August 10th, 2010

Two-Face... FOREVER!!!

Character Profile: BATMAN VILLAINS SECRET FILES & ORIGINS, 1998

Text by Scott Beatty (editor and co-author of ROBIN: YEAR ONE) and drawn by Scott McDaniel, who was already well-known for drawing the character in TWO-FACE: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and the DAREDEVIL AND BATMAN crossover.





It's easy to see why so many people hate Scott McDaniel's artwork, but I've always been fond of it. He's just so beautifully kinetic in how he draws action, making him dead perfect for characters like Nightwing, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. Two-Face, however, is another case. This is a character who's not all about the fight scenes and action, and as such, he doesn't play to McDaniel's strengths.

That said, I still like his Two-Face... usually. CRIME & PUNISHMENT was pretty darn great, and there were some excellent pages from the DD/BATMAN crossover, both of which greatly deserve posting here down the line. Hell, he even drew a flashback cameo of Harvey in NIGHTWING that I adore. But this? Ugh, I really don't like this piece, all the less so because it was the Two-Face profile pic online back in the late 90's, no matter what site you frequented.

There are things I like about it, particularly the scarred side, the detail on the gray hairs, and especially the fact that the division is jagged, not a clean cut. I love it when artists actually show some gradation between the scarred and unscarred sides. If I have one big pet peeve with Two-Face art, it's when artists draw it as a clear division between "good" and "bad" sides. That was fine in the Golden Age, and that's where it should stay.

But man, everything else is stylized to a point of inhumanity, as if Harvey never had any human facial dimensions before the acid hit. The clean circumference face is unnatural (what is he, a Charles Schulz character?) and the similarly curved hairline makes him look like he's suffering male pattern baldness.

And while we're on the subject of nit-picky, petty annoyances... seriously, what's with so many artists scarring up his left hand? People were doing this even before THE ANIMATED SERIES, where it made sense with his origin there, but there's no reason why his whole hand should be scarred. At most, his palm should be the only thing that's scarred, from reaching up to touch his burning face, but, eh, I guess that's the kind of specific consistency one can't expect from artists-for-hire.

As for the profile itself, there's not much to say. Pretty straight-forward. Although I like his occupation. He's a professional!

One thing, though: notice the lack of what the coin meant to Harvey, and its connections to his father. That was present in the Sprouce-drawn profile by Mark Waid, but that whole vital subplot is absent here, as it was in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. All we get is the abuse, which robs this origin of anything uniquely powerful about Helfer's origin, essentially making Harvey yet another supervillain case of "I was beaten as a child and now I'm evil!"

It's the single biggest origin cliche for villains, but Helfer actually made it work by adding the psychological element, which was even worse than the physical abuse itself. That's forgotten here, as it will be by pretty much every single other writer to this day, aside from the briefest of allusions in both THE LONG HALLOWEEN and THE DARK KNIGHT.

Maybe it's just as well, as I worry what a lesser writer would do with that complex material. But the fact that it's rarely observed is saddening nonetheless, as that's one of the key things that keeps the character from being just another gimmicky villain with a skin condition.