about_faces (about_faces) wrote,
about_faces
about_faces

New Comics Review: "Without Sin," by Mishkin and Mandrake, from LotDK #42-47 (2013)

Note: As you start reading this review, you may get a sense of deja vu and asks yourself, "Wait, didn't I already read this post?" That's because I already reviewed the first part when it came out six weeks ago, with the original intention of trying to review each part every week, something I obviously didn't get around to doing. I held off for two reasons: 1.) I prefer to review stories as a whole rather than in installments which leave me in the dark, and 2.) I was lazy. So rather than have the review split into two wildly-uneven parts, I've decided to repost the important parts of the previous post along with the rest, just to have one nice, complete review. As such, if you already read and remembered what I posted six weeks ago, just skim past to the 5/6ths you haven't read. :D





The latest storyline in DC's current digital-first Legends of the Dark Knight revival is remarkable for several reasons. First and least, it's the longest storyline by far, as opposed to the one-shot-length tales and short stories we've gotten up till now. Secondly, the story is by old-school DC veterans Dan Mishkin, co-creator of Amethyst and Blue Devil, and Tom Mandrake, legendary Spectre artist and co-creator of Black Mask, plus he also has experience with Two-Face. Thirdly and most importantly, it features a fascinating take on Two-Face that vacillates between potential and disappointment, between frustration and awesomeness, resulting in a story which is a must-read for Two-Face fans even though it isn't exactly great as a whole. Well, what fan of Harvey Dent isn't used to maddening contradictions by now?





The first thing that's worth noting about this tale is the dedication to former Batman editor Bob Schreck, who was fired by DC in 2009. According to this article,Schreck was responsible for bringing Greg Rucka to the Bat-titles. It looks like he was laid off right before the One Year Later era kicked off, giving us the abysmal Face the Face which in turn led directly to the age of Grant Morrison under editor Mike Marts, whose carelessness I've ranted about once or twice. Say what you will about the Rucka era, but at least it was mostly overseen with a basically professional level of competence.

Anyway, I find the Schreck dedication interesting, and combined with the writer and artist involved, it only adds to the feeling that this Without Sin is going to be a Bat-blast from the Bat-past. Honestly, it makes me wonder if Without Sin is one of those stories that was produced years ago and just sat in production limbo until it could be dusted off for a publication like the digital LotDK. Further credence is given to this theory by Mandrake's art itself, which doesn't seem to have been formatted for digital publication. Digital comics have their own, tablet-friendly format, wherein each page of a digital comic is half of a full comics page, so when the digital comics are published on paper as a normal book, it makes for a rather bisected reading experience. For example, here are two pages from the digital version of Batman: Arkham Unhinged #9.



And here's how it looked when the issue was published in physical print as Batman: Arkham Unhinged #3 (sans words, as this scan is only a promo page, but it'll still get the idea across). Incidentally, for those wondering why the digital #9 would appear in the published #3, it's because each digital comic is 1/3rd the length of a published twenty-page comic.



So, yeah. Not too noticeable on its own, but it gets a bit annoying when every single page of a comic is laid out in the same way. By contrast, the pages in Without Sin seem to be divided up less evenly, suggesting that Mandrake did not draw them for the digital format. Unless Mandrake just didn't get the memo, I think it's pretty safe to assume that this story was meant to be published elsewhere, perhaps in the pages of an anthology series like Batman Confidential, which was the poor man's Legends of the Dark Knight. Further credence is lent to this theory o' mine by the fact that this story appears to take place in the post-War Games era from 2005-2006, for reasons you'll see near the end.

If this was indeed a lost Batman story, buried in a vault somewhere for years, then that makes its publication all the more remarkable, especially given its use of Two-Face. Right from the start, Mishkin introduces Harvey in a very different context, with little explanation of how he got there or when these changes in his character started to take place.







Well, that's certainly an interesting set-up for Harvey! I don't mean the murder, which I'll get to in a second, and which Harvey almost certainly didn't commit. I mean, come on, really. That's too obvious, not to mention too sloppy for Harvey.

