about_faces: (Two-Face... FOREVER!!!)
Welcome to the next installment of my three-part review series which I have dubbed "Harvey and pals!" Why? Because calling it "Harvfield and Friends" probably wouldn't have flown with anybody. That said, now the theme song is stuck in my head...

The first uniting of the Unholy Three ended, unsurprisingly, with defeat and arrest, but this doesn't prove to be the only time that Harvey, the Joker, and the Penguin decided to hang out in their downtime away from schemes and deathtraps. Maybe the events of the previous episode taught these rogues to enjoy (or at least tolerate) one another's company? To paraphrase a character from the wacky cannibal movie Ravenous, "It's lonely being a supervillain. Tough making friends." Perhaps that's what led to the scene of villainous socializing that occurred in one of B:TAS' best-ever episodes:

Wherein several of the rogues play cards and trade stories about how they each almost killed Batman, but there's more going on than meets the eye. Watch it here!

I threw a r... well, you know the rest. )

As a bonus, I am delighted to present to you something which I found whilst scouring for rare B:TAS/Two-Face memorabilia, especially limited edition collectibles from the late, lamented Warner Brothers Studio Store chain of shops. That store would often carry animation cels, lithographs, and other cool works of Batman art, and it's so hard to find good-quality scans of them anywhere online. Thankfully, I found a fantastic scan of this, one of my very favorites:

Man, forget dogs playing poker, I want this hanging in my den whenever I play cards and smoke cigars with the boys. Not that I play cards nor smoke cigars, nor do I even have boys anymore. Whatever, I still want it anyway. That and the other WB Studio Store sericels of the Rogues:

There is not a single one of these that I don't love. There were at least two others in this particular series of character line-ups, including one of the heroes (like Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Renee Montoya, and even Harvey Dent!) and a second one for the villains! Sadly, I haven’t been able to find the first one at all, and the only scan I’ve found for the second is this grainy, teeny one here:

So yeah, if you know where I can find better quality images of these awesome works of art, let me know.
about_faces: (Default)
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.
about_faces: (Default)
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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Imagine how I felt when I learned that there existed an actual pseudo-philosophy known as Flipism, based around making all life decisions on the flip of a coin! And imagine my surprise when I learned that this idea is credited not to Harvey Dent, but rather to Donald Duck. No, seriously!

The short story is called "Flip Decision," and you can read the whole thing right here. Big thanks to [livejournal.com profile] psychopathicus for finding that link! I'll be discussing the story in a bit, so you can read it before or after, but first I need to rant a bit about this story's legacy.

Thing is, I'm already well aware of how Carl Barks and Don Rosa's brilliant Duck comics were incredibly innovative and influential far beyond the realm of comics, "inspiring" at least two very famous movies and inventing/discovering several things, including areas of science and even--arguably--manga itself. As such, I wouldn't have been surprised if Barks originated the idea of flipping a coin to make decisions, and Kane just ripped him off because, well, Bob Kane.

Except that "Flip Decision" was released in 1953, eleven years after Two-Face's first appearance, and just one year before his eighth and final story of the Golden Age was released. While Kane and Finger did ride on influences such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the original Scarface, the actual use of the coin as an arbiter for all life decisions seems to be all Harvey's. He did it first. And yet, going by the Wikipedia entry for Flipism, Harvey warrants a teeny footnote in the philosophy! Hell, even the footnotes for similar stories such as The Dice Man and Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men warrant longer mentions! Bad enough that too many fans and writers see Harvey's use of the coin as a shallow gimmick, but that he gets such minimal lip service in the philosophy he pioneered in pop culture is maddening and inexcusable... isn't it?

Well, perhaps not. After all, outside the US and especially in Europe, Barks' Duck comics were (and still are) incredibly popular, probably more so than Batman comics. What's more, there are important differences between Two-Face and Flipism, each with their own thematic, literary, and satirical worth. Let's take a look at the comic itself, and I'll explain what I mean.

