Two-Face Tuesday! NML, Part 3: ... look, things just get complicated.
Just do the entire series in a single book. Perhaps like THE STAND, but even better edited to incorporate all the good stuff, cut out the dead weight, and revise things so that it all works better as a whole.
Because that's the inherent difficulty of writing for long-form serialized format, be it in TV or comics: no matter how well you plan it out, so many things can go wrong that can create plot holes, dropped threads, inconsistent characterization, etc. Maybe it can be avoided if it's all done by a single (extremely talented) writer, but it's damn well impossible with multiple writers.
That's why Greg Rucka's novelization of NO MAN'S LAND is largely superior to the original comics, both of which I've been rereading for the first time in years for these posts. He's able to iron out the kinks from the comics, even the ones he himself had originally written, while cutting out pointless subplots and letting other story elements breathe.
By and large, the actual stories of both are the same, with one major exception: the shared arcs of Jim Gordon, Renee Montoya, and Harvey Dent. Last post, it was the same, but with some added scenes of Harvey and Renee's interaction.
But starting here, the actual chain of events alters and their motivations deepen, turning what originally was a better-than-average crime/adventure story into something rather more complex and soul-searching.
Last week, in scans from BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT #87, we saw that the mysterious new Batgirl (the Huntress in disguise) failed to protect Batman's territory from being taken by Two-Face. And Harvey being Harvey, he made the cost of her failure damn clear to Batman:
And Batman being Batman, he decides to not take this lying down. After guilt-tripping out Huntress/Batgirl, Batman decides to give Harvey a visit. However, there are subtle differences in how this scene plays out, from the original comic version (BATMAN #567, written by Kelley Puckett, art by Damion Scott and John Floyd) to Rucka's version in the novelization.
Puckett gets credit for being a writer who likes to say very much with very little. His run on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES consists of many pages with four or five panels, many of them silent or with very limited dialogue. Done well, this is powerful and iconic, letting the story and subtext unfold in the reader's imagination. Arguably, Puckett accomplished that here.
But what are we to make of Batman here? It's open enough for one to think that maybe he really IS tempted by the coin, but personally, this all feels like standard Batman bluff. That's what Batman does: he's such a master at bluffing threats that, even though everyone knows Batman doesn't kill, he can still scare you into thinking that he could make an exception with you.
Compare that same scene with Rucka's prose take:
For me, Rucka's is superior for two reasons. First, his grim understanding of the coin's seductive power becomes clearer (and more explicit in the next scan), so that the reader and Harvey alike can see that he's not bluffing. Not entirely.
Secondly--and this is a serious question--which author's version sounds more like Batman?
Puckett's Batman: "I vowed to avenge them."
Rucka's Batman: "... six men I'd sworn to protect."
I can see different people preferring different versions, depending on whether you see Batman as an avenger or a protector. Me, I'm the latter, and thus I opt for Rucka's version.
Also, maybe I'm just colored by the fact that the next issue opens with Batman looking at Harvey and thinking, "There's nothing wrong with him that a bullet in the head wouldn't fix."
It's not like Kelley Puckett can't write Batman. He did almost the entire first series of THE BATMAN ADVENTURES, for goodness sake! So I don't quite understand how he can be so tone-deaf with Bruce in this two-part story.
Instead of Batman thinking about how great it would be if Harvey were killed, Rucka's version of what happens next is more introspective.
So thus it's revealed that, in the continuity of Rucka's novel, Two-Face hired superassassin David Cain to break into the NML and kill Jim Gordon. Actually, that's what happened in the comics too, but the big difference is why. What's Two-Face's motivation in trying to get Jim Gordon killed?
The book's motivation is clear: when Gordon called off their partnership (which meant no more visits from Renee on Gordon's behalf), Harvey felt used and manipulated. And as Harvey's someone who spent his whole life being manipulated, I can easily buy that he would feel deeply betrayed and furious, especially if the only person who really makes him happy anymore will never be coming back to visit him anymore, even for business.
