about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

"The Face Schism," by Moench and Kelley Jones: possibly not the worst Two-Face story ever maybe?

If you asked me six months ago what I considered to be the worst Two-Face story of all time, I'd have immediately answered, The Face Schism, published in Batman #527-528, by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, and John Beatty. Now, I'm not so sure.

Over the past few months, I've given Moench's work far more consideration and analysis than ever before, and my last few posts make me feel like I should step back and look at where Two-Face stood when this story was published. Let's contextualize Harvey in comics by this point with a little help from our li'l pal, Schizy: the Smiley/Frowny Face of Continuity!


Heya pals, go to hell! It's your old pal, Schizy! Let's take a gander at how Two-Face's character and motivations (d)evolved over just six years! Yippee yee-ha I hate my life!

In 1990, we got Eye of the Beholder, which was the first story to really show Harvey breaking down psychologically before the acid even hit, putting a strain on his partnership with Batman! Oh noes! Then, in 1993, Doug Moench took this idea a bit further, retelling the scene with Batman outright calling off their partnership, leaving Harvey feeling abandoned and betrayed, and thus giving Two-Face a reason to hate Batman! Motivation, in MY comics? GTFO! Finally, a year later, Chuck Dixon ran with that motivation like wowzers, writing Two-Face as a vindictive madman who raved about dealing his own fixed brand of "justice" in the Prodigal storyline!

So as you can see, Harvey went through several filters from his 1990 reboot by the time Moench wrote him again for
The Face Schism in 1996! It really instills confidence about the story you're about to read, don't it? Have fun, suckers, I'm outta here! Wheeeeeeeeee continuityyyyyyy!


Thanks, Schizy! You make continuity such a not-at-all-tedious thing to understand!

In all fairness to Moench, I suppose he deserves credit for continuing using actual character development, even if it's to go straight downhill. At the same time, he once again deserves credit for giving Two-Face an actual motivation. It's the right thing to do with the character, but done in the worst possible way.

Also, clowns are involved. Clowns and Kelley Jones art. You've been warned.

Our story begins with a random and very unlucky guy who hears someone trying to break into his apartment. Who could it possibly be?

So, Harvey had files hidden inside his apartment walls? This recalls Moench's previous story, which was itself almost certainly inspired by the files that were given to Harvey by his duplicitous assistant, Adrian Fields. Whew! You guys get all that?


It may also have been inspired by his Bronze Age origin, where he hid evidence in his desk's secret compartment! Sure, that's not canon anymore, but it may have influenced Moench's take on the character! META-TEXTUAL CONTINUITY, WHEEEEEE!!!


Oh, that Schizy, such an obsessive little nit-picker! Thank goodness I'M not like that!

However, as we soon discover, Moench has decided to come up with a completely different take on these files, eliminating Fields entirely and dramatically changing Harvey Dent's pre-scarring history, as told by Batman himself. It turns out, there were other criminals that Dent wanted to prosecute...

Geez, again with the masks, Doug Moench? Harvey's not the only one who's "a little obsessed."

This take on Batman is in direct conflict with the same rule-bending Batman of Year One who would break into Falcone's mansion, tie up the naked mobster, and then dump his Rolls-Royce in the harbor. That pro-active Batman would never have shunned the idea of investigating suspects who were escaping justice. And yet, here he's refusing because, what, Harvey's too "obsessed?"

This would make sense if, like Eye of the Beholder, Dent were asking Batman to PLANT evidence, or to kill the criminals himself. That may even be exactly what Moench is suggesting with Harvey's "You're not bound by criminal-coddling rules!" But I don't see that here. Harvey just says, "Get that evidence!" something which Batman does best. And yet, the hero acted like Harvey asked him to cross the line.

I honestly didn't notice this until just now, as I was writing this review. Before this, I was far too distracted by how much of a humorless, angry, thoroughly-unsympathetic dickhole Harvey is here. I couldn't read this any other way than seeing Harvey Dent as a corrupt D.A. whose motivation essentially mirrors the Tommy Lee Jones version in Batman Forever. But now, I'm wondering if it's a bit more complex than that, and if Bruce's "I wish I looked at them" is an admission of guilt for his part in the creation of Two-Face.

Hey, look: for once in a Two-Face story, the coin actually came up heads! I mean, the good side! That's a seriously rare occurrence! I mean, okay, I'm not sure why Harvey has to choose between punishing Lockheart and freeing Schism, since those goals are not opposite nor mutually exclusive. That's kind of stupid, but I guess Moench wanted a "good" option and an "evil" option, and the good side actually came up, so I'll accept the premise.

At least, until the point that Harvey goes, "Screw the coin, I'm gonna be a vindictive villain no matter what!"