No, what's fascinating is the idea that Harvey is not just shown as a regular to this confessional, but also that he seems to have some familiarity with Catholicism. Until this point, I think the only instance of Harvey showing any religious inclinations was in that one issue with Hal!Spectre by DeMatteis (warning: scans are crappy, tiny, and need to be redone with better commentary). I'll be interested to know if we learn anything more about Harvey's religious background as this story unfolds. Is he a Catholic, lapsed or otherwise? Or has he just turned to the confessional for some other reason? I've always kinda imagined Harvey being an agnostic or atheist, but then, some of the most vocal atheists I know are Catholics. Well, as long as he's not Presbyterian Calvinist, we'll be all good.

In any case, I really like that Harvey is contrasting his own conflict with the Holy Trinity, as this is fitting in a way that could only work with Two-Face, no other rogue. Just as the Holy Trinity is three entities which are all aspects of the same being, so too are both of Harvey's sides just himself, rather than two distinct people sharing one body. This is a neat idea on Mishkin's part, one which makes Harvey's situation potentially more interesting than if he were just simply to entirely pawn the blame off himself with a kind of "The Devil made me do it" reasoning. Which he may soon resort to anyway, but let's table thought that for now. Considering that Harvey is at least partially absolving himself of blame, I think we have some idea of where the title Without Sin will come into play. We'll have to see where it goes from here, as for now, Harvey vanishes as the actual plotline kicks off, and we meet our cast of suspects characters.



"... But to print a picture like that!" Since I don't see anything wrong with the picture, I can only guess that this was an error on Mandrake's part, and that the picture should have been of the priest's mutilated half-face. But yeah, if it wasn't already clear before, that headline makes it apparent (to me, anyway) that Harvey almost certainly didn't murder the priest, and that he will find himself framed for this crime. Furthermore, Batman questions a homeless witness to the murder who overheard two distinct voices, both of which were calm and rational. This will be important later to absolving Harvey, albeit for some rather disappointing and depressing reasons.

In case it wasn't clear (and I had to double-check myself), the murdered priest isn't the same one as the one Harvey was talking to in the confessional. No, that abrupt and gruesome scene took place in another part of Gotham that's currently being renovated by the city to revitalize a run-down neighborhood known as Devil's Ridge. The renovations have been the source of much conflict between the Church and City Hall, as the renovations are dependent on throwing the impoverished current residents of Devil's Ridge out onto the streets. Here are the names and positions of the players on both sides, who are now forced to work together with Bruce Wayne to resolve this current mess.



Monsignor Carl D'Angelo is the likeliest candidate for this story's villain, mainly because he looks like the Kingpin by way of Frank Miller's bizarrely troll-like Lex Luthor in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. As for Father Paul Tenney, he is the same priest that Harvey spoke with at the story's beginning, and his story arc ends up being the true focus of Without Sin.



Ahh, so the Devil's Ridge development was instigated at the expense of the people who were living in those buildings? Definite shades of Batman: Run, Riddler, Run going on here, only it's worse, because the wealthy classes have already succeeded in kicking the poor people out of their own homes. Of course, we know that there's more to Bruce than he's letting on, but Tenney just sees him as another callous ass, and he storms out of the meeting. After getting a brief word of warning from Councilman O'Shea (who is also immediately suspect, because how often are Councilmen in Gotham not corrupt assholes?) not to alienate people like Bruce, Tenney meets with Archbishop Kerrigan to examine the problems raised by the murder of Father Richter.

It turns out that Richter's chief role in the archdiocese was as a fundraiser, and when that tidbit becomes public knowledge, the press will label this murder as having something to do with money, and the last thing the church wants is for people to see them as a political and financial entity. Considering how issues of hypocrisy and corruption are time-honored themes in Harvey Dent stories, it could potentially be interesting to see how this tale will explore the two-faced nature of the church. As Tenney and Archbishop Kerrigan are anticipating questions such as "Why don't we open our books to public scrutiny?" and "If we cared so much about the Devil's Ridge neighborhood, why didn't the archdiocese just buy up the properties?" this leads to Tenney deciding to take matters into his own hands.



By the end of this first installment, Father Tenney seems to be a mysterious character whose motivations and priorities are unclear. He righteously condemns those who would throw poor people out onto the street, but he also seems to put the Church's well-being above and beyond anything else, possibly even the poor as well. This would be especially intriguing if the story dealt in any way with corruption in the Catholic Church, where we could really see Tenney's morality get put to the test, but the story doesn't end up going that direction. All I will say for now is that the Church in this story is depicted absolutely as a force for good, but Tenney himself will nonetheless find internal conflict elsewhere.

The next part opens with the funeral of Father Richter, who--by all accounts--was a beloved, "jolly" personal, a man of the cloth in contrast with the "abrasive" Father Tenney. Perhaps fueled by Tenney's jerkish attitude towards Bruce Wayne, Batman decides to grill the priest about Richter's murder. Tenney doesn't take kindly to a vigilante questioning his morality, but Batman--who is established as not being a religious person at all, in case anyone was wondering--takes this opportunity to call out the church's long history of hypocrisy, although not as explicitly as he easily could have been.





Hey, there's the title of this story! Man, there needs to be a gif or meme or something for any time that a character in a story outright says the title of a story in the story itself. Like, "Gee, Maggie, you're like a cat on a hot tin roof!" Or Rick Grimes shouting, via a groan-inducing two-page spread, "WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD!" At least Tenney didn't pause dramatically before saying, "... without sin?" Also: why does Batman look sad and ashamed in that moment? Considering the Batman we get later on in this story, Tenney's sanctimoniousness is second only to Batman's own, and thus Tenney's words shouldn't faze him for any reason. Not yet, anyway.

For whatever reason, Batman leaves Tenney to go track down a Catholic mobster who was seen at Richter's funeral, and he learns that the innocent priest's murder was related to a money laundering scheme. Getting a lead on a possible suspect, Batman heads down to a dive bar, only to wander right in the middle of a brawl... with the main brawler being none other than Father Tenney himself. Turns out, Tenney was one step ahead of Batman, conducting his own investigation, but the patrons didn't take kindly to being questioned. Batman breaks up the fight and saves Tenney's skin, but the priest is hardly grateful for the assistance.



Here we learn that Tenney was once a street-brawling hoodlum who became a golden gloves boxer, and while he ostensibly went straight, there were accusations of him committing violent assault, as well as "rumors, Father, of something worse," which is left unsaid to our imaginations. In any other context, I would imagine that would be allusion to something sordid and awful (we are dealing with a Catholic priest in a dark crime story, here), but as we learn later on, Batman is just talking about plain ol' murder. Hell, that's nothing! Hasn't everybody in Gotham committed a little murder here and there?

Tenney becomes defensive at Batman's insinuations, accusing the vigilante of styling himself as the wise and all-knowing "God incarnate" in Gotham. Batman replies, "If there is a God, I think he abandoned Gotham a long time ago." When it comes to reconciling God with the rampant evil of Gotham, it's certainly a better notion than the "rain in Gotham is God literally peeing on the city" idea suggested in the opening pages of Brian Azzarello's Batman: Broken City. Thanks for that visual, Azz!



This is one of those concepts that, I must confess, doesn't make much sense to me, and strikes me as the theological equivalent of psychobabble. I think it implies that Tenney is sympathetic to the evil and suffering that Batman's witnessed first-hand, and he knows that Batman cannot open himself up to the idea of a loving God until He personally gives Batman a sign. This seems to go against what I understand to be the whole point of faith: you have to have it first before God--or whatever you believe in--can open itself up to you. And speaking of people already have found religion in Gotham...




While Mandrake's abilities to draw Harvey's scarred side have arguably suffered in the twenty-seven years since he last drew Two-Face, I love the outfit he's wearing here. For a couple years now, I've been trying to imagine what my ideal Two-Face costume would be, and I theorized that only the tie should be split, with everything else being solid colors, so it's great to mostly see that used up here. I wonder if this was a creative choice on the part of Mishkin, Mandrake, and/or colorist Wendy Broome? Whether intentional or not, it's an appropriate choice for a Harvey Dent who has supposedly banished his dark side. Well, except he kinda totally hasn't, as evinced by the murdered guard and receptionist in that one panel above. Just wait, it's gonna get worse. After forcing the male coroner to acknowledge him as Harvey Dent rather than Two-Face, Harvey obtains the photos of Richter's body, and things go downhill from there.