But we never had those scenes in the comics, nor did Jim Gordon call off his deal with Harvey. In the comics, the deal with still ON when Two-Face tried to get Gordon killed. But why? Why would Two-Face do that?
Before we get to the lame-o answer, I think several people here might be interested in the second appearance of Cassandra Cain in her first masked outing, facing off against Harvey. Just like the Robins, Cass' first real test for Batman is with Two-Face.
I didn't care for that page, but when I showed it to my beloved Henchgirl, she loved it for being a wonderful moment on Cassandra's part, where she touches Harvey's face not out of morbidity or mockery, but rather an almost childlike curiosity. Plus, I have to admit how purely comics that page is, conveying movement in way that only this medium can. It's pretty damn cool.
Later, when she reports back to Batman with bundles of Two-Face's stolen cash...
Man, Puckett's Two-Face is kind of a buffoon and coward, isn't he? Rucka's version is more in keeping with the character, seething threats against Cass even as she robs him blind on Batman's behalf. But with Puckett, it's hard to believe this guy can be a threat to anybody.
I mean, really, if taking his coin away is all it takes to reduce Harvey to quivering mess, he'd be WAY easier to defeat. The scene is cute and amusing, but wrong. Ding-dang it.
In DETECTIVE COMICS #735, written by Rucka, Jim and Renee share another meeting in his garden. And can I just say how it never fails to amaze me how Bill Sienkiewicz's inking can improve ANY penciler? Look what he does with the generic artwork of Dan Jurgens! A whole new life is breathed into that artwork! Man, these two should team up more often.
First off, blood? The implication here is that he hurt Renee and made her bleed. From what we've seen in the novel and what we will see in the comics, this seems downright wrong. It's clear that he'd never harm Renee, ever. Not even to send a message.
Secondly, Harvey's motivation for trying to have Gordon killed:
"It was the coin, Jim. Never know which side'll come up."
... wait, what?
Why the hell would Harvey have flipped for Jim's life? Was he just sitting around, thinking, "I'm bored. Should we kill Jim Gordon? Y/N?" *flip* "Okeedoke, on that whim, I'm gonna shell out for one of the world's top assassins to kill him, just 'cause I feel like it."
This is one of those inconsistencies that I accepted as the comics were coming out, just as I accepted so many such inconsistencies over six seasons of LOST. But now, no, this just plain doesn't make a lick of sense, especially compared to Rucka's novel.
Now, in both versions, Harvey ultimately loses his powerful warlord status when Lex Luthor hires someone to break into Gotham and destroy the Hall of Records in order to facilitate the process of securing property and heading up the revitalization of Gotham.
Problem is, the Hall of Records is Two-Face's hideout, and--god love ya, Harv--he doesn't stand a chance against Lex's employee:
(Scans from DETECTIVE COMICS #738)
The Hall of Records is eventually destroyed, with most of Harvey's men getting killed, and Two-Face is deposed as King of NML. In the comics, he spends the next month holed up with his remaining men at the courthouse where he has Renee and her family held as prisoners, as we'll see next week.
But in the novel, he makes one last desperate plea for help from the only person he can. And remember, in the novel, he never kidnaps Renee and her family, nor does he visit Gordon to tell him so, as in the above scans. Only now does he visit Gordon in the garden (start reading with the paragraph break, "He was careful not to wake Sarah..."):
Later, he breaks into Gordon's house, knocks Sarah out, and kidnaps him. So instead of Renee and her family, it's Gordon who Harvey takes hostage. In the comics, Two-Face is kidnapping people as a means of manipulation and control. In the novel, his actions are more reactions of desperation, motivated by more than just being crazy and evil, and I personally find that far more interesting.
Was this just how Rucka wanted to revise the story after some time and reflection? Or was this how he originally wanted it to go, before editorial presumably stepped in? Either way, I far prefer the complex character web of emotions and motivations going on in Rucka's novel, which make even Rucka's own original comics look simplistic in comparison.
Next week, the grand finale: Jim Gordon('s soul) on trial, with Two-Face as the prosecutor, Harvey Dent as the defense, and Renee Montoya stuck in the middle.