Today, Patrick and guest writer Gino are discussing Batman and Robin 23.1: Two-Face, originally released September 4th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.
Patrick: Duality is the name of the game in Gotham City. You can be a hilarious clown, but you also have to be able to murder in cold blood on a whim. You can be an agent of justice, but you also have to be an overly violent vigilante. Two-Face encapsulates this idea directly, literally letting his moral alignment shift with the impartial flipping of a coin. He’s a villain, but only until he flips that coin one more time – then: who knows?
Two-Face sees Gotham City on the brink of destruction, so he makes a decision about how to proceed the only way he knows how: “Heads, I save Gotham. Tails, I make it bleed.” But Scarecrow interrupts this ritual, delivering to Dent another coin – that of the Secret Society. Dent agrees to join (per the coin) but on the condition that everyone understand that he’s not driven by alliances, only by the flip of a coin. Then Scarecrow bugs off to recruit… Firebug or something… and Two-Face returns to the task at hand: the coin says “Save Gotham.” So, despite his new alliance with the Bad Guys, Harvey takes to the street as a sort of Judge Dredd of Gotham. He’s pretty brutal, but all of his violence is directed toward criminals.
Then the issue gets personal as Harvey stops by the Court House. The place is a disaster – the bodies of lawyers, paralegals, security guards festoon the building. Guillem March beautifully juxtaposes those images of death and mayhem with images from Harvey’s past as the handsome, successful DA. Peter Tomasi doesn’t draw attention to it — he doesn’t have to — the message is loud and clear: Harvey can’t stand what’s happened to his former kingdom.
Everyone tries to give Two-Face agency in different ways. As chaotic and potentially exciting as it is to be faced with a villain that lets pure, random chance dictate his actions, there needs to be some statement the character’s core values somewhere. Lately, we’ve seen some disastrous attempts to enable him to make decisions by essentially making him do the eviler thing anyway. His appearance in the backups of Detective Comics made this mistake – he flips the coin, but decides to kill the guy anyway. Hell, even Nolan’s The Dark Knight cheated with it a little: I’ll spare you but I kill your driver… effectively killing you. Harvey shouldn’t be looking for ways around his coin, he should be looking for ways to empower the coin. Tomasi’s decision to tie this directly to his past as a District Attorney is genius. As Two-Face walks the Court House, you can sense that he wants to restore order, but rather than consult the coin one more time to see if he should, Harvey opts to let that initial “save Gotham” decision stand. It’s choice by omission.
And then I love love love that Harvey goes on a sentencing spree, letting the coin decide everyone’s fate. He’s so married to the coin’s verdict that he flat-out murders the Secret Society goons that defy its decision. That’s the kind of Two-Face savagery that makes sense and gives him control over his actions. There’s something so powerful and compelling about the idea that Harvey is an avenger of the coin’s will. He doesn’t just do what the coin tells him to do, he punishes those that defy it.
It’s also really cool to see Tomasi’s fingerprints all over this thing. We mentioned in our Villain Month Guide that this issue is the most honest extension of Batman and Robin. We see elements of that series here: specifically, the cadre of criminals that have been permanently deformed or injured by Batman. They’re among the people Harvey encounters in the Courthouse.
These are characters introduced in Batman and Robin 10, over a year ago. They represent the weird cost of Batman’s hyper-violent justice, and they act as a stark comparison to Two-Face’s actions in this issue. He may take that extra step and actually kill the criminal’s he’s pursuing, but there’s not that much of a moral difference between Harvey is “save Gotham” mode and Batman. It makes me super excited for the Two-Face / Batman team-up next month.
I also think that Guillem March is an inspired choice for the art in this issue. Between his tenure on Catwoman and Talon, March has spent much of his time in the New 52 drawing dark, shadowy action. He’s great at it, but this issue has a ton of light in it. March’s regular colorist Tomeu Morey does a great job of keeping the rooms well-lit, and letting that inform the characters. Additionally, it looks like March is making a point to play to Harvey’s right side, keeping that bright white suit on the forefront. Also, I don’t know why the opening scene between Two-Face and Scarecrow takes place on top of the Bat-Signal, but it does and the light it casts makes Harvey look super heroic and awesome. Plus, you can see that even Batman is just light-on-dark. Check out how explicitly drawn the visual connection is in this panel:
Look, he’s white where the signal is black and black where the signal in white. God, that’s cool.
With that I’ll hand it over to our friend, Gino. Gino, I know this didn’t really add to the Forever Evil story in anyway — except perhaps to remind us that Two-Face don’t take orders from nobody — but it sure felt like a solid exploration of this character. What do you make of his “decision” to make Gotham bleed at the end? Also, don’t you wish there was more of Scarecrow and Two-Face just hanging out, being well-educated and talking about the Latin they learned in college?
Gino: Frankly Patrick, I really don’t know what to make of that decision. It definitely seems like the wrong direction to go in if he’s supposed to team up with Batman next month and do some good, but there’s always a chance some new situation will prompt him to flip the coin again. Plus, anyone who’s read the pre-new 52 Face the Face arc inBatman/Detective Comics knows Harvey can be, as he puts it in this issue, Gotham’s “Public defender.” Perhaps ol’ Bats will tip the scales (of justice, ba-dum-tish) back the right way in issue 24 and convince Harvey to turn over a new leaf for a while.
As far as the Harvey and Scarecrow hanging out are concerned, I’d be okay with another session it if it doesn’t involve re-hashing/retcon-ing events that take place in another comic coming out the same week. The first thing I read this week was Forever Evil, figuring it was the logical first step into all the villain issues. Reading this issue directly after it, the first 7 pages felt kind of like a slap in the face; we get basically the same Scarecrow to Two-Face exposition, but in another location at another time, which essentially makes no sense. I don’t know if Geoff Johns or Peter Tomasi is to blame for this, or if it was an editor’s fault, but it seemed to me like somebody really dropped the ball on that one.
All bickering aside, after those opening 7 pages, the issue picks up nicely with the double-page spread of Harvey taking it to the criminals and looters of Gotham. Even though the plot is fairly straightforward and not exactly ground-breaking, I like Tomasi’s characterization of Harvey. He’s a driven individual (see what I did there?) and no matter which side of the coin he’s answering to, he goes all in, all the time. I especially enjoyed his speech to Lady Justice outside the court house, where the Harvey Dent of old, the crusading DA, shines through brightly, and is both insulted and outraged to find that justice isn’t being served.
That being said, the real stand-out to me in this issue was Guillem March, who’s art was not only beautiful, but served to characterise Two-Face almost as much as Tomasi’s script. You could probably remove Harvey completely from that image inside the court house you posted above and it would still scream Two-Face right at you. Four panels, two are dark and grisly, two are bright and clean; the whole page oozes duality so much that I can’t even find the words to describe how cool it is. As a bonus, March puts Two-Face in the classic, Batman: The Animated Series black and white suit; even the hair looks like it’s lifted right off of Bruce Timm’s design, I still get a little geek-gasm just looking at it.
As much as I’ve loved Patrick Gleason’s art on Batman and Robin since its inception, I’ll almost be disappointed not to get a second helping of March’s Two-Face in next month’s issue. Visually, the only tidbit that was missing for me this issue was the old school two fonts for Two-Face, a regular one when Good Harvey is in command and a meaner looking one when Big Bad Harv takes over. I don’t know if that’s been omitted from all New 52 appearances but I always liked that, it plays the split personality up even more if you can practically hear him speaking in two voices. In the end though, I suppose it’s only fitting that an issue about Two-Face leaves me with the impression that it was half good and half bad.
Gino Killiko is a long time Batman trade paperback collector who’s recently made the jump into monthlies and branched out beyond the Bat-verse. Probably due to his self-diagnosed OCD, he is now reading way too many comics for his own good. In his spare time, Gino prefers not to write about himself in the third person.
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