This was the moment that initially dashed any hopes I had for this being a great take on Harvey. From the confessional scene in the beginning, I was hoping that we'd see a better side of the character as he strives to battle his inner demons, whereas this just shows him as a mad dog who needs to be put down. As vadvaro7 pointed out, there's something fundamentally off-putting about a Two-Face who murders innocent people. Killing corrupt cops, gangsters, his own henchmen, and even law enforcement officials is somehow more acceptable than him just straight-up murdering civilians. It disrupts the precious balance of the character's potential for redemption into a point where that's impossible, thus making him just another maniac. As it will eventually become clear, Mishkin is actually going somewhere with this, but at the time I read this, I found it incredibly disheartening to watch Harvey straight-up murder the two coroners, and all so he could smear blood on their faces and leave their bodies as a message.



If you're getting flashbacks to the big twist of the George Blake Two-Face impostor story, then you're right on the money here: Father Richter's face was mutilated on the wrong side, a mistake that Harvey would never make. As someone who was amused by how no one noticed the scarring on the wrong side of George Blake's impostor Two-Face, it's nice to see Harvey himself calling out the idiocy of anyone who would be fooled by such obvious, sloppy misdirection. Then again, it's apparently a common enough mistake that fans make it all the time, if the countless examples of wrong-side fanart and cosplay I've seen are any indication. I truly don't understand how so many people can forget which side is scarred. Don't they have Google, for god's sake?

Meanwhile, we return to the machinations of Councilman Michael O'Shea, who has been curiously absent from this story. Meeting with the Archbishop, O'Shea vows to work with Father Richter's "replacement"--whoever that might be--on a new fundraising campaign for the Devil's Ridge redevelopment project. Yeah, obvious real villain is obvious. O'Shea's proposals are cut short, however, with the arrival of Batman and Father Tenney, who have announced that they're teaming up to solve Father Richter's murder, prompting a glowering O'Shea skulks off in a way that's not totally suspicious at all.

Tenney tells the Archbishop that it looks as though Richter was trying to keep his fundraising source a secret, but they cannot bring themselves to believe that Richter would have ever done anything illegal. When the Archbishop asks why Two-Face would want to kill Richter, Batman and Tenney surprise each other by simultaneously professing Harvey's innocence. Knowingly violating his own office, Tenney tells Batman that Harvey has been confessing to him for the past several weeks, much to Batman's skepticism and displeasure. This leads to Detective Batman walking the reader through what many of us seasoned Two-Face fans have already figured out.






What I'm wondering is why anyone would try framing a Gotham rogue for anything. Sure, they're easy to blame, but you're just inviting them to pay you a personal visit.

Again, this revelation of Harvey's violence seems disheartening on first read, especially in the face of the premise that Harvey was turning to the Church in his latest ongoing quest to heal himself. Obviously, that quest has to be mostly-to-entirely doomed for any Two-Face story (well, it doesn't have to be, but no one has the guts to really tell a real redemption arc and try to make it stick, because all hail the status quo), but it was nonetheless disappointing to see him fall again so quickly and so far. At this juncture in the story, it seems like the only point was to show Harvey being even wackier than usual with a bit of twisted logic that would be better suited to the Joker.

Batman pays a visit to another one of the suspects from the first issue: Jennifer Kirk, aide to the Mayor, with whom she's been working on the Devil's Ridge redevelopment project. However, this lead turns out to be a dead end, as she and the Mayor alike seem to be on the level, which is remarkable given how many Gotham Mayors are corrupt to one degree or another. Returning to St. Dismas Cathedral, Batman and Father Tenney come back to the unpleasant possibility that Richter may indeed have been corrupt. It's during this conversation that Batman reveals the truth of Tenney's dark secret: he killed a man six months before he took his final vows, and the Archdiocese hushed it up. Not that the Catholic Church has any history with that sort of thing, no sir.

