June 16th, 2012

Two-Face... FOREVER!!!

DCAU Review: "Shadow of the Bat", featuring Batgirl and Gil Mason, the evil Harvey Dent! Kinda!

For seventeen years now, I've held a grudge against Shadow of the Bat, the two-part Batgirl origin episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Or rather, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, as the show was retitled in the wake of Batman Forever in order to capitalize on that damnable sidekick.

As you might be able to tell, I don't care much for Robin, and that apathy goes for the Bat-Family in general (save for Alfred), including Batgirl. Look, I've always liked Oracle, but I've always disliked teen heroes even when I was a teen myself. But while I've gained affection to Bat!Babs thanks to stories like the excellent Batgirl: Year One, I still never cared much for the episode, partially because it's the weakest of Two-Face's speaking appearances thus far. Besides being a one-note character, he's barely involved beyond simply being a villain, and not even the story's real villain.

But that alone isn't why I resented SotB. No, you see, back when WB first released a series of B:TAS home videos, they dedicated each tape to two episodes featuring a single villain. For the Riddler's tape, they included If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? and Riddler's Reform. The origin and his best episode, that's probably the wisest pairing you could make. For the Joker, it was Christmas with the Joker and The Laughing Fish. Okay, a classic-but-weak episode paired with one of the best, fine. You get the idea. And then, there was Two-Face's tape, which had some pretty great cover art:

Love it. So! For Two-Face, you'd think that the only obvious two episodes to include would be his two-part origin, right? That's just obvious, right? Ha ha, nope. Instead, they went with Shadow of the Bat: the Batgirl origin with Harvey as a minor supporting villain. Rassum frassum!

... Well, okay, I suppose that fifteen years is long enough to hold a petty grudge against an innocent cartoon episode with never did nobody no harm. Besides, I've come to better appreciate this story thanks to the YA novelization Dual to the Death, which combined this with Two-Face, Pts. I and II into a pretty seamless single epic: the fall of Harvey Dent, and the rise of Batgirl. What's more, combining those two episodes made me realize how even his minimal involvement here contains important continuity for his character development.

But most of all, I found myself fascinated by SotB's TRUE villain: Gil Mason, a corrupt cop who seems to be an alternate-universe counterpart to Harvey himself. Seriously, whether it's intentional or not, Gil seems to be the evil mirror-universe version of Harvey Dent, a true Two-Face who doesn't even have to get scarred. It's the parallels between Harvey and Gil which I find fascinating, all the more so because they're in cahoots.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's finally get to the damn review already, and maybe I'll even acknowledge Batgirl's existence along the way! No promises, though.

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While I'm still not crazy about the episode on its own merits (although Babs really won me over this time around), I now enjoy it way more when I take the details and motivations of the novelization into account, so much so that I now wish I would see Harvey's reactions to learning about how he was manipulated by Gil from the very start. Even if Gil did come out of the coma, he wouldn't be long for this world now that he's on Harvey's bad side, which would resolve that plot hole rather nicely.

What I'm basically saying is that I like SotB far more for what it could have been rather than what it was, which is still a pretty mediocre Two-Face appearance. But in my own head-canon, it's a GREAT episode, and I think I can deal with that. Old VHS tape, you are forgiven.