about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

IMPOSTORAMA: The Fake Two-Faces! No. 6: Gracchus

The most recent Impostor Two-Face might also be the dumbest. Not surprising, as he's written by Denny O'Neil: master of the shallow strawman villain, at least from his run on The Question.

Don't get me wrong: when Denny's good, he's bloody amazing. His out-of-print Ra's al Ghul origin Birth of the Demon is one of the greatest Batman comics ever created, and certainly the finest take on the character. But when he's off, he's pretty off, but sometimes is a gloriously-bad way. Case in point: Last Rites: The Last Days of Gotham, his two-part story which mainly served to transition Dick Grayson from being Nightwing to becoming Batman after Batman R.I.P., taking place very shortly after Dick made Harvey's life even worse in The Great Leap.

The final Impostor to date is a thug named Gracchus, a little nobody thug who even has his own Circe counterpart, who also just happens to be one of the more insufferable original characters in recent memory.

Scans are from Batman #684 and Detective Comics #851

Wondering if his odd name actually meant anything of note for this story, I looked up Gracchus, finding only a Roman politician who was beaten to death with chairs by senators and thrown into a river. So far as I can tell, it's just a random name for a random thug.

"Please leave," she then tells Gracchus in the next page, "before you BORE me to death." I'm reminded of the cool, callous, aloof manner of Lady Shiva, as she was written by O'Neil. Of course, Shiva was an amazing martial artist who actually had a reason to act that way, since she was bored by the lack of challenge in her life. I'm not sure the same can really be said about this character, Millicent Mayne.

As the opening narration suggests, this takes place seconds before the Cataclysm earthquake hits Gotham, which soon leads to No Man's Land. Gracchus is about to kill Mayne when the quake hits, knocking the diamonds out of his hands, and walloping her over the head with a chunk of masonry. Gracchus escapes with, apparently, Two-Face's help. But we don't actually see Harvey in the story, nor are we given any reason at all as to why he'd be tagging along with a thug who wants to buy the affections of an actress. I mean, that is what Gracchus is doing in that first page, right? That's the only possible motivation we're given, shallow though it may be.

After the quake ends, Mayne crawls out of the wreckage, alive but changed. Somehow. It doesn't have to make sense.

As she recovers, she comes to discover that she can "sense" the souls of every citizen of Gotham. Now set in the present day, she reflects, "It was as if all the SOULS of every being to inhabit this city, past and present, rose from the fissured ground and saturated my VERY BEING. Did I BECOME the city itself? Sometimes, I think so."

Jesus Christ. That prose is so purple, it makes Grant Morrison's "The Clown at Midnight" look like Hemingway.

She then continues, "That feeling LESSENED, that feeling of being one with the city, but it never completely ABANDONED me. I never forgot it. Nor did I forget Gracchus..."

I like this Two-Face. I like that it's established how his personalities shift, so that here he's clearly in his better side, and has absolutely no love for the people he must associate with. I like the art quite a bit as well, even if it does occasionally make him look a bit like Batman Forever Two-Face.

Meryl Streep? Maybe it's just because she reminds me of Megan Fox, but Millicent Mayne looks about in her early twenties! That's roughly a forty-year age difference between her and Streep! Maybe O'Neil's making a point about just how goddamned awesome Mayne is, I dunno.

Oh Jesus CHRIST. Who the hell talks like that?! She's not a person, she's a walking metaphor, and an incredibly pretentious one at that.

But okay, maybe there's potential for this character. Sure, up to this point, she's a non-character who's introduced as being nothing more than beautiful and cool. But it's cool that she decided to dedicate her wealth and influence to charity work after inexplicably gaining psychic connection to the city after a piece of it clunked her on the noggin.

Sure, that kind of life-changing decision would have meant much more if we'd seen what she was actually like before she gained those abilities. Was she self-centered and careless about the poor? Was she always interested in charity? We have no idea. But the question is, where will she go from here, especially now that the attack has intensified her nonsensical psychic connection? After all, this seems like a classic origin story for a hero or villain, right? Yeah, you'd think that.