Indignant at Batman's presumption, Tenney relates the account of "the worst day of my life." Years ago, Tenney went to Central America to help build homes and churches in dangerous areas ruled by oppressive governments, and when evil paramilitaries came by to ruin all his hard work, he grabbed a gun and blew one of them away. It's like the 2008 Rambo movie, with Tenney starting off as one of the missionaries before turning into John Rambo himself. In telling this story, Tenney describes himself as a man whose life and whose soul were at odds, which is perfectly suited for a good Harvey Dent story. Furthermore, it shows how Tenney and Harvey share some level of kinship with one another, and while Harvey and Batman are also alike in many ways, Batman reacts to this tale by being a sanctimonious ass.




Notice that Harvey is flipping his coin, something he wasn't shown doing in the morgue scene when he murdered those two people. One could assume that he was going without the coin because, as the story was implying, he didn't need it anymore since he's "banished" Two-Face with the guidance of religion. So why is he using it now? If it were Batman's presence that caused him to revert back to using the coin, that would be interesting, but there's no indication that it was Mishkin's intent. Still, let's see how it plays out.

Tenney reveals that Harvey was there to confess his murders at the morgue, and to throw in the revelation that he was Father Richter's secret donor to the Devil's Ridge project. Why would Harvey be interesting in helping--however secretly, and with whatever blood money he owned--the church to revitalize a poor neighborhood? We don't get any answers, as this scene is mainly focused on Harvey's displeasure at Tenney's loose lips ("Whoa, Father! I thought what goes on in the confessional stays there! It's like Las Vegas!"), followed by him trying to kill Batman. Dodging Harvey's bullets, Batman ends up getting pinned under the statue of a crucified Jesus, where he's a sitting duck for Two-Face. But Father Tenney urges Harvey to reconsider his own words that there are "two ways" to handle this situation.



Harvey's use (or lack thereof) of his coin in this story gets even more confused with this scene. It would have been stronger if this were the first time that he was shown going for the coin, that he'd reached a dilemma that, for him, could ONLY be solved by going to the one authority that trumps God for him, but the effect is muddled and negated by the fact that we just saw him flipping the coin. Has he been using the coin all this time or not? This is an important question considering where the story is going from here, once Harvey--distracted by the surprise arrival of Monsignor D'Angelo, the Kingpin-esque figure from the first part--drops his coin, which is caught by a triumphant Batman. Father Tenney, however, doesn't seem relieved to see Batman with Harvey's coin.






Ah, so we're going with a Batman who is unsympathetic to Harvey's internal torment, are we? In most stories where Batman uses he coin against Harvey, he does it as a measure of last resort only after attempting to reach his old friend once more. Here, he's smirking and taunting, clearly enjoying the way he's making Harvey break down. That's more the way Nightwing would act, not Batman, and his dickishness here backfires in a most surprising way, as we see in the very next part with Harvey standing over two nondescript guys in an alleyway. Warning: this scene kinda comes outta nowhere, but just go with it.





Without waiting for Batman's answer, Harvey shoots one of the guys in the knee while the other guy watches on, stunned and terrified. As Batman tries to stop the bleeding, a fleeing Two-Face taunts him, "Look at you: saving a man who'd be better off dead! I told you, Batman. We're slaves to our natures... and mine is calling out to me!"

So wait, back up: who are these guys? How did Harvey get here? Why does he suddenly seem calm and evil when he was maniacal and raving a second ago? There's definitely a transition missing, but eh, I guess Mishkin has a lot of story to cover in two issues broken up over six parts, so best to just plow ahead and watch out for plot holes as we barrel down Harvey Dent's highway to hell.