Life is but a gamble! Let Flipism chart your ramble! )

Ultimately, I cannot argue with Flipism--as a concept--being centered around Donald rather than Harvey, since it's Donald's use which is the one better suited for philosophical and satirical discussion. Harvey himself is rife with philosophical and thematic goodness, but his use of the coin is more specifically relevant to him only. On the other hand, Harvey's coin use is more tragic and sympathetic, whereas Donald's just makes him an idiot who wants to let a hunk of metal do all the thinking for him. So it's a trade-off either way. Of course, both are selfish in their own ways, and while they may affect or even drag others into their games of chance, they're ultimately still flipping those coins for themselves.

This is what really unites Harvey, Donald, and the Dice Man, and what also separates them from No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh. That book, its film adaptation, and that character all warrant their own analysis at some point. Much as I hate to say it, I don't think there's ever been a time when Harvey's flipped the coin that's ever been as chilling as the scene of Chigurh in the gas station, and rest assured, we'll explore the reasons for that in due time.

Man, where else can a Two-Face fanblog go on a lengthy discussion about Donald Duck and end up with a shout-out to Cormac McCarthy? I've got something for everybody!
about_faces: (coin flipping through the air)
Like many or perhaps even most comics fans, there was a time when I naturally assumed that the giant penny in the Batcave was--alongside the robot T-Rex and the big Joker playing card--a trophy from some previous clash with Two-Face. Well, either that or the time the Joker dressed up as Simple Simon and used a giant penny to try busting open a bank vault, but more likely it HAD to have been from Two-Face.

Naturally, I was only half-right. It was from a past caper, but the villain was an almost-literally two-bit crook by the name of the Penny Plunderer.

Normally, I wouldn't think that it'd be important to look at a character whose legacy has been almost entirely overshadowed by a novelty weapon he used one time, but the character is surprisingly fun. Especially the first page of his origin. Do yourself a favor and read--no, perform it aloud, because every time I try, I can't get past the last two panels without cracking up.

No, seriously! Read it! )

In the end, the giant penny's most memorable origin is the all-time-classic Batman: The Animated Series episode, Almost Got 'Im, which had it used in a deathtrap administered by--who else?--Two-Face. So whether it's by innocent mistake or just plain retconned out, the giant penny now seems largely associated with Two-Face, with pennies finally getting the last laugh on poor, forgotten Joe Whatsisname.
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I’ve been putting off reviewing Joker's Asylum: Two-Face--by David Hine and Andy Clarke--for almost three years now. The story is just that maddeningly frustrating to me, as is the fact that many people love the ending.

I was cautiously optimistic a few months before the issue’s release, when I read an interview with Hine (the same one wherein he compared Harvey to The Dice Man, which I’ve written about earlier), in which he mentioned that the story would involve Harvey meeting Holman Hunt, a man with similar facial scarring, thus creating a sort of “man in the mirror” effect.

Quoth Hine: "Essentially, Two-Face sets out to prove, that given the right circumstances, Holman could be converted to Two-Face’s way of thinking. Namely that the universe is a chaotic place where any values we attempt to impose are transient and ultimately meaningless. Take that, Alan Moore!"

Heh. Okay, so he's pretty much saying that he'd pulling a Killing Joke scenario here. We agree on that, yes? Putting aside the fact that it's kinda been done to death, there already HAS been a story like that with Two-Face. But sadly, that amazing story is completely forgotten, so I can't blame Hine for wanting to tell his own tale. Besides, who’s to say there isn’t more potential for that premise?

After all, many people *did* respond to JA:TF, especially thanks to the ending. Hine had high aspirations there, "hoping that this will turn out to be a good old-fashioned twist-in-the-tail type of story that Uncle Creepy would have been proud of." A fine goal, one with horror-geek cred.

