February 9th, 2010

Two-Face... FOREVER!!!

Review: Two-Face gets a new vigilante nemesis in Alan Grant's "Janus" from SHADOW OF THE BAT #62-63

Note: This story includes spoilers for the episode "Judgement Day" from Batman: The Animated Series. If you haven't seen it, you can watch it here before it's taken down.

Alan Grant was one of THE major Batman writers, one of those who helped shape the character's entire era in the decade following Batman: Year One.

While his body of work speaks for itself, his greatest specific legacy may have been in the new characters he introduced. Like fellow Scotsman Grant Morrison, Alan Grant loaded his Bat-books with original villains. Most of whom instantly went onto the D-List, but a handful endured, especially Doctor Jeremiah Arkham, Mister Zsasz, and the Ventriloquist and Scarface. Also like Morrison, Alan Grant was a fan of introduced big ideas and themes into his work, but with varying degrees of success.

After a few years proving his mettle over in both Batman and Detective Comics, Grant was given his own ongoing Batman series with Batman: Shadow of the Bat. Save for the last year before the book's cancelation, when it was hijacked to join the excellent No Man's Land saga, Grant wrote over eighty issues of SotB over seven years. Yowza.

Like many, I just assumed that it was meant to be yet another Bat-Book, a playground for Grant to tell whatever stories he wanted. However, I recently learned that he had a specific purpose in mind for SotB, one which I find very interesting.

In Grant's own words from a Wizard interview back in 1998, he wanted SotB to "focus on whoever the villain of the piece was. It meant we were able to go more deeply into the psychology of the villain concerned. It gave me an angle to attack the story from. In Shadow, we continue to use more psychological stories than any of the other Bat-books. Instead of doing straight action stories, I like to probe what makes a killer. Why would somebody become a thief? What's the cause of the Riddler's madness?"

While I confess that I was never the biggest fan of his stories, I admire Grant for wanting to expressly focus on the villains. We need to see more of that in comics, especially with Batman, whose rogues gallery are the most psychologically-driven in any medium. That said, I fear that Grant's abilities rarely matched his ambitions, which is why we so often ended up with a mixed bag like Janus. In this story, Grant appropriately gets to have it both ways by utilizing both Two-Face and a "new" character, whose secret identity drives the story's central mystery:

I never said it was a hard mystery, mind you.

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Should we be happy or sad that Janus has been entirely forgotten? After all, this wasn't a great story, but it had great potential. Like Judgment Day, it's on the right path. I've been noticing how there's a recurring idea among some fans that Harvey SHOULD be a vigilante, but there's little agreement about what kind of vigilante he should be, and little speculation as to what would be going on in his head.

Would Harvey be a mob-killing Punisher type? A part-time Robin Hood donating to charity? Which side would be committing the acts of vigilantism? The good, the bad, both together, or a brand-new third one? There are so many ways that one could approach the idea of Harvey Dent as a vigilante, each raising different implications and ramifications.

Maybe that's one reason why most writers leave Harvey stuck in the ill-fitting role as a gang boss. Harvey as a vigilante is a great story waiting to be told if done right, but there are so many ways that it can be done wrong. Nevertheless, if we're gonna be saddled with so many mediocre Two-Face stories anyway, I'd rather see someone dare that creative minefield rather than leaving poor Harvey mired in the status quo. In cases like the above, at least you can say it led to an interesting story. And while you're at it, maybe you'll also get a great cover or two out of the deal: