Somehow, Harvey became the unofficial Baptism-of-Fire for the Robins. The first three, I mean: Dick, Jason, and Tim.
It's one of those strange connections that no one seems to have noticed, save for a lone off-handed mention. Even then, nothing ever seems to have made of this unique tie that each of the Robins have to this particular character. And yet, it proved to be so enduring that the idea of Two-Face being instrumental to the creation of a Robin that it made its way to both BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN: THE ANMATED SERIES!
But why Two-Face? Because he's often been considered the second greatest villain for Batman, so who better for the sidekick to face off against? It probably wasn't even that thought-out. See what you make of it, as I take you to the first part of my Robins post, focusing on A LONELY PLACE OF DYING... aka, the introduction of Tim Drake!
It all started with the idea that Jason (Robin #2) Todd's father was a petty thug who was killed by his boss, Two-Face. Like many (I imagine), I first learned of this through the flashback in BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY:
I wanted to track down the actual issues where this happened, but the results were hardly as dramatic and cathartic as the flashbacks would lead one to believe. At least, not to what I'd have wanted to see from a character like Jason facing down the man who killed his father. I dearly wish I could see that story properly (re)told today, perhaps even from alive!Jason's perspective.
Fast forward to A LONELY PLACE OF DYING, written by Marv Wolfman with most of the art by the great Jim Aparo (who also drew DEATH IN THE FAMILY). And Batman has not been at all well since Jason's death.
The story begins with him battling a generic masked thug generically named Ravager, while a mysterious new character watches from afar. Meanwhile, the person who sent Ravager broods away:
That last bit isn’t Alfred’s thoughts, but the mysterious stranger, who looks over news clippings of Batman, Robin, and the Flying Graysons, and laments how Batman just doesn’t seem to care about anything since Jason died.
Alfred notices this too, and attempts to give Bruce a stern talking-to, but to no avail. When will Bruce learn that Alfred is always sensible and never to be questioned?
So yeah, dun-dun-duuun, it’s Harvey. Personally, his place in this story puzzles me. As you later find out, it seems that in some point before this story took place, Harvey had flipped the coin to give up crime entirely. But I can’t for the life of me guess what story that could have been.
His last major appearance was in the Paul Sloane two-parter linked above, which didn’t end that way. Although the story itself makes reference to a Jim Owsley (AKA Christopher Priest) story from BATMAN ANNUAL # 13, which actually came out after this story, and still didn’t end that way, which makes even LESS sense!
Either way, this is apparently yet another “Harvey goes crazy again” story. Bad enough that all the stories of him getting better end up this way. But this time, they just cut straight to the going-crazy-again part!
Fast forward to part two, where Dick goes back to his old home at Haly Circus and ends up getting involved in a murder mystery (naturally). He is assisted in his detective work by the mysterious stranger, who is revealed to be a strange thirteen-year-old kid by the name of Tim Drake:
A personal note at this point: what follows are the first comic pages I ever read. My brother bought a copy of this issue, BATMAN #441, and little six-year-old me opened it up to see the iconic work of Jim Aparo, depicting the characters who would eventually go on to be my very favorites.
This was a formative issue for me to say the least. Has anyone else had that kind of lasting impression from their first comics?
And thus we have a wonderful depiction of just how similar Bruce and Harvey are to one another. That Harvey should be Bruce’s dark mirror is something that many people seem to understand in subtext, but has rarely ever been explicitly explored. I should do a whole post just about that sometime, with bits of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, BATMAN: EGO, and TWO-FACE: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Any other examples come to mind?
Also, as I’m planning to post scans from PRODIGAL next week, I find this line interesting: “He’s rarely shown an interest in hi-tech crimes.” Just something to keep in mind for the next post
We’re gonna have to skip over the bulk of this issue’s actual events and plot, which features more of Batman and Harvey over-thinking each other and getting nowhere. Meanwhile, Dick takes Tim to Wayne Manor, where the kid explains everything.
When Tim was very young, his parents took him to Haly Circus, where he met the Flying Graysons, including the youngest one, one of only (supposedly) three people in the world capable of doing a quadruple somersault. This was the same night, of course, that the Graysons were murdered, and Dick was orphaned, and soon thereafter adopted by Bruce Wayne.
Years later, nine-year-old Tim watched footage of Robin doing the quadruple somersault, and soon thereafter our li’l detective starting to put everything together.
Dick figures out that Two-Face is trying to lure Batman into a trap, and decides to intervene:
Oh poor crazy-pants Harvey. Notice, though: this is the sole example of Harvey’s dark side emerging in this story (outside of the voice in the radio). We never hear the actual other side of himself coming out again.
Another line to remember for the PRODIGAL post: “Without procedure, there is anarchy. Systems fall apart.” I wonder if those writers had this story in mind, when they decided to retcon Dick’s origin as being severely impacted by Two-Face?
Harvey blows up the house, which coincidentally is the Dent ancestral home, built by his grandfather. Everything looks bleak, when suddenly, a challenger appears!
Harvey escapes, and then Tim digs out Batman, who is typically ungrateful and dickish toward the costumed imposter in his midst, even after Tim explains his whole deal. At first, Batman dismisses the very notion that Batman needs a Robin, but Tim isn’t about to give up:
Tim reveals that he’d slipped a tracking device on Two-Face, who’s starting to panic because the voice in the radio has abandoned him. After a standard fight, the heroes win. All in all, a pretty pathetic end to Harvey’s latest spree, which the poor guy going right back to the nuthouse.
Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce and the fam’ hash out what’s to be done with this Tim Drake:
Thus we have a new beginning for Tim Drake, well on his way to being the new Robin (and my favorite to date; which is to say, the only one who doesn’t annoy me).
But then there’s that twist with the Joker. To this day, it still bugs me. Maybe it’s just because of how Dixon later seems to totally ignore the Joker knowing that there’s a new Robin, so that we could have that wonderful “You? I killed you!” moment in that ROBIN mini-series.
Maybe it’s that “your ridiculous coin told you to give up crime, forever,” line, which comes out of frickin’ nowhere. When did this happen? I would have liked to have read that story! But if he was hiding out, perhaps this all happened while he was in Brazil, in that Owsley story which I’ll post down the line.
Or maybe it’s the use of a trope that we see so often: namely, that Harvey is so easily manipulated that the slightest nudge can send him crazy again (or just make him even crazier, since how cured has he ever really been at any of these points?). Hell, I could do an entire post just on those moments alone. It’d be huge.
I’m just not sure how I feel about the idea that Harvey is so self-conscious of his own tenuous sanity that he actually believes that the Joker’s voice is really his own crazy dark side emerging (which it eventually does, for a brief moment), even though it sounds wayyyy more like the Joker than Two-Face.
Well, it doesn’t really matter. The point of this post was to shed some light on Two-Face was the formative challenge for both Jason and Tim. At this point, I don’t think Wolfman and company were purposely making Tim’s first opponent Harvey because of his connections with Jason. The Harvey/Jason connection is never even mentioned in A LONELY PLACE OF DYING, near as I can tell. It seems to just be a coincidence.
But like they say: twice is coincidence, thrice is pattern. And when we get to PRODIGAL—the story that is largely retold and refined in ROBIN: YEAR ONE—we learn about Harvey’s past with Dick Grayson’s early career, and thus Two-Face is solidified as the Baptism of Fire for the Robins.