about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

Doug Moench's first Two-Face story (or, Whatever Happened to Circe?)

I've been thinking a lot about Doug Moench lately. Not just his dubious Two-Face stories, but also Black Mask and Circe. And it's not just because I've been planning to post today's story, Moench's first Two-Face tale which also features the return of Circe.

I've been putting off this issue for a long time, as I generally consider it one of the worst Two-Face stories of all time. For one thing, Moench is trying to juggle five or six plots at play over four issues, so the resulting story is a mess. At least I'll be simplifying things here by just focusing on Harvey and Circe, who actually meet here.

Note: Scans taken from Batman #397, 398, 484, 485, and 518, and Detective Comics #563 and 564.

Let's start this story from where the original Black Mask saga left off, as this story serves as a sorta-sequel. Batman takes Catwoman out for a hot date, going to a graveyard to ensure that the False Face Society isn't doing anything funny in the wake of Black Mask's arrest:

They spend the next page catching each other (and the readers) up to speed on exactly who Black Mask and the False Face Society were, presumably too distracted to notice that someone left a present on the mausoleum door:

Batman suspects it was Circe, Roman Sionis' supermodel girlfriend, a supposed "witch." Catwoman asks around and tracks Circe down, finding her in a most unexpected place:

Mystery writers, take note: when you want to introduce your mysterious femme fatale, you do it with Pat Benetar.

Catwoman's reaction is funny when you consider that, a couple years later, she herself was to be retconned as having been a sex worker. Here, she seems practically puzzled and pitying, hardly the street-smart and cynical character she'd become, particularly under Moench's pen in the ongoing Catwoman solo series.

"The Red Witch": Circe already has her own supervillain name, ready to go! But once again, she's being called a "witch" while still displaying no powers or casting any spells. It's almost as if she's cultivated this air of mystery. Or maybe she didn't, but it happened anyway, and she didn't argue. "Oh, they want to think I'm a witch? Fine, let them. That just means they fear me."

Meanwhile, Circe isn't the only one plotting revenge:

I wonder if this is meant to be a reference to Gilda, who was a sculptor. If so, it's a strange reference to make in light of the fact that she gets no mention in this story.

I imagine you're all going, "Wait... it's on a chain???" I know where Moench is going with this--as you'll see in the next scan--but the idea becomes extra silly considering that it goes back to being a regular coin, no chain, no chain-hole, just a coin like always. Maybe Moroni was into bling?

Harvey recounts his origin, up to the point where he went mad and dedicated his life to fate and crime. Or at least, Harvey explains to his lawyer, that's what Batman and the police say.

What's weird is that Harvey used hypnosis to escape from Arkham in his previous appearance (actual escape scene not included), so I wonder if Moench was trying to establish a new "hypnotist" motif with Harvey, or if it was just a coincidence.

Harvey's now a master of hypnosis AND disguise! Maybe he learned a trick or two from Batman in that same previous story by Gerry Conway. After a history of people impersonating him, Harvey's now decided to create his own impostors!

So we have a good idea of how Moench views Harvey's methodology: he's already (presumably of his own free will!) decided that he's going to commit a crime, but he flips to decide if he'll do it in a good or bad way. In this case, he's decided to steal money from a drug dealer. But what happens when he plans his next move and decides to rob an innocent computer genius?

Again, he's already made up his mind as to what he wants, just not how to get it. This is interesting, and bears further consideration.

On one hand, I don't like it because this means that Two-Face is an out-and-out monster who will always do bad things, but sometimes in worse ways than others. It's times like this that I truly lament how everyone's forgotten that Two-Face used to perform philanthropic acts half the time.

On the other hand, it actually makes Two-Face more of a character, rather than just a cipher. I believe it was screenwriting guru Robert McKee who said that action reveals character, and what a person does reveals who that person is. This is a big reason why Harvey's such a hard character to write, because if your character makes NO true decisions, that character's a nothing character.

THIS Harvey, at least, makes his own judgments, but let's the coin carry out the actual sentencing. I don't like that those judgments are all evil, but I do think it's a good reminder of what COULD make the character work better in other stories.

But I'm getting off-topic. Why does Harvey want this poor guy's computers, you may ask? Well, he's asking the same question.