But what about the real Two-Face? What do you suppose he makes of all this?

While Harvey's speech patterns are a bit more flowery and mannered than normal, I love how he actually seems to have a personal set of ethics and his own personality apart from the coin. He knows he can't break the coin's ruling, but that doesn't stop him from feeling disappointed that he can't kill Gracchus for being a petty, evil dickwad. This actually gives him some characterization and personality. It's a tricky thing to pull off, which is why we don't see it too often, but it makes Harvey's cameo the real highlight of O'Neil's whole misguided exercise.

Completely unphased by Harvey's consternation, Gracchus goes on a spree of jewelry heists, rather enjoying his newfound abilities to freak people out by being Two-Face. Or rather, that's what he seems to think, anyway.

From this scene, I'd have hoped that Gracchus would just be a hilarious idiot, and that no one would have really been fooled by his cunning "half a painted tube sock" disguse. But as word spreads that Two-Face is on a crime spree, well, I guess the spirit of George Blake is alive and well with Gracchus, who--in the great Impostor tradition--genuinely enjoys being Two-Face way more than the real Harvey Dent.

While the police follow a false tip from Gracchus that "Two-Face" will be attacking the Mayor's party, Nightwing meets up with Millicent Mayne, AKA the Face of Gotham, AKA "The Veil" (Jesus Christ) at the ruins of the theatre from the story's beginning. Together, they determine what Gracchus has really been after this whole time.

Because of page limits, I cannot include Nightwing's witty rejoinder, "Then just call me Mister Snoopy-Pants," followed by my own insightful comment: "Shut UP, Dick."

"Mister, I know Two-Face... and you're not him." Harsh burn, coming from Dick. But why the hell would he want to talk to her? If anybody's actually read this story, please fill me in if I'm missing something here.

Okay. Seriously. I know this post is meant to be dedicated to Gracchus, but I have to ask... what the hell is up with Millicent Mayne? Why is she even here? She's apparently been created to be the living spirit of Gotham, presumably to provide a insight as narrator to all the subplots (including Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock dealing with the possibility that Batman won't be coming back, and Nightwing's "My father figure is DEEEEEEAAAD" angst), which certainly has its potential if she, y'know, actually DID anything.

Between her getup (which is very reminscent of a Dark Horse superhero, the Ghost) and her nickname as "The Veil," you'd think she'd be a new vigilante after the scarring leaves her even more attuned to Gotham's suffering. Instead, she abandons her charity work entirely, devoting her life to wandering the streets in her etherial get-up, listening to Gotham's pain, and doing nothing about it. Maybe she's just a sadist who gets off on that sort of thing, since that's the only logical explanation.

She's made a couple more appearances after this, but far as I know, she still has yet to actually do something. Anything at all. Maybe she could meet up with Circe and over coffee, I dunno. Lord knows they'd have something to talk about, what with her lines about "the MASKS we wear," and "the MASK or the FACE." Someone better do something with her before he's utterly buried in obscurity. Then again, maybe that wouldn't be so bad.

As for Gracchus, he deserved way worse than what he got here. It's a shame that Harvey already decided not to punish him, but then again, that was before Gracchus went ahead and continued pulling crimes as Two-Face, knowing that the real Harvey would take the heat. That seems like more than enough cause for Two-Face to give the coin another flip to decide whether or not to compound Gracchus' punishment beyond what Nightwing and the law have already administered.

Thus concludes the complete history of Two-Face impostors over the years, six in all (or eight, if you count the different reasons for Batman, and the Post-Crisis take on Paul Sloan). If I've forgotten anyone, please give me a heads-up. It's kind of a shame that this odd tradition should end in a character like Gracchus, but I'm sure he won't be the last. If anything, he carried on the Golden Age idea that it doesn't suck to be Harvey Dent so long as you're not actually Harvey Dent.
Tags: denny o'neil, dick grayson, impostors

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