I've been putting off reviewing Batman: Face the Face for five years now. Every time I started, my criticisms melted down into curses and incoherent ranting, until my computer screen became obscured by rabid spittle. Okay, it wasn't THAT bad, but still.
In some ways, it's actually an ideal introductory trade paperback to get into Batman. Like Hush, it's a murder mystery that also serves as a tour of Gotham's inhabitants, and it was immediately followed by Grant Morrison and Paul Dini's runs. Unfortunately, it's also deeply frustrating, especially if you're a fan of Harvey Dent.
This was the first story to use the character in the three years since Hush, since Loeb supposedly had plans for Harvey hich kept him in limbo until those plans would reach fruition. They never did, and I think folks at DC wanted their precious status quo back in place. I also understand that Two-Face is Dan DiDio's favorite villain, which may have been a factor. In any case, Face the Face is one of the most significant Two-Face stories in canon, and also one of the most painfully frustrating. After five years, I finally have the words to explain just why.
Scans are from Detective Comics #817-820, Batman #651-654, Nightwing #147, 52 #10, and Legends of the Dark Knight #63.
Some context: following the events of Infinite Crisis, all DC comics books skipped ahead in continuity to One Year Later, which showed what happened to all the characters one year after the Crisis. At the same time, the maxi-series 52 detailed what exactly happened during that one year. Many of the details that were revealed to have happened in the One Year Later books were ignored by the 52 writers, and this story is no exception.
The most important thing to know is that Batman, Nightwing, and Robin left Gotham City for the whole 52 year. This story begins right at the start of OYL.
Really, what kind of lame internal monologuing is that? "Look at me, (establish who I am and what I was like), but not anymore. Oh well! I'm going to do that thing I came here to do, Da, I surely am, rrrrrrright about nnnn--OH NOES WHAT A SURPRISING INTERRUPTION!"
Poor KGBeast. You're a character unloved by most (though celebrated without [much] irony by fans like Chris Sims for appearing in "The Eightiesest Story Ever Written"), but even though you were outdated, you deserved far better than to get jobbed like this. Shit, you don't even get the distinction of being the character who gets pissed on the MOST in this story.
That is some seriously lousy cop banter. It barely qualifies as anything actual human beings would say, much less stock characters in a Law and Order knock-off.
Also, shot twice to the head? Why hello there, red herring clue! I haven't seen you since The Long Halloween, when you were all over the place to try and make it look like Harvey Dent was the killer! Still doing the same thing, I see! That's nice.
Right from the start, B:FTF is all about reinstating the status quo. Case in point: Bullock's sudden and unexplained return to the GCPD, and it's a welcome return. Seriously, how much better would Gotham Central had been if Bullock had still been there? He's such a dynamic character that he makes every other character better just for being around him, because he FORCES them to react to his own antics. As it is, I don't remember a single character other than Renee, Crispus, and Maggie.
One idea of several introduced by B:FTF (that subsequently went unexplored by everyone else afterward) is Bullock's "one strike, you're out" probation. We've never really dealt with the fallout of Officer Down now that Bullock and Jim are both back, as this story wants to magically erase that the events of the Rucka era ever happened in the name of status quo. Don't get me wrong, I LIKE this status quo. This is the quo I very much was status-ified. But not at the expense of cheap storytelling. That's how you get ideas like, "It wasn't me, I was... um... possessed by a giant fear bug from space! Yeah, that's the ticket!"
Meanwhile, as you can already tell, Bullock's not the only Harvey to be given a second chance:
So, from what we're seeing here, Harvey Dent is once again the red herring. He's wearing the same hat and outfit as the guy who attacked KGBeast, but as we've seen with Hush and The Long Halloween, it wouldn't be the first time he's coincidentally shared a killer's fashion sense. Notice that we didn't actually see the KGBeast's attacker shoot him. So it's possible that Harvey did throw him off the building, and someone else shot him. But don't expect Robinson to actually address this detail, because he won't.
So it would appear that Harvey actually did it. He's wearing the same hat, the same clothes, and he's been established as being... the protector of Gotham City, at Batman's behest? Harvey Dent? REALLY, now? Hey, color me intrigued! Considering that at the end of Hush, he had his license reinstated, you'd figure that he'd quietly settle into a nice legal career, but okay, I'm interested!
... except that these pages right away establish that he'd been "relieved" of his duties. Batman doesn't even say, "Say, want to join my vast network of crime-fighters?" No, it's "Thanks, you're done, bye now!" This will come up again. Oh god, will it ever.
As I did with Hush, I'm scanning from the actual issues I own. But hey, just for fun, want to see the difference in paper quality between the original issues and the collected trade paperback?
Ugh! Is the budget tight at DC, or are they just that cheap? I guess that don't expect anyone else to complain, but this paper quality does the art no favors. I mainly wanted to post this for the throwaway line of "another crazy vigilante," which may or may not give a good outsider's perspective on Harvey's recent career.