... NO. No no nononono. No. "Coin or not..."? Damn it, Moench. If you write Two-Face like this, why even have him use the coin in the first place?

Clearly, Lockheart is a cunning criminal mastermind. As we all know, carny life is where the REAL money's at!

So, okay, Harvey's decided to ignore the coin's ruling and have it both ways: free Schism AND punish Lockheart. Fine, let's go with that.

... wh... what the hell kind of self-appointed Judge, Jury, and Executioner are you, Harvey?! You have no right nor reason to make the Schism boys do your dirty work, nor should their refusal mean that you'll ignore the coin's ruling even MORE and NOT free them from Lockheart!

Is the idea that Harvey can't allow himself to carry out Lockheart's sentence if he's already failed to do so twice? Because, y'know, he's all "two"-obsessed and whatever? If that's the case, he'd better not try to kill Batman, otherwise he'd be an inconsistently-written hypocrite!

Then, Batman arrives and battles the knife-thrower and the strongman, who are protecting Lockheart. Two-Face sees this, and says, "The Batman--and he hasn't changed! He prevented me from bringing Lockhart to justice, and now he doesn't want me to free you!"

... Okay, so Moench is now writing Harvey using his entirely twisted-around logic to either lie to Schism, or to show just how insane Harvey is that he could really BELIEVE that. But wait, wait, then it gets extra super doubleplusspecial:

... WAT.

Okay, so up to this point, I was actually kinda-sorta with the story. Harvey wants to exact long-delayed justice on a murderer, and we know for a fact that Lockhart IS a guilty scumbag, so Harvey's mostly justified, even if he is too obsessed and vindictive. And sure, it's hypocritical of him to force and manipulate Schism to kill Lockheart when a cold-blooded killer like Dent (who, on a whim, shot and killed the guy who was living in his former apartment!!!) should try to pass responsibility of the act on Schism, but hey, maybe he's doing it out of a sense of balance justice, that Schism is the one person who really deserves to kill Lockheart after all the years of exploitation. If you bend over backwards, it can make sense. Sure, fine.

But this??? Now he's willing to kill the person he came here to free in the first place, according to the coin's ruling? This Two-Face doesn't care about anything but killing Lockheart, no matter what the coin says or what he thinks he's doing at any given point! Well, I guess that's consistent with the flashback's depiction of Harvey Dent as a dangerously-obsessed, single-minded individual. It also makes him a thoroughly monstrous, fanatical asshole.

So, this standoff is disrupted by Lockheart's impulsive knife-thrower, who tries to kill Batman a second time. A fight breaks out and Harvey makes off with both Lockheart and Schism. Batman is helped in the fight by the sudden appearance of a circus clown named "Gettum O. Giggles," who conveniently offers up a plot point to save Batman time and effort in his investigation:

Giggles laments that he was afraid of losing his job, which already didn't pay much, but that he's willing to testify against Lockheart now. If this Two-Face weren't such a monster, this turn of events could have made Harvey Dent's downfall even more tragic, rather than inevitable.

I don't know if it's better or worse that one of the Schism brothers actually starts questioning Harvey's weird-ass methods here:

Seriously, Harvey, why are you so dead-set on making Schism kill Lockheart for you?! This version of Two-Face, what the hell, I can't even...

Oh, so I guess this Two-Face IS an inconsistently-written hypocrite after all! *facepalm*


I know that I should probably have more insightful criticism than that, but that's all I've got right now when it comes to lines like "You put a Dent in me, Harvey." Look, I appreciate the idea of Schism's third hand being the tie-breaker and representing their (or is it his? The story keeps waffling) free choice to act.

Hey, look at that: maybe there actually IS some vindication for Harvey Dent being right in the first place!

... Never mind. Really, the "Dent had a corrupt side BEFORE half his face was ruined" really seals the deal on this being a lousy Two-Face story, pushing the idea that even before he was Two-Face, Harvey Dent wasn't really GOOD to begin with! But then, that's what I get out of this entire story. What do you folks think?

Personally, I think I might have to grudgingly give some major credit to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, whose Long Halloween was released that very same year. Maybe that's why I was such a huge fan of their story when it was released, because it was the first story since Eye of the Beholder to actually treat Harvey Dent like a heroic, tragic figure, while the rest of DC's Bat-books were depicting him like the above.

That's right. This story actually made me admit respect for The Long Halloween. On second thought, maybe I wasn't being too harsh in the first place.

If you'd like to read this story in full, you can find it collected this Batman VS Two-Face compilation, where it's included instead of such far superior and out-of-print Two-Face stories as EotB and Straczynski's amazing Harvey/Cyborg story from Teen Titans Spotlight. Seriously, WTF, DC?!
Tags: doug moench, kelley jones

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