So how did he do? You’ll certainly hear my thoughts, but in the end, you must be the judge. I mean that more literally than you might suspect.

Harvey meets the man he could have been--or, looked at it another way, the man who could become him--behind the cut )

Whew, after all that ranting, my brain's exhausted. I'm going to end this post on a nit-picky fanboy complaint, devoid of substance or merit.


Two-Face's silver dollar is now GOLD?! What’s up with that?! That's STUPID.

*bows* Thankyew.

Oh, and if you’d like to own and read the issue in full, it’s included in the first trade paperback collection of Joker’s Asylum, which can be purchased here, and at your local comic shop. The collection’s worth buying for the Penguin and Scarecrow stories alone.
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: (coin flipping through the air)
I was all ready to finally write about the Two-Face story from Batman 80-Page Giant 2010 when I remembered that the author, Brad Desnoyer, had actually written *another* Harvey short story for another anthology: THE 2008 DC UNIVERSE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL.

You know... the story where Harvey fights a werewolf. Yeah, that one.

From what I can tell, it was his very first comic work, while the story from the 80-Page Giant 2010 was his second! It's not a great story, seemingly based around a single punchline concept, but I think the recent story has revealed a common threat of earnest appreciation for Harvey as a character. As such, it's worth revisiting Desnoyer's first work, 2008's Scarred and Scared:

Look, Harvey! Another Two-Face, behind the cut! )

From the very title, the themes are fear and scars--physical and psychological--and they're played out in a situation where a horror monster encounters the human monsters of Gotham City. But I feel like these themes were explored without much in the way of subtlety or poignancy.

Then again, what else could he have done? Is there anything else that could be said on these themes? Again, I think what it comes back down to is the depiction of the Rogues themselves. If they had been written more in character and been given more to do, say, or react to, this simple idea and the themes it explores could have been fleshed out into something more interesting.

But again, it's his first work, so I'm happy to cut him some slack. Man, god help me if my first and only published comic work (damn, I'm not even listed as one of the authors on Amazon? Harsh!) gets rediscovered down the line.

I'd actually be interested in speaking with Mr. Desnoyer, as I think he might be approachable at this point in his early career. But he seems to have absolutely zero presence online. He's so new, he doesn't even have a profile on comicvine.com, nor even a Twitter account from what I can see!

So for now, we have only to judge Desnoyer by his three (the third being the Question back-up story he wrote in the latest Detective Comics Annual) short works at DC. In my view, they're all rough--this one especially--very much feeling like the awkward first stories of someone new to writing comics.

And yet, I also get the great sense of love for these characters, that he's earnestly enjoying the chance to write the Bat-Rogues. Really, it's exactly how I felt about the first couple years of Geoff Johns' output, so who knows what's in store for Desnoyer's career?

His 80-Page Giant 2010 story is definitely a step in the right direction, and I'll finally be looking at that one soon enough. But I'll only be posting a page or two, so you're encouraged to check it out for yourselves, as copies should still be available.
about_faces: (coin flipping through the air)
My counterpart for all things Catwoman, [livejournal.com profile] dr_von_fangirl, is a big fan of the VlogBrothers, and thought that this video would be relevant to my (and--in this case--therefore your) interests:

about_faces: (coin flipping through the air)
George Raft in the original (and far superior) SCARFACE:

Every coin-flipping gangster from a LOONEY TUNES cartoon originates directly from Raft's character in Howard Hawks' controversial gangster masterpiece, which has sadly been overshadowed by DePalma's cheese-tastic 80's-fest with Al Pacino. The cleverness of Bob Kane was to actually give Harvey a reason to flip the coin, rather than having it be a character habit. Not just a reason, but a whole philosophy!

Raft's character never has any purpose to flip the coin. He just does it, probably because it's cool and menacing. And it is, as anyone who's seen SCARFACE can attest. If you haven't yet, I wholeheartedly urge you to do so.


about_faces: (Default)

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