Speaking of which (maybe), let's find out which D-list villain is the next one to be killed off-panel in a cheap manner:
Did I say "Poor KGBeast"? Hell with that, Magpie deserves far more pity. At least KGBeast made some great appearances that utilized him as a villain, even in a ridiculous way! Magpie had two leading appearances, just two, and both around 1988. Aside from a small supporting role in Dan Slott's Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, she vanished from comics up until 2006, to be killed off-panel.
Perhaps you don't think that's any great loss, but my Henchgirl recently discovered Magpie and fell in love with this ridiculous little character that nobody cared about. Henchgirl even wanted to do a whole Magpie Appreciation Post, but held off because she figured that nobody would care. Well, other than me. Thing is, she's probably right. Poor, poor Magpie.
Oh, by the way, if you haven't read Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, I recommend that you at least read this brief paragraph synopsis, as a detail here will come into play later. For the record, I hate that story and don't understand why it was so popular, but that's another rant. Back to feeling sad about Magpie's death, which--believe it or not--actually gets sadder:
Seriously, from this alone, she should at least have hooked up with the Penguin at one point! Come on! But if there's a pattern to Face the Face, it's "Wasted Potential A-Go-Go!" At least, until I think up a better name.
Later in the Batcave, Batman discovers that KGBeast and Magpie were killed by the same type of gun, and not a normal gun either:
Unless Robinson is making an obscure reference to something hidden in the fourth panel of the first page of the George Blake Impostor Two-Face story from the Golden Age, I don't think Harvey's ever used such a weapon before. He's always been way more about twin .45 automatics and double-barreled shotguns.
The short hair is really not a good look for you, Harv. Also, could surgery really fix his hair color on the scarred side as well? I'm also wondering about his eye color, but then, I suppose he could be using a contact lens to make his red (bad) eye look blue.
By the way, where IS Harvey?
Quoth Henchgirl: Why is Harvey now Guy Gardner? Yeech!
And of course, Two-Face is still poking around inside Harvey's head! Wait, wasn't he cured? Or maybe the bad side manifested as a result of Harvey's conflicting feelings here. Nice to know that we're ALREADY getting a head-start on the Crazy Train right in Harvey second appearance as a cured vigilante. Thank god, and here I was worried that we'd actually see the character in a refreshingly different context before the inevitable happened!
Sarcasm aside, notice how Harvey isn't at all fazed by Two-Face's appearance. Both his look and the simple "no" seem to shut down his head-voice. Harvey doesn't even react as if this is the first time that Two-Face has reemerged since the healing, although we're given no indication to think otherwise later on. In either case, Two-Face may be present, but it seems to me that Harvey Dent is still in control.
Some other characters with similar mental health issues aren't so fortunate:
Oy, again with the "Ahhh, I'm a former shell of what I was, but it's okay, soon I'll be back on top of OH NOES!!!" It wasn't good writing the first time!
I like to ignore what's revealed in the next issue, that Arnold's using the puppet's blood-tipped finger to write a clue for Batman. I far prefer to pretend that he's reaching to hold Mr. Scarface's hand. That gives this whole protracted exercise some semblance of poignancy.
... God... DAMN it.
Look, KGBeast and Magpie, those deaths were one thing (erm, rather, two things). But Arnie? Man, this one hurts.
In some ways, he was the most innocent of the Rogues, even more so if you believe the very real possibility that Scarface is an actual malevolent entity which had essentially possessed Arnold Wesker (as indicated in his origins by the character's/characters' creator, Alan Grant), rather than the manifestation of a second personality. He was a poor, lonely, sad schmuck who was genuinely tormented by Scarface, and while he was never going to have a happy ending, he still deserved better than this. What's worse, there's no way to bring him back. Considering that we've seen his rotted corpse and that he returned as a Black Lantern, Arnold Wesker is dead, dead, capital-DEAD-dead. Fuck.
So what do these three deaths have in common? I mean, other than that they were chosen to be knocked off because writers and editors at DC are still too lazy to do anything more interesting than shock value deaths when it comes to obscure characters? The clue left for him in Wesker's dying gesture (of LOVE, dammit!) leads him to investigate the goings-on at the seemingly-nondescript Caesar storage warehouse:
In case you think I'm misreading this group was assembled to clean house for cheap shock value, Bruce deduces from a reflection that there's a fourth villain at the meeting: Orca. Yes, Orca. The mutated marine biologist from Larry Hama's run on Batman which was so critically-panned--with Orca's story particularly earning brutal reviews from Wizard at the time--that he was quickly replaced by Ed Brubaker. That Orca. Anybody wanna guess that she WON'T be unceremoniously killed off-panel? Because you'd be wrong!
