really? I'M there? He... he considers me as bad as them? Oh, I have to call my Mom!" I kid, because I love the loser. But y'know, consider this: Killer Moth has, in recent years, proven himself more enduring as a loser and a joke than he ever has as a badass 90's-tastic man-eating bug creature.

The lesson here? A villain doesn't have to be a grim and deadly threat to be enduring and enjoyable. Hell, in Batgirl: Year One, he was even kinda interesting! Comics dearly need to get back a sense of fun, even in Batman. Especially in Batman.




Next post is Post-Crisis, a post which will culminate in three of the greatest Two-Face covers of all time. Give you a hint: the artists are Perez, Bolland, and Adams.
about_faces: (Hugo Strange)
This is it. The big one.

It arrives at a moment where's it's suddenly relevant and topical to fan interests.With the release of the awesome new Arkham City trailer, the internet is ablaze with the question, "Who the hell is Hugo Strange?"

Hopefully, some people looking for answers will stumble upon these posts. It seems I've coincidentally been ahead of the game with these posts, perhaps even more so if the (unlikely) rumors turn out to be true, and The Dark Knight Rises will be based upon Batman: Prey.

Which, in either case, is the story I bring you today. In some ways, my entire Hugo Strange project has been building up to this: one of his two stories which defined his character for their generations. But while it's a different interpretation for a rebooted continuity, the threads to the original Hugo can be seen throughout. This Hugo is more perverse, more deranged, but just as brilliant and dangerous.





But like the best Hugo stories, Prey is ultimately about the heart and soul of Batman himself. What makes Hugo so great is how he pushes Bruce to the limits of what he can overcome, and by the end, Batman's triumph is always more than a physical one. Maybe that's why Hugo's the villain of choice for a handful of discerning, hardcore, old-school Batman comic fans.

If you can, I urge you to track down Prey either as a trade paperback or in the original issues of Legends of the Dark Knight #11-15, which I've seen in dollar bins. While Prey is a beloved story and a hot rumor du jour, it's also out of print. Again, WTF, DC?


Until then, I present this inadequate edit of a great, rich Batman tale behind the cut... )

And with that last line, my thoughts once again turn to how perfectly this story would fit in the Nolanverse for The Dark Knight Rises. I still don't see it happening because most people just don't think of Hugo Strange as main villain material. Obviously, I disagree, but I don't represent your average film goer, nor even your average comic fan.

But either way, hey, maybe this'll finally encourage DC to put Prey back into print, along with Strange Apparitions. If I were an editor of collected editions at DC, I'd even throw in a bonus to the Prey TPB and include Moench's own Down to the Bone, because that one too deserves to be read (and considering that I've gotten no comments on that story when I posted it a few days ago, I'd say it deserves that attention all the more!)

This is Hugo's last appearance for about ten years, until Devin Grayson and Doug Monech decided to write their own sequels to Prey. Weirdly, I greatly prefer the former version to the latter, wherein Moench and Gulacy fail to recapture the lighting in a bottle. But we'll certainly be looking at both in the next couple posts.
about_faces: (Hugo Strange)
If I said, "Name a comic released in 1986 where a superhero loses his job, reputation, home, friends, and family due to the machinations of his brilliant, scheming arch-enemy, who knows the hero's secret identity," you'd probably say Daredevil: Born Again.

But a mere one month before the first issue of DD:BA was released, DC published Batman Annual #10, featuring a story which completely matches the description above. Because they were published so close together, I can only assume this was a coincidence. Both stories reflect something dark in the mid-80's atmosphere that could cause Frank Miller and Doug Moench to write two different stories with very similar themes.

While DD:BA is one of my all-time favorite comics, Moench's is starting to work its way up my list of favorite Batman tales. There are a couple notable differences between the two. One is that Bruce doesn't get driven to a mental breakdown, although Hugo certainly got close in his previous attempt, published three years earlier.

In that respect, this also feels like a story that Grant Morrison had in mind when he created Dr. Hurt and wrote Batman: R.I.P., comparisons to which become even more explicit in the story itself...






This cut goes down to the bone )

Coming up next: Batman: Prey.
about_faces: (Default)
Has anyone read this book? It adds a disturbing new ripple in the exact nature of Harvey's scarring, but before I get into that, let's talk about the book itself, as well as the almost complete lack of Two-Face from Batman prose fiction:





I was hesitant to read it at first, because I assumed it was one of those reference or essay tie-in book, like Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul or The Batman Handbook: Ultimate Training Manual. Essentially, stuff to read while on the can.

(Note: If you've read and liked either of those books--or any of their ilk--do let me know which and why. Lord knows I'm in no position to mock, as I'd write an entire book of critical Two-Face essays, given the chance)

But because I understood that Harvey was involved some way in the book, I checked it out and discovered it's actually a book of short stories with a unified theme of forensics. Essentially, it's CSI: Gotham. As one who adores the four Further Adventures of Batman volumes (Batman, Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman), I've been hungry for more good Bat-prose.

Unfortunately, it's by Doug Moench. Look, I know the man's written one of the greatest Batman stories of all time--Prey, which I'll be getting to in a future Hugo Strange post--and his long Batman association is rather beloved. Have there been any Moench stories you guys have loved? Because he's almost always left me cold. The prospect of him writing prose was not attractive in the least.

Which is why I still haven't actually read the book, or even any of the stories in their entirety. I was especially hesitant with the Two-Face one, because every time Monech has written Harvey, the results are... just... just awful. Having read most of the Two-Face story, yeah, it's typical Moench: Two-Face as a deranged revenge killer with an arbitrary #2 M.O. and a tendency to speak in snarling courtroom parlance. A classic one-note Two-Face.

However... Monech did devote three whole pages to Harvey's origin. This is notable, because Two-Face has barely ever even merited a name-dropping in any of the original Batman prose fic I've ever read. Even in the collection that had Two-Face right there front and frickin' off-center in the cover, he wasn't in the actual contents. Stupid lazy Batman Forever cash-in.

Of course, the origin Moench writes omits any psychological depth or motivation. It's just another case where the acid single-handedly drove him insane and evil. Boring and superficial, yes, but that can be somewhat more understandable when taking into account a small... detail... that Moench added to exactly what happened when the acid hit:





... There is no emoticon, no .gif, no convenient YouTube clip that can convey the exact manner in which I just squirmed/shuddered/recoiled at the thought of Harvey's hand fusing to his face. Gahhhhhhhh.

This detail is even more disturbing for the fact that it's in prose. If this were actually depicted in the comic, it wouldn't have the same effect. Heh, maybe that explains why there are never any Two-Face stories in the neglected subgenre of Bat-lit?
about_faces: (coin flipping through the air)
EgoTV Online lists "10 awesome Batman stories you've probably never heard of."

This list makes me extremely happy, and not just because Eye of the Beholder is included (with what I suspect is one of my own scans, no less!).

I consider Prey to be one of the ten best Batman stories ever written, and one that--if they expanded the Catwoman subplot--would also serve as a perfect template for the as-of-today-named The Dark Knight Rises. I'm slowly working on a series of posts focused upon Professor Hugo Strange, just as a break from Harvey for a bit, so we'll be seeing a bit of Prey here, rest assured.

Furthermore, I'm of the opinion that the Animated Series universe of comics are, pound for pound, the finest Batman comics of the past twenty years. There's so much great Harvey stuff alone that I could easily dedicate a couple weeks to Animated!Harvey posts.

So yeah, keep this list in mind next time you guys go scouring back issue bins, until such time as DC wises up and finally puts these gems (back) into print.

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