about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

"Two-Face: Year One," The Hefner Cut

Two-Face: Year One was a mess.

I don't know any other way to describe the most recent retelling of Harvey's origin, released to coincide with the release of The Dark Knight. The odds were against it from the start, as the main problem with retelling origins is that you've got to interest people in reading a story they already know, or at least think they know.

They may have read it multiple times in flashbacks and expositions, or maybe they just have one specific version they adhere to as the definitive version. For me, the definitive Harvey story is Eye of the Beholder, by Andrew Helfer and Chris Sprouce. For most others, it's The Long Halloween, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Either way, TF:YO was met with opposition and apathy before it was even released, and in the years since, it's shown no signs of being embraced by fans nor creators nor canon any more than Michael Green's recent Joker origin Lovers and Madmen (BUNNY!) managed to escape the shadow of Alan Moore's Killing Joke.

This isn't to say there shouldn't be new attempts at retelling origins. If they held steadfast to the Golden Age or Bronze Age origins of Two-Face, we never would have gotten Eye of the Beholder in the first place. The question is always "What's this new take going to bring to the old story?"

To its credit, TF:YO had a couple novel and intriguing aspects to bring to the table. Unfortunately, for a slew of reasons, the final story was problematic to say the least. Maybe that's why it was seemingly ignored upon release, getting virtually no coverage from comic sites/blogs (I don't recall seeing a single review), or maybe the truth is more depressing than that: maybe people just didn't care.

But while I certainly cared, I also found myself alternately annoyed and bored, particularly by the poor pacing and awkward misuse of flashbacks. It read like a movie hacked apart and frankensteined together by a bad editor.

So in the interest of a cohesive story, I've decided to try something a bit different with this Two-Face Tuesday, and present the story edited into chronological order. Thus today, I offer you Two-Face, Year One: The Hefner's Cut!

Note for mods: I've done my best to include an approximation of 1/3rd of each of the 48 page parts (that's 16 pages from each part). By my count, I've come up right up to the limit for each of the issues. Let me know if you disagree, and I'll try to cut something, lord knows what.

The story has flashback sequences throughout, so I've decided to start with those and put them together, so the entire story may be told in a more linear fashion. If you would like to read the original story as DC published it, you may find it in this collection: "Batman: Two-Face/Scarecrow, Year One.

If I were an editor, I would have scrapped these pages. There's absolutely nothing here to justify the huge panels being taken up by empty dialogue that serves no other purpose than to expedite the point.

Even Jeph Loeb, who devotes entire two-page spreads to one single dynamic, meaningless action and maybe a line or two of actual substance, knows how to at least make it feel important and exciting. I grant him that much. This kind of writing could work in live action, but as in comics, it's poor pacing and wasteful comic storytelling. The only reason you won't be seeing more of it in the upcoming scans is because I cut those pointless moments so as not to go over the 1/3rd scan limit.

Let's press on and meet the story's arch-villain, Mort Weinstein. Not exactly a name to chill one's soul, I admit.

Now here, we have the potential for a truly perfect opponent to Harvey. A corrupt lawyer with absolutely zero scruples, Weinstein is an opportunistic hypocrite who actively loathes Harvey and denounces everything he holds dear merely by existing. It's one thing for the mobsters and corrupt cops to manipulate the law to their own ends, but it's even worse from a man of Harvey's own profession. There's a lot that could be done with such a character in a Two-Face origin.

The psychiatrist character, integral to this story, never even gets a name. Even his office door simply says, "Psychiatrist."

I once read a biography of Bobby Kennedy that believed the reason RFK went into law was to channel his own tempestuous anger, particularly toward his father (who had mob ties). I've heard this thesis roundly denounced, but it certainly fascinated me from a Harvey Dent perspective. The difference, of course, is that RFK wasn't on shaky mental ground like Harvey is.

Still, it makes me wonder if Sable read that biography, or came up with this on his own. In an interview, Sable explicitly said that the (intended) father/son dynamic between Harvey and the psychiatrist was inspired by Dexter, wherein a father figure guides his budding sociopath onto a path to channel his dark impulses.

But that's the RFK problem in reverse, since Dexter was clearly mentally ill and had virtually zero anger management issues. So I guess poor Harvey is stuck between the two extremes of (that idea of) RFK and Dexter.

"My Dad gave it to me." The way this line is written, we get no sense of what the coin actually meant to Harvey, nor what his father did with it or to him. There was only the barest hint of that in The Long Halloween, and even less here, which makes me wonder if Sable had even read Eye of the Beholder. Honestly, more than anything else, I thin it's that entire lack of anything relating to Harvey's psychological abuse that makes this story ring hollow.

"... It represents change."