What's interesting about this is that Moench, first of all, actually makes a plot point of the fact that this Two-Face is all-evil, and that his "benevolent" acts belong in quotation marks. Batman even acknowledges that Harvey once was as good as he was evil, but that the evil has been slowly overtaking him. Is Moench commenting on the way Two-Face has been written over the years? I'd like to think so, except that Moench will go on to write Two-Face as even MORE of a monster in the years to come.

And yet, at the very least, Moench has Batman playing the pivotal role in a good Two-Face story: the one person who refuses to give up on Harvey Dent. If anything can add poignancy to this kind of Two-Face, it's this kind of Batman.

One thing I want you to keep in mind: Batman's in the underdog position here. No one else really thinks he can help Harvey--"His expression makes 'good luck' redundant"--and even Batman is doubtful. From a creative storytelling perspective, the deck's stacked against the hero in this respect. But he's the hero, so he HAS to be able to pull this off, right?

"The scarred side. Finally." He actually seems relieved that he can now be fully evil. What we're seeing here is another common take on the character: not someone who's being torn between good and evil, but rather an evil person who is occasionally forced against his will into being good.

The "binary brains" are an interesting concept, one that could stand to be further explored in terms of how they'd affect Harvey's character. As they are here, however, Harvey just now has even more tools to help him think less.

For me, this is the most interesting part of the whole story. As far as Harvey's concerned, Batman essentially IS his "good side," with the two locked in eternal opposition. I could imagine Harvey being as dependent upon Batman as he is on the coin, because if it were just Harvey, there would be gross imbalance. Two-Face believes that he and Batman are locked in by fate, only because (he believes) he is free of "Harvey Dent" once and for all. To Two-Face, Batman represents his better half. Slashy!

Again, this is an aspect would could be fascinating if it was better explored in another story. As it is... well, I hate to break it to you, Harvey, but someone else already HAS that position. You might know him: he's the clown that likes to give you psychological wedgies in Arkham. You're better off keeping the "eternal opposition" locked inside your own head, between good and evil sides.

I just threw it on my Netflix Instant queue. I haven't watched it yet, but I will soon. I wonder, why would this Two-Face--who has given himself over to evil--care to watch a story about a hideous beast be redeemed through the power of love? Or could it be foreshadowing for a certain mostly-lovely lady about to enter Harvey's life, shortly after he barely escapes from the bank heist?

And here's where Harvey's story takes an abrupt turn, now that Circe has become an active player:

So wait, now Harvey acknowledges (or at least suggests) that his good side still exists, buried within Two-Face! Is Moench being ambiguous, or can he just not make up his mind?

Two-Face tells her that he'll consider her proposal, but only after his next heist using the Binary Brains. Circe slinks away in characteristically mysterious fashion, heading back to her current legitimate profession:

What makes Circe particularly interesting is her own ambiguity, playing all the angles and never showing her hand, not even by the time this story is finished. On one hand, she seemed to show no desire to get revenge on Roman by the end of the Black Mask origin, but perhaps she's grown increasingly bitter since then. Like Harvey, the Red Witch teeters on the brink between redemption and corruption.

But even though (surprise spoiler alert!) Harvey does return to Arkham at the end, Harvey and Roman never actually meet. A huge missed opportunity on Moench's part, since what two better characters are there to discuss faces and masks?

But enough hypothetical thoughts about stories that never were. The question remains: will Harvey take the bait?

Nooooo! Damn it, Harvey, you didn't have the blow up the poor computer technician's life's work! That's just mean!

Also: yes, the next issue IS where I got the name for this blog. :)

So Harvey and Circe go museum-robbing for the Pharaoh's mask, but unbeknownst to Harvey, the entire thing is a setup:

Catwoman and Batman follow Circe and Two-Face back to the bisected hideout to see if Batman's far-fetched plan actually goes somewhere:

The fact that the good side is goddamn ecstatic indicates that the humanity within Harvey Dent is not only present, but dying to be rehabilitated. Meanwhile, the bad side looks outright horrified. I think this is the first time, in this whole story, that we actually see inner conflict within Two-Face.

