about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

Two-Face Tuesday: Dick vs Harvey, Round 3! NIGHTWING: THE GREAT LEAP

Apologies to those who've already seen this either on scans_daily or at my own LJ before I'd even started this fanblog. As I'm taking the week off, I figured that this would be the perfect time to post this one here, as it is perhaps the most significant and personal face-off between Dick Grayson and Harvey Dent. Furthermore, of all the Two-Face Tuesday posts I've made, this one is perhaps the one of which I'm most proud.

Furthermore, I imagine a couple of you mostly know Harvey from THE DARK KNIGHT, so you'll be particularly interested in this story, as it features the closest equivalent to Rachel Dawes that we've seen in the actual comics.

NIGHTWING: THE GREAT LEAP is beloved story by pretty much everyone. And I can understand why, if you're a Nightwing fan. Me, I like Grayson all right, but obviously, my focus on THE GREAT LEAP was Two-Face and only Two-Face. And appropriately enough, I am very torn on how Tomasi used Harvey in this story.

This was Harvey's first major appearance since he was so clumsily rescarred and recrazied in FACE THE FACE, which was itself his first major in-canon appearance since HUSH four years earlier (I sure as hell ignore the beautifully-drawn crapfest that was BATMAN: JEKYLL AND HYDE). His appearance in NIGHTWING served as a tie-in to THE DARK KNIGHT, and aspects of the Aaron Eckhart Two-Face are used throughout THE GREAT LEAP.

And for the most part, it's a pretty excellent take on Two-Face. At several points, it's one of the most refreshing and exciting depictions of Harvey Dent. So why would I have any problem with THE GREAT LEAP, if it's a generally-solid tale?

To answer the question, I present my edit of this story, focusing almost entirely on Harvey's arc, with pretty much all of the Nightwing stuff cut out. The original story as presented is Nightwing vs. Harvey "Crazypants" Dent. But that's not how I read the story. To me, it was "Harvey Dent vs. Harvey Dent (with Nightwing and a Rachel Dawes substitute in the mix.)"

Ultimately, it's a matter of perspective.

Ugh, what's up with the floppy lips and sad saggy eyelid? He looks like a deranged bloodhound.

Wow, so Nightwing never even knew that Harvey was left in charge of Gotham during the 52 year? That's kind of a big loop to be left out of, isn't it? Man, Harvey kinda did get shafted from that deal, not even getting recognition for his good work (and being upstaged by Batwoman in 52 to boot).

So yeah, as you can tell, Carol Bermingham is essentially a stand-in for Rachel (aka "RAY-CHULL!!!") Dawes. Far as I can tell, this major retcon to Harvey's past is expressly included to tie this Two-Face story into THE DARK KNIGHT. I accept it for this story's purposes, but I'll reserve my thought on this specific matter until the very end.

I apologize for the wonky quality of some scans. It's tricky trying to scan from the trade paperback.

Okay, first things right off the bat (a double-pun! Hurr!): I love Harvey's outfit here. After a year's consideration, I think this might well be my favorite Two-Face costume ever, edging out even the elegant B&W animated series suit.

Long coats are always a good idea, and the midnight blue/gray color works because it speaks to his moral ambiguity. Furthermore, the costume is reminiscent of the blues and grays of Batman himself (right down to him having his own "cape"), and it's an outfit that can easily be used for whatever role Harvey's playing at any given point: mobster, supervillain, antivillain, antihero.

On the downside, I hate how FACE THE FACE made it canon that Harvey's scars are split evenly down the middle. For all the grace and subtle suggestion his new outfit has, doing the scars so evenly puts him right back into comic book gimmick campiness. It's too neat a division for a character whose psyche is anything but a clean break between good and evil.

So over the next issue and a half, Nightwing saves Carol, but ends up getting shot by a mysterious sniper who totally isn't exactly who you think it's gonna be. Seriously, I wasn't the only one who saw this twist coming a mile away, was I? Maybe I just saw the B:TAS episode "Second Chance" two too many times.

Bleeding to death, Dick gets Carol to a safehouse, then makes it back to the Batcave, where Alfred patches him up. I'm purposely glossing over the pain Dick endures and the powerful moments with Alfred (both of whom are freshly coming to terms with the events of BATMAN R.I.P.).

The art here is by Rags Morales, a wonderful artist done great disservice by the inker:

Carol's already kind of a vapid non-character, little more than a standard damsel-in-distress who is supposedly a brilliant criminal lawyer and yet isn't smart enough to not answer her damn cell phone when she's being hunted by a professional killer.

Just one reason why I can't buy that Harvey is so in love with her. It would have been nice to have actually seen young Harvey and Carol interacting, since Harvey's feelings here are one of the the main driving forces of the story.