From there, we cut to another seemingly random scene of violence as a houseboat burns down in Gotham harbor, the owner of which had half his body burned off. As he learn, Harvey dumped the boat fuel into the harbor to set the water on fire. He "wanted to see a lake of fire" so he could "know what Hell looks like." From that, you might infer that this rampage is influenced by Harvey's newfound religious beliefs, but there's something more going on here, something more fundamental to who and what Two-Face is as a character. We get our first clue in the next scene, as Harvey recklessly joyrides with destructive glee.



For me, this was the first indication that Without Sin might have been going somewhere with its increasingly-troublesome depiction of Two-Face as a mad dog, and this suspicious was--to my utter surprise--confirmed in the very next scene between Batman and Father Tenney. For a few years now, I've had a theory about what the coin really means to Harvey, a theory I'm sure I've mentioned here before but don't remember where or when. It's a theory I had honestly never expected any writer to consider, since it would require seeing the coin as something other than a "crutch" (as Marv Wolfman once had it explicitly described) that Harvey would employ to escape responsibility for his actions. I don't know how many writers and fans see Two-Face that way, but for their benefit alone, I'm grateful that this story exists just for the next scene between Batman and Father Tenney. This right here is why I consider this story to be vital reading for any fan of Two-Face.





First of all, it's refreshing to see someone calling Batman out for being a dick, even if his dickishness in this particular case is rather out of character. Batman wants to SAVE Harvey, not "break him." That's an option which should tear Batman up each and every time he's forced to play that card. It makes me wonder if this whole scenario would have played better if Tenney, not Batman, had been the one to try withholding Harvey's coin, perhaps with the idea that the coin was a corrupting influence on Harvey's soul. Doing it that way would have changed Tenney's character arc entirely, but it could have given the story an opportunity to explore how well-intention prohibition of anything--booze or otherwise--can backfire horribly.

Regardless, that misuse of Batman is easier to accept in light of these wonderful revelations about the coin. It's Harvey's "lifeline?" It's what kept the monster in check? The coin is Harvey's "only weapon" against Two-Face? YES YES TWO THOUSAND TIMES YES! I've theorized that it's a victory for Harvey every time the coin comes up clean, but finally, someone has made that idea explicit! Well, more or less. This big idea on Mishkin's part could definitely stand to be explored, especially since it directly refutes the idea that--as too many stories have suggested or outright said--that Harvey Dent is lost forever.

Unfortunately, any further exploration about this theory is dropped from here on out, much to my frustration. It's clear that Mishkin's priorities in this story are with Father Tenney and Batman's arcs as they solve the Richter murder, with Two-Face being just the crazy wild card in the mix. As usual even in quietly groundbreaking stories like this, Harvey gets the short end of the character development stick.

Returning to the main story, Tenney tells Batman not to torture himself for making a mistake, and that we all have to ask forgiveness and try to do better, or else we'll go mad. Batman takes this opportunity to apologize to Tenney for being a jerk, which is when Monsignor D'Angelo pops up again to deliver further Important Plot Details. As it turns out, Harvey didn't give Richter the money for the Devil's Ridge project, but that it was rather just a sizable donation for the Church itself. It was Richter himself who came up with the idea of using the money to save Devil's Ridge rather then let the Church itself be tainted with blood money. Batman then suspects that Richter took the cash to meet with the killer, but for what purpose? A bribe? A compromise of some sort?

We finally find out in the final part, as Batman reassembles all of the players from the first issue (Monsignor D'Angelo, Councilman O'Shea, Mayoral Aide Jennifer Kirk, Sister Grace, and Archbishop Kerrigan) in a very Agatha Christie style whodunnit denouement where the killer will be revealed. But when Sister Grace asks, "But I thought Two-Face did it?" Harvey takes issue with this accusation by bursting inside the cathedral, literally guns blazing, screaming "NOOOOOOOOO!" Batman acts quickly to calm Harvey down by finally giving him back his coin... except not.




Yes, that is Batman's hand grabbing the coin that he himself tossed before Harvey's hopeful face. Basically, Batman is showing that he's learned from his past mistake by... playing a one-man game of "keep away" with Harvey? That sure seems to be the case as he proceeds to once again start in with the "I know you want it" taunting while assuring Tenney that, okay, seriously, he really, really knows what he's doing this time. Perhaps because she's been reading along with the rest of us, Mayoral Aide Jennifer Kirk--who was earlier on established as having martial arts training--up and decides to try taking out Harvey on her own, and screw whatever Batman's plan might be.






From the awkwardness of that struggle, I suspect it would have looked better in live action, or at least if it had been handled by an artist more skilled with making fight scenes look thrilling. Scott McDaniel, perhaps. Still, while that wasted a few precious panels of storytelling, it at least resulted in Harvey dropping one of his guns, thus allowing Tenney to put himself in a position of giving in to own darker side in the name of good once again. It's all a bit contrived, but I guess we've got to go through the motions for the sake of Tenney's arc.

With guns still drawn, Batman gets them to focus on the matter they came here to discuss, and he reveals that Father Richter's killer--drumroll, please--was indeed Councilman Michael O'Shea, acting alone. Okay, so I fell for the red herring of Monsignor D'Angelo, who only looks totally evil, while still seeing O'Shea coming a mile away. Looking back on it, I wonder if we were meant to have suspected Jennifer Kirk? She was depicted from the beginning as being rather heartless towards the people who were getting evicted by the Devil's Ridge development plan, whereas O'Shea was always shown as being diplomatic and friendly when he wasn't glowering suspiciously.

Even without that, how could anyone not suspect O'Shea? Between Arthur Reeves, Rupert Thorne, and J. Carroll Corcoran, Gotham City doesn't exactly have the best track record with councilmen. Honestly, if Mishkin really wanted the killer to be a surprise, he should have made it either Archbishop Kerrigan or Sister Grace, who could have been acting for themselves, the Church, and/or with O'Shea. And again, that would have tested Tenney's own morals and loyalities in interesting ways. Oh well, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, I must not review a comic that wasn't made.

So what was O'Shea's motivation? Turns out, he secretly owned a company which bought up the Devil's Ridge properties before the renewal project was announced, and he stood to make a considerable profit once he kicked everyone out. After somehow learning about O'Shea's dirty secret, Father Richter reached out to the Councilman with an offer to pay him off with Two-Face's blood money, which he brought in cash to his fateful meeting with O'Shea at the construction site. That was the deal: for Harvey's quarter million dollars, Richter would keep quiet about O'Shea's dirty dealings and leave the people of Devil's Ridge alone. O'Shea briefly considered counter-blackmailing Richter for accepting donations from a known super-villain, then he just decided to silence Richter himself, frame Harvey in the process, and steal the quarter mil for himself. It's all a bit convoluted, isn't it?






I'm not sure what point Batman was trying to make by sliding the coin towards O'Shea, but he really wasn't thinking things through by leaving it scarred side up, was he? This really does seem to be a Batman who is rather incompetent when it comes to dealing with Harvey. Also, if you're wondering what the deal is with the cops here, I can only guess that this story--much like Batman: Dark Detective--is a leftover from the post-War Games era where Batman is an outlaw hunted by the police. It's mainly included here so that Tenney and the others can rally around Batman and protect him in this place of sanctuary, forcing the cops to skulk off with a "Screw you guys, we didn't really want Batman that much anyway. Feh."

As for Father Tenney, it's interesting that he didn't make the choice himself to put down the gun, but that he was rather "saved" by Batman, who took that choice away from him. Tenney's "thank you" is poignant, because it indicates that he WOULD have shot Harvey if Batman hadn't intervened. In any other story, this would be the moment of truth for Tenney where he would finally prove to Batman and himself that he can overcome his darker impulses, but instead, this story acknowledges that Tenney's internal struggle is ongoing, something that can never truly be resolved. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? This probably explains how Tenney could understand Harvey Dent so well, although the story doesn't explicitly make that connection, nor does it acknowledge that Harvey is in any way like Tenney.