Okay, so in this flashback from some unspecified time before the main events of this story, Harvey considers killing Maroni in the fashion of the Holiday killer. This makes only partial sense if you've actually read Long Halloween, and even then, it's all rather confusing. Is Harvey supposed to be Holiday here? Why is he using the baby bottle nipple silencer?

Notice that there's absolutely zero mention of Gilda, nor a wife of any kind, which at least lent the nipple silencer to the theme of family in TLH, but here it serves no purpose other than to remind people "Hey, remember this from TLH? I'm doing it too! Why? Because it was in TLH!"

Fast forward some undetermined amount of time to smack dab in the middle of TLH. I think. The story's never clear on timeline.

Harvey and Jim Gordon assemble a super-team of honest cops like Bullock, Crispus Allen, Cohen, and Maggie Sawyer, thus essentially making this book's subplot Gotham Central: Year One, even though it totally screws with Sawyer's own continuity. They capture Maroni, but once again, Mort Weinstein is there to muck things up.

Which then kicks off a string of gangland murders. The victims are all Maroni gang members with a history of violence and murder (and who were also sitting at Maroni's table in the trial scene we just saw):

So in addition to the Holiday killer--who's presumably the same Holiday from TLH and has therefore been killing Falcone and Maroni's men--we have another killer also killing Maroni's men.

This isn't needlessly convoluted at all. And just like TLH, everyone starts to suspect Harvey, thanks to Weinstein's opportunism:

Even Batman suspects Harvey is responsible:

Harvey's then heads to a charity ball at Wayne Manor, only to find his best friend conferring with Weinstein.

Wait, what? N... no one was suspecting Batman of being the killer, or of Harvey being Batman. ... Whatever. Just roll with it, Hefner, plow ahead.

Suddenly, Harvey gets a call from his assistant, Vernon Welles (formerly Vernon Fields in Long Halloween, formerly Adrian Fields from the original Eye of the Beholder; I really don't understand why his name has to change from every story), who tells Harvey that Maroni wants to turn himself in!

So now Harvey has a way to get to Falcone:

Alberto's here? So Sable's fully acknowledging Long Halloween, yet they're not even trying to do the whole "Alberto faked his death" thing here? Look, I think it's great not to bog down your story by retreading needless details from an earlier story, so why evoke them at all in the first place? Especially when you're already using Holiday methodology with flashback!Harvey?

So anyway, Weinstein goes to Vernon (and spoiler alert: Vernon's corrupt and in Maroni's pocket. Or Falcone's. Or Weinstein's. It's not really made clear here):

And so there's the twist of this Two-Face origin: Weinstein, on the orders of Falcone, gave Vernon/Adrian Welles/Fields the acid to give to Maroni to throw in Harvey's face.

That's what really makes the greatest comic origins: clarity and elegant simplicity.

But I can see what Sable's going for here, with Harvey being attacked and/or abandoned by all sides. The author said that he intended Harvey to be the antihero of this story, not the villain, and it's certainly the best intent one can have when it comes to a Two-Face origin.

Right before the trial, Batman tries to make peace with Harvey in his usual awkward manner, but Harvey preempts him:

I don't know if it was intention to light the left side of Harvey's face, but I think it's a nice touch, especially right before the trial. So often in Harvey appearances, especially in Long Halloween, Harvey walks around with a permanent shadow over his to-be-scarred side. Not very subtle.

After seeing the iconic Harvey Dent poster for The Dark Knight, I've come to be of the opinion that they should shadow the other side, and let us see his left side while we still can. After all... that's the side that's lost.

Which, of course, is what happens next when the trial is underway. No need to post that here. What follows is a clumsy and awkward retelling of Long Halloween scenes, including having Harvey alongside Alberto when the latter shoots Maroni and Gordon:

It's kind of amazing how this story actually makes TLH's Holiday identity even more complicated: not only is Harvey for no reason along with Alberto (whom we never actually see), but there's absolutely no Gilda in this story. So does that mean Alberto was the only Holiday killer in this story? Was Harvey actually Holiday this time? Were they both? Do they even know each other? WHAT THE FUCK.

We get the actual reveal of Two-Face after he kills Vernon, a cliffhanger finale ruined by the Rainier Wolfcastle worthy line, "I don't know who this 'Harvey' is, but be sure to send him my regards... IN HELL."

At some point later, Acting D.A. Weinstein and Gordon's squad tune into another mob trial, this one featuring A.D.A. Janice Porter (who bears no resemblance to the Porter in Dark Victory, whatever):

... Y'know, if this were a film, you'd be able to have editing, cinematography, music, and other sounds to bring this grand entrance to life! But it's not a film. It's comics. And

Instead, you have a splash page with all the emotional impact of a wet sock. Maybe this might have worked with a more dynamic artist, but hell, at least have Harvey say something. Even something hacky like "I have an objection," would be an improvement.