I can't help but notice how no one thinks this ridiculous idea is going to work. It's kind of amazing that everyone's going along with it, when Batman's the only one who's personally invested in saving Harvey's soul.

... wat.

Okay, FIRST off, makeup doesn't work that way. At all. And yes, it *is* makeup, since Circe fights back and succeeds in scraping a bit off before Harvey knocks her to the ground. So Harvey is wearing scarred-face makeup underneath makeup that makes him look like he's not wearing makeup at all, and he threw all this together within minutes? Damn, he must have been valedictorian of the Tom Savini school!

Secondly, Harvey can flip the coin until he gets any result he wants? Is Moench saying that this is what he always does, and that he's a cheater at heart? Or was Harvey actually affected by Circe's hypnotism? Either Harvey was playing a game with her and Batman all along, or Batman's far-fetched ploy has completely and utterly backfired and made Harvey even WORSE than he was before.

Look at how he reacts when Batman bursts in with Robin and Catwoman:

And that's about as definitive an answer as you can get. Harvey is dead, the monster reigns, and hope is slim to nil of it being any other way. Is Batman right, that this proves Harvey could be saved if Harvey really wanted to be? Is Two-Face's reaction just indicative of how cynical comics had gotten by that point?

It occurs to me that Harvey and Batman acted much the same way in the original Golden Age Harvey Kent trilogy. "Harvey, you can reform!" "NO! I R EVUL NOW! HAHA!" Rinse and repeat. Or at least, until Gilda's life hanged in the balance. That was what finally got through to Harvey, bringing him back to his senses, and putting him on the path to redemption.

Maybe the problem with Moench's story here is that Batman's faith isn't enough to save Harvey, not without Gilda's love. All the more reason why Gilda's absence from comics has lessened Two-Face as a character. Without her, Harvey and Batman truly are doomed to be locked in eternal opposition, which can only end with Harvey being defeated once more, and Batman taking comfort in the friendship of his allies and family.

Yes, Bruce, he's been "marked by Circe"... on your orders. Way to go!

Where did Circe go? Best to my knowledge, she hadn't been seen since then, until Moench brought Black Mask back almost eight years later (in a story which largely felt like a repeat of the original):

I guess her encounter with Harvey was so... traumatic (?) that she snapped, dropped out of her life and stripping career, and became a homeless bag lady? Seriously, does anyone know if I'm missing a detail here, because Google's not giving me any answers.

Soon, the False Facers clean Circe up to be the perfect consort for Roman, only now, there seemed to be no traces of humanity or personality in Circe:

She does nothing in the story but stand around in lingere, like a living mannequin. I suppose Moench was trying to make further commentary on the fashion industry. It occurs to me... a model who gets her face scarred, then becomes a mask-wearing blank for an insane freakish crime boss? I have to wonder if dear, departed Alicia from Burton's Batman was inspired by Circe:

Now, Circe actually DOES take action in one way, although it makes no sense. You see, in this story, Bruce went undercover as a new member of Black Mask's gang, until Mask wised up to the truth (which makes me wonder how stupid Roman really is: he realizes that Bruce Wayne, not Batman, was his lackey the whole time, as if the foppish playboy could actually get away with that. Idiot!):

Why did Circe save Bruce's life? Who knows? Roman knocks her out, and we never see her again. According to Wikipedia, Circe committed suicide (like Alicia did?), but that same article says she did it BEFORE this story, where she's clearly alive. So I'm calling bullshit on that Wikipedia article, unless you guys can fill me in on her suicide.

But even with Circe gone (dead?), Roman cannot quite give her up. He spends his next major appearance ranting and raving to "Circe," until he reveals that she actually IS a mannequin now.

Jeez, Doug Moench, what's with you and having madmen romancing mannequins?

So what really happened to Circe? Anybody know? I'm thinking of making a whole profile page about her for ComicVine, because really, who the hell else will?

Moench would go on to write Harvey several more times, several of which are infamous (to those of us who care) as being among the very worst Two-Face stories. But perhaps memory is being too harsh. When I review them here, I'll do my best to give them a fair shake. Yes, even with The Face Schism.
Tags: catwoman, doug moench, jason todd, jim gordon, kelley jones

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