about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

The first (and last?) Two-Face solo feature: "The Long Way Down"

Two-Face: The Long Way Down, was supposed to run in the form of nine-page co-features, one part per issue, just like the Manhunter. Six parts over six issues of Batman: Streets of Gotham, right alongside Paul Dini's House of Hush storyline.

Instead, the first story in SoG #14 was eighteen pages (twice as long as the main Hush story!), twice the length, and clearly the first two parts smooshed together. Then, the next issue, SoG #15, was ENTIRELY devoted to the Two-Face story! At twenty-seven pages, that's the next three parts, back to back! Finally, in last Wednesday's SoG #16, the conclusion ran the regular nine pages.

Six parts, awkwardly shoved into three issues, and throwing off the flow of the title's main feature to boot. This wouldn't be such a problem, except that it was that last factor which pissed off comic readers.

When I went looking for reviews of SoG #15--the all-Two-Face issue--I found tons of angry comic fans declaring that they were dropping SoG. They were furious that there was no Hush story. Few had anything to say about the Two-Face story itself. They didn't even care.

Why? Do fans really like Hush that much? More than Two-Face?! Look, it would be one thing if they were dropping it over displeasure at the story itself (and they might have had cause, as we'll see below), but the story's quality was immaterial. All they cared about was Dini's Hush story. They had zero interest in a Two-Face-centric story, period.

This is strange, sad, and frustrating to me as a great fan of the character and Batman in general, all the more so because of the story itself. So let's do what so many fans didn't and give this story a look, as Harvey finds himself on the run from the bat, the cops, the feds, and the mob, doing whatever it takes of survive. Even if it means wearing a stupid hoodie.

With Black Mask in Arkham, Gotham's criminal underworld is Harvey's oyster once more, as he's poised to retake his position as a crime lord. But the revelries are short-lived as Dick!Batman delivers one of Harvey's goons, trussed and beaten up:

So the story becomes Harvey on the run from the FBI. Okay, kinda intriguing, shake him out of the typical "Cops and Capes and Robbers" scenario, pit him against the feds. There's story potential there.

But nothing comes of it other than a standard Mexican standoff and firefight, after which Two-Face and his surviving men seek shelter, finding a hideout so generously offered to them by Mario Falcone, which isn't totally suspicious at all.

Falcone initiates another firefight, saying it's all "just business." Funny, if you're gonna bring Falcone into this and thereby implicitly make Long Halloween/Dark Victory canon (which I try to avoid at all costs), one could easily have brought up the whole "You killed my father, Dent," aspect. But they didn't, and eh, I'm not complaining.

... oh snap.

Nice of Chester's jacket to suddenly magically reappear between panels. /nitpicky snark

This is the moment where I think everybody thought that we finally saw the reason to tell this story. The game-changer had come. Imagine it: Harvey's coin, scarred on both sides. What does this mean for Harvey? Is he essentially neutered, unable to make any choice? Will he be searching for another coin to flip, or other ways to decide? Will he finally exercise free will again, and have to face the consequences of his decision?

Nope. After a brief moment of intriguing hesitation, he goes right back to doing pretty much exactly what he was doing throughout this story anyway. Because up to this point, we saw absolutely nothing of Harvey's humanity or any character personality whatsoever, so this moment, which is meant to be the game-changer? It changes nothing. And the story cranks on from there.

"That's right, Chester..."

So with the dying Chester and his last two surviving goons, Two-Face goes incognito with a silly hoodie and the group tries to hide out on a subway train. One of the hoods knocks out a cop, dragging the unconscious officer onto the train with them.

They evade the FBI and head to a no-name town, hiding in a back alley, and dragging Chester's dying body, where the goon questions why they're bothering

The goon raises the very good question of why they're dragging Chester around, since he's not gonna give Harvey any answers.

Displeased, Harvey responds, "The deal goes like this. If I ask, you answer. But I didn't ask, right? So tell me something...

They invade the home of a doctor, whom Two-Face orders to save Chester, or the doctor's wife dies. And yet we still don't get any idea what Two-Face hopes to accomplish. What does he want to learn from Chester? What could he possibly gain by prolonging Chester's life? We get absolutely no sense of what the stakes are for Harvey. His motives are unclear, and never get clearer. Why should we care?

"The last sound he hears is the coin."

The goons dump Harvey's body in the river, then head to a dive bar to tell themselves that Harvey only got what he deserved.

Ohhh, it's building up to a reckoning! That's what a scene like that is for, to contrast with the eventual revenge of Two-Face, right? I mean, he said it himself, you can't get away with that.

Except they do. Oh, you don't need a spoiler alert to know that Harvey's not dead, but this scene is the last we see of the goons, as they walk out of the bar, and the bartender says:

And Two-Face's would-be Brutus and Cassius leave the story. See, when I read this, I was expecting it to become a revenge story at that point, with Two-Face, alone, clawing his way back to get even with those who wronged him, if not get back to power. I know that's certainly what I was expecting after the next scene, with a pair of fishermen:

The religious allusions felt forced and out-of-place when I read it, but since the next and final part opens with Harvey healing in a church-run shelter for drug addicts, I'm guessing (I say "guessing," because it's hard to tell with the similarly saggy faces of the characters here) that the fisherman himself is the same priest who we see helping Harvey:

The priest responds, "Sometimes one man needs help more than another." But why he thinks Harvey needs that help is never explained.

Harvey wakes up from his coma just in time to see a delusional crackhead (a blond girl in a pink shirt; the description is important for the last page) trying to strangle him, because she thinks he's the Devil. The Priest saves Harvey, who utters only one word: "why."

The narration says that it doesn't sound like a question.

The priest bandaged Harvey's scarred side, which forces the focus entirely on Harvey as a man, not a monster. The effect made me feel like Ivan Brandon was actually starting to go somewhere with this whole thing. And in a way, he was, as the days and weeks pass, and Harvey slowly recovers while staying silent.



Wait, that's it?

So Harvey burns down the shelter, kills Richard, the crackhead, and presumably others (including the priest?), and... why? Cuz he's evil?


Look, it's actually been a theory of mine that Two-Face's coin isn't a crutch: it's the only thing that's holding the monster in check. He can't quell the evil side, but he can at least keep it in check and balance it out with the good in him thanks to the coin. So it's interesting to see another writer address this idea.

But that's how you start the story. You don't end it there, especially when there are no clear plans for another writer to go anywhere with it! Because I will be very surprised if we see this more dangerous, all-monster Two-Face in the next Harvey appearance.

Furthermore, Harvey being written as an all-evil monster has been done so... many... times. Even when the coin comes up good side, many writers take that as a cue for Two-Face to find another way to do an evil act, so unless we see more of Harvey being good, this character change is meaningless. And to worst of all, it's boring. This Two-Face is boring.

I'm reminded of a criticism that people had about Azzarello and Bermejo's Joker, that the Joker was written so much like any interchangeable mobster psycho that you could've switched him with, say, Black Mask, and no one would have noticed a difference. Same thing here, only this Two-Face has even less personality.

Seriously. What the hell happened? Clearly something happened, or the story wouldn't have been juggled around and smooshed together, ending in what feels--to be--to be an abrupt and rushed fashion. Either way, no one in the comics blogosphere seems to be raising any questions or complaints. No one really cares.

One way or another, I fear this means that the first Two-Face solo feature may also be the last.
Tags: ivan brandon, ramon bachs

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