Also--and this is a complaint I have about Batman: The Long Halloween as well--where did you get that suit, Harvey? Notice that it's essentially a copy of his B:TLH suit as well. Sable is riding on that one even more than Jeph Loeb was riding on Batman: Year One.

Intriguing! Finally, we have what almost seems like an actual justification for this story's existence: what would happen if Two-Face ran for public office against a corrupt lawyer? As Sable revealed in an interview, he intended the second part to be more of a "non-partisan dark political satire," which would certainly be a fresh and relevant use of the character.

Unfortunately, the story barely attempts anything close to satire. The closest we get is a page of Two-Face having the rogues gallery (whom he considers "celebrities" to Gotham's citizens) work as telemarketers for his campaign, calling up people to tell/threaten them to vote for Dent.

That could have worked in the heightened stylized fun atmosphere of a Silver Age comic, or an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Here, I found it jarring and out of place, a forced stab at satire that fell flat. But it does seem to have an impact on the voters:

Problem is, that's about as far as the novel idea of a Two-Face political campaign went in the story, focusing instead on Harvey going on crime sprees, stealing mob money, and terrorizing the other candidates (Weinstein and Judge Harkness).

Perhaps that's why he crashed a Harkness fundraiser thrown by Bruce Wayne, with both Weinstein and Vicki Vale in attendance:

Two-Face slips away without having done anything but threaten Bruce for no reason. This moment might have made a bit more sense when one considers that Sable's original intention was to have Rachel Dawes in this story, but ended up splitting what would have been her character into the characters of Mort and Vicki Vale. Would comics!Rachel have been corrupt? Might have been interesting.

Jim Gordon suspects that Bruce still thinks there's still some of the old Harvey in there. But you wouldn't guess that from the harsh condemning tone of Bruce's line here, which especially feels just plain wrong this quickly into Harvey's madness.

This is a moment which should feel like a punch in the gut, where Harvey's genuine success at defying his own darkness is utterly destroyed, as are any hopes of his salvation.

But there's no little sense of that desperation, that grasping at hope in Harvey's outreach here. He sounds and appears cheery and casual. There's no sense of triumph in the revelation that he was still able to choose for himself and defy the coin (to which Sable never bothers to ascribe any power, nor any reason why Harvey would give his will over to it; like in The Dark Knight, the coin is a convenient gimmick through which Two-Face can act).

As such, the sudden collapse feels forced and empty, all the more so in the very next few pages when a gleefully evil Two-Face kidnaps Weinstein, whom Batman later suspected coerced the psychiatrist into suicide in an attempt to utterly destroy Harvey psychologically.

Havrvey puts Weinstein in that classic Two-Face scenario of the mock trial, which should be fitting for the character who made a mockery of the courtroom in his profession:

So with Weinstein dead and Harvey committed to Arkham, it's a hollow victory for everyone involved. It's on the very last page that Two-Face--smiling, smug, and once again completely free from any signs of turmoil or humanity--makes a confession to Gordon and Batman:

So it's only here, at the very end, that it's made clear that Harvey was the mobster killer after all? While I don't like the idea of Harvey killing people before the acid hit, even my beloved Eye of the Beholder did that, so I can't necessarily hold it against this story for merely expanding that.

But how was it supposed to work? We're to take it then that it was his dark side (a distinction which was never made clear, not even with the change in word balloons), acting of its own accord, without Harvey's knowledge? And what about Holiday, was that still supposed to just be Alberto Falcone? It's all clear as mud.

Secondly: "Dad"? Is he talking about his actual father, or the psychiatrist? How did either of them "teach" him to be "on both sides of the law"? I feel like there was an entire chapter missing somewhere along the way.

This story concludes on the sense that Harvey is truly lost forever, a sense that is affirmed in Two-Face's own manner in the above panel, and Batman and Jimbo's exchange below:

All in all, what we have here is a story that wants to be many things: a detective story, a psychological thriller, a character tragedy, a courtroom drama, a political satire, a companion piece to a more famous work, and a fresh look at a classic origin, not to mention a springboard for an intended spin-off series featuring Gotham Central characters.

They're all noble goals, certainly more of the sorts of things I want to see in comics, particularly if they give Two-Face a chance to be utilized properly. But in my opinion, it sadly failed in all these accounts, and the story seems to have been relegated to obscurity before it was even released. Time will tell if any of these ideas will carry on in future stories, even perhaps to better effect than they were used here.

Maybe in the next retelling of the origin in about a decade. As I'm sure Harvey would appreciate, all I can say is, "Better luck next time."

Again, if you're interested in reading it yourself, it can be found in this collection: "Batman: Two-Face/Scarecrow, Year One. Also included is Scarecrow: Year One, which was rather good.
Tags: christopher dent, jim gordon, joker, mark sable, moroni/maroni, origins, rogues gallery

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