In fact, when all's said and done, Harvey is pretty much an afterthought in Without Sin. He vanishes from the story, and the last we hear is that they money he gave to Father Richter will go to a fund for the families of Two-Face's victims. So wait, that's it? What about his newfound religious beliefs? How does he recover from having the monster inside him utterly unleashed? What does this mean for the good person trapped inside Two-Face? Will Tenney continue to help Harvey's soul, or has he abandoned Harvey entirely? The questions that Without Sin raised regarding Two-Face were far more interesting than ANYTHING else in this story, and yet they get dropped just as quickly and ingloriously as Batman dropped Harvey himself. What the hell? Once again, we have a story where Harvey undergoes profound psychological changes that leave him even worse off by the end of the story, and instead of addressing how horribly his psyche has gone through the wringer, the story just shrugs and goes, "Welp, throw 'im back into Arkham!"

So with Harvey abandoned, Without Sin concludes with Batman and Father Tenney forgiving one another for being jerkasses and celebrating the day being saved. Or at least, salvaged from the utter disaster it could have been, as opposed to the mild disaster it actually was. Seriously, Batman, your arrogance got people killed, dude. Anyway, Tenney learns that Bruce Wayne did the Bruce Wayne thing and bought up the properties in Devil's Ridge to give everyone there low-income housing, owned and administered by the archdiocese with Tenney himself in charge. Is there any problem that Bruce Wayne's power, influence, and bottomless pit of money can't solve? Well, besides matters of the spirit:



"... You know where to find me," Tenney says, as Batman swings off dramatically into the sunrise. The end! Y'know, for all my complaints, I'd rather like to see Tenney return as an occasional supporting character doing good in Gotham along the lines of Leslie Thompkins. His internal conflict and fighting abilities give him more potential as a character than just being a pious bystander who would get taken hostage every now and then, and his connections with both Batman and Two-Face deserve to be explored further. That is, again, if he hasn't given up on Harvey entirely.

That really is the most frustrating thing about Without Sin, when all's said and done. Amidst the framework of a rather standard whodunnit and a conflicted main character, this is a story which dropped Two-Face into an intriguing premise of inexplicable religious awakening which had the potential for redemption while making him crazier than ever, and that was before Batman took the coin and made him even worse. This is a story that pushed Harvey Dent beyond the limits of being a mad dog who has to be put down, all while tying it into the revelation that he's still a good person inside who needs the coin as a lifeline, and instead of exploring that arc to the finish line, he ends up still just as evil, unrepentant, and also still religious. His character arc is maddeningly half-finished, and while the rest of Without Sin was an otherwise-enjoyable (though largely unremarkable) story all around, I remain unsatisfied and frustrated.

In a very real way, it's a credit to this story that I'm upset and annoyed because I was really interested in a lot of it, but that just makes it all the more frustrating when it didn't follow through. If nothing else, I'm overjoyed that there now exists a story which posits the theory that the coin is Harvey's lifeline, because then there's at least the hope that some writer will try to actually develop those ideas. I'm less beholden to religion being a part of those explorations, since Harvey's got MORE than enough going on without needing his inexplicable Catholic awakening going and mucking things up even further. Still, I wouldn't be opposed to Tenney returning down the line to continue trying to help reach Harvey ala Father Craemer in John Ostrander's The Spectre and Suicide Squad, who was an emotional anchor to both Jim Corrigan and Deadshot. Let's face it, Harvey could use all the help he can get, and Tenney has the potential to help him in ways that Batman can't. Especially Batman as he's written in Without Sin.

Before we wrap up, I want to quickly talk about these covers, one of which will appear on the final published version of Legends of the Dark Knight a few months from now. The first is the original cover for the second half, which came with parts four and five. On the right, the cover that appeared on the sixth and final part. I wonder if the second cover is one that DC had Mandrake redraw for the eventual published version instead of the first? That's just my guess, considering how I find the first cover to be grotesque and wonky, while the second is more dynamic all around. Which do you folks prefer?




In any case, if you're interested in reading Without Sin in full, you can either wait for it to be released in comic stores several months from now, or you can buy all six parts (worth two full issues) digitally at DC's Comixology store--issues #42 through #47--for 99¢ each!
Tags: dan mishkin, new comic reviews, philosophy, the coin, tom mandrake
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 40 comments