Of course, Carol shouldn't be entirely to blame for foolishly answering her phone and thereby possibly giving away her GPS location. Even after doing that, Dick still takes that chance and leaves her right there. Well done, Mr. Bodyguard!

Sure enough, Dick finds out that the safehouse has been breached at the same time that Alfred informs him that the bullets he was shot with were spiked with Scarecrow's fear toxin. So Nightwing arrives at the safehouse to find ALL of Batman's rogues waiting for him! Of course, they all (save for one) turn out to be hallucinations, and he ends up fighting a bunch of henchmen for... who else?

"Outa, zoota, zut"?

Seriously? Harvey Dent's quoting Bugs Bunny cartoons? Oh, and by the way, Mr. Tomasi, it's actually "Roota, voota, zut!" ;p

Sorry, back to the totally shocking confrontation already in progress:

While Nightwing is distracted by the throes of the fear toxin, Two-Face attends to Rachel Carol:

Oh Harvey, you so bugfuck insane.

At this point, I have say, Don Kramer is a fine artist for bodies and storytelling generally, but I hate his faces. Everyone looks dead-eyed and stiff all the time. To make matters worse, he repeats poses and facial expressions. See how Harvey's drawn in the "He was supposed to protect her... from me... from him..." panel? Just look how he reuses the same thing in the next couple pages.

If I hadn't reached the scan limit, I could easily devote an entire separate post to Kramer reusing poses and faces.

God, I love those pages. There are those who think that Harvey actually having multiple personalities is stupid and gimmicky, but the above is a perfect example of how it can be used to wonderful effect.

First off, you have the tragic struggle of Harvey's genuinely good side against his sneering darker side (and please keep that in mind, as that's key to the point of this whole post). But usually we see that struggle from inside Harvey's head, between two distinct voices. Tomasi, however, brilliantly gives us an outsider's view of Harvey's two sides fighting.

In those two pages, we both get a sympathetic insight into Harvey's struggle, while at the same time getting a sober, objective "Holy crap, this guy is fucking nuts" perspective.

Unfortunately, it's about this time that the story jumps the shark. I know the phrase "jumps the shark" is a cliche, but honestly, I can't think of any other way to describe the lameness of what comes next.

Okay, admittedly, Harvey looks awesome in the trenchcoat in that panel, but still...

So in keeping with THE DARK KNIGHT, here we have a Two-Face who wants to punish those he blames for failing to save his loved one. I have my problems with that sudden shift in character motivation, but that's another rant.

So Harvey wants to punish Nightwing for failing to save Carol from Two-Face. Okay, fair enough. And how does the out-of-control train of fury known as Two-Face accomplish this? By destroying the city Nightwing holds dear through a supremely complicated plan that involves multiple hijacked blimps, a rain of deadly acid, and death pennies from above. All over the course of four days? That's pretty impressive doing all on the fly.

The problem that I have with this master plan of Harvey's is that it seems strangely overblown for the kind of story it was up until this point. This is a criticism from a storytelling perspective, mind you.

One of the main points of THE GREAT LEAP is that it ends with Dick's girlfriend Deb getting scarred by the acid and leaving Dick and New York behind. If that was going to happen anyway, I'd have found it more satisfying if Harvey somehow found out that Deb was his girlfriend and specificially targeted her, which would much more fittingly "balance the scales" for Harvey's twisted sense of justice.

But going after half of the entire city with acid rain and death blimps? Seriously? That's frankly overblown, pure campy supervillain fare. And I know Two-Face is capable of such an act, but it doesn't fit the story that THE GREAT LEAP was up to this point. Targeting Deb and only Deb would have worked so much better, and accomplished exactly the same thing. As it is... well, again, this is where the story jumped the shark.

Of course, many people can just look at this and go, "Well, of course it seems like an overblown response! Harvey's crazy!" I hate when people play the Crazy Card as an all-purpose excuse for a poor storytelling choice. It's thoughtless and dismissive.

Then we have this moment, which also raises eyebrows in terms of Harvey's pop culture knowledge. But hey, it's funny, so it works. Maybe Harvey and Deadpool can team up and kill idiots who don't know their classic sci-fi.

I notice Harvey didn't even flip the coin to decide whether or not to kill the henchman. That could be out of character in a scene that's already pushing it, but hell, we can just pretend that both sides of Harvey wanted that idiot dead.

Fast-forward past the rain of acid to Dick and Harvey's climactic battle in the sky:

The thing I love about this fight is the sheer hatred these two have for each other. That's the thing about Dick I've noticed, between this and the fight with Ra's in the next story: he has none of the respect for the villains that Batman does. I feel like he sees nothing in them worth respecting, not even their threat levels. They're bad guys, and he's cocky because he knows he's gonna be able to take them down, no problem.

Combine the fact that Harvey beat him nearly to death as a kid, and it's understandable why Harvey would have absolutely zero sympathy for the one villain on whom Batman himself absolutely refuses to give up hope.

So yeah, I get that. And yet... well, read on...

And here we start to come upon the real issue, here: "No, Harvey! YOU let him win!"

Did he, though? Did Harvey really allow his dark side to triumph?

I mean, first of all, what does Dick expect Harvey to have done instead? Harvey is seriously mentally ill here. Is he really blaming Harvey for failing to be sane and actually control his madness?

Even if he is, no one's going to blame Dick for that line. After all, Harvey may be crazy and not totally responsible for his actions, but he also put Dick through a hell of a lot between the shooting, the drugging, the people he killed and scarred, and the whole killing-Carol thing. Not to mention the time he beat Robin up with a Louisville Slugger.

So the reader would be on Dick's side no matter what. Harvey may be suffering, but in the end, he's a mad dog who has to be put down, sympathy be damned. And Dick especially has none.

Case in point, the epilogue at Arkham (drawn by Doug Mahnke):

OH MY GOD, HARVEY, YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP. Seriously, why do we need six pages devoted to this? What does this interaction actually accomplish that couldn't been done in a third of the pages?

There's no trace of the Harvey that approached Dick in the first place, nor the tortured side who argued with his darker self at Carol's grave. We see nothing but the same cruel, sadistic, monologuing villain who beat a boy senseless with a baseball bat all those years ago. This entire interaction--the last we see of Harvey in THE GREAT LEAP--does absolutely nothing to refute Dick's assessment of Harvey.

So based on what we've seen here, what do you think? Do you think Dick's right, that there's nothing good left to salvage in Harvey? That there's nothing "except evil in that black soul" of his?

Before you answer, I should mention that I skipped one more part. It has no Two-Face in it, you see, so neither side of Harvey is even aware of what happened here.

But Dick knows. And so does Carol.

And with this revelation, here's the most troubling part of this whole story for me, as a Two-Face fan. Carol's alive, and why? Because Nightwing kept her alive after Two-Face shot her, thus saving her from Harvey?

Yes, but consider this: Nightwing never even knew who Carol was until Harvey contacted Dick and asked to intervene. If Harvey never did that, Carol would have almost certainly been killed, if not by Two-Face then by the other contract killers hired by the mob (like the ones who posed as her bodyguards in the first issue, who were about to kill her when Nightwing saved her).

Consider that this all started because Two-Face was hired to kill her, and yet Harvey took it upon himself to alert Nightwing. That alone was an usual act of pure defiance against his own bad side. Usually, Harvey is the helpless victim to Two-Face's control and cruelty, but here, Harvey made an active effort to thwart Two-Face, even though it meant appealing to Nightwing, a person who has every reason to hate him.

Two-Face tried to kill Carol. But he failed solely because Harvey defied his dark side and went to Nightwing. In the bigger picture, I'd argue that Harvey is the real hero of this story. Even if he was also the villain.

And the biggest tragedy of all is that he must never know. He must never know that, for a brief moment, he actually succeeded in beating Two-Face. Instead, he's doomed to think--as Dick's condemning "YOU let him win!" further makes me think--that he's failed all over again, that his bad side will always win, and that the heroes will never do anything to help him, and he gets to be eaten up by the guilt that he killed someone he loved.

Which would be an incredibly powerful tragic ending if Tomasi's story gave any indication that's how this is meant to be read. No, read as a whole, I get absolutely no hint of acknowledgment that Harvey was instrumental to saving Carol's life. Nightwing struts off, smugly secure in the thought that Harvey is an evil soulless monster who only thinks he succeeded in beating Nightwing and killing Carol.

So yeah, that's why I find NIGHTWING: THE GREAT LEAP to be an incredibly troubling story, all the more so because I loved so much of it. In the end, it's still a matter of taste and perspective. I can't blame anyone for not sympathizing with Harvey, because in the end, it's Nightwing's book and he's the hero. I guess it's all in how you look at it.

What about you guys? What do you see?

Honestly, if I'd call bullshit on anything, it'd be the retconned inclusion of Carol into Harvey's past, and the emotional affair they had. Hell no. Vow or not, I reject the thought that Harvey loved anyone more than Gilda, his sole lifeline relationship to humanity.

So for me, I see no more fitting note to end on than a reminder of that love, which I (relevantly enough!) commissioned from Rags Morales at New York Comic Con last February:

Now that's the only person who can break up the one-man OTP that is Harvey Dent.
Tags: dick grayson, peter tomasi, rags morales, reading list: harvey and the robins, robin(s)
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