So while Robin fights a new Killer Moth, Batman confronts Harvey with the kind of tact that you'd expect from that character:
*FACEPALM* Smooth, Bruce. Way to go. Also, be sure to remember Batman's line, "No, Harvey, YOU wanted it." It'll come up later.
Henchgirl and I disagree a bit when it comes to Harvey's reaction here. She thinks that Harvey's completely justified, because you have to consider that he's been protecting Gotham for a whole year while simultaneously keeping his personal demons in check and succeeding. Now, Batman comes back to fire Harvey (not even asking him to join the Bat-team, but to step down without any ceremony acknowledgment other than "Good work, bye!") and then immediately accuses Harvey of murder. I mean, really, Bruce. "Harvey. Why won't you talk to me simply?" Gee, I dunno, Batman, do you think maybe become the very first thing out of your mouth was, "There was NOTHING in our agreement about slaughter." Hmm?
While I certainly want to be on Team Harvey all the way, the "jealous rival" conclusion he reached seems like a leap, written to make him seem defensive and paranoid. It's like there's a missing chapter between this and the scene with the Hatter where he's conflicted but philosophical about being replaced. There should at least have been a moment where Harvey would have been given a REASON to later suspect that Batman is "jealous" and sees Harvey as his "rival." He could have seen or heard something that would give Two-Face the chance to whisper in Harvey's ear, and he'd go, "What? No, that's crazy. Batman doesn't see me that way!" But the seed of doubt would be planted to make this scene work.
The apartment FUCKING EXPLODES, and Harvey escapes. See, that's what I'm talking about when it comes to Harvey being written as overly paranoid. That's not what a rational human being does. That's what you do when you want to write a character as unstable. Because crazy people are crazy, it doesn't have to make sense! Crazy and magic are interchangeable to some writers.
But Henchgirl defended this as well, reminding me that Batman was the ONLY person who believed in Harvey Dent anymore. And so to have your one ally--the one who put you in this situation in the first place--immediately accuse you of murder... that's a serious betrayal. Because if you've done everything right and the one person who gave you this chance doesn't trust you, what're the odds that anybody else will? Much as Harvey wanted his new life in the new apartment, he has no real hope of it ever being a reality.
Batman, Robin, and the cops decide to investigate both Caesar Storage while tracking down the last prospective murder victim:
At this juncture, the Henchgirl can stand it no longer and wrests the laptop from the Boy:
I like how you're presenting more faith in Harvey to JIM than in your interactions with HARVEY HIMSELF, Bruce, and defending him behind his back but attacking him to his face. My God, WHY WOULD HE EVER BE DEFENSIVE?
Ahem! *Takes back laptop*
His "vanity?" Vanity has NEVER been Two-Face motivation. Hell, not even in the Golden Age! He wasn't driven insane because he his perfect pretty face was destroyed, but rather out of a fear that he would be shunned by society, and abandoned by his beauty-worshiping sculptor fiancee! I know that Batman corrects Jim (although "demons" is a nebulous term that doesn't address the actual trauma that Harvey endured from childhood onward), but Robinson isn't done with the vanity aspect yet:
Henchgirl again. One more thing.
"Then I return, and almost immediately he's accused of murder..." Accused of murder by...YOU, Bruce? Oh, right, I forgot, Batman is never responsible for any of his actions, ever. Not even twisting events to make himself look better. Ugh. Dick move.
Boy, take this laptop from me before I lose it completely...
I'm right there with you, love. And I don't think that's even the full extent of Bruce switching up the events to make himself look better. While he's citing Harvey's vanity as his heroic motivation IMMEDIATELY AFTER pointing out that it wasn't about motivation as Two-Face, he points out again that Harvey wanted the job, as if he went to Batman and begged for a second chance to assuage his own guilt. That's the story according to Batman, whom we've already seen twist events around when he recounted it to Gordon. Also, way to totally defend Harvey to Jim Gordon, but not to Harvey's own face!
Let me repeat that: "Caesar. Caesar was an Emperor. The Emperor is a type of Penguin. Therefore, Caesar was owned by the Penguin!" That kind of deductive brilliant is on par with Jeff Goldblum in South Park:
After an obligatory sewer battle with Killer Croc, Batman and Robin finally find what's left of poor, unloved Orca:
My god, how absolutely shocking! The next victim is another Grade-F villain who only appeared in one story (which is one less than Magpie!), and she's dead? How shocking! Why, it's clear that this is totally not DC callously hauling out the cannon fodder to clean house! THESE DEATHS MATTER.
Sigh. When I first read this cliffhanger, I was really hoping that Robinson was going to be more clever than this. I was hoping that this was misdirection, that we seriously weren't going to trot out the whole "Two-Face drives Harvey back to insanity AGAIN" thing. Especially considering that this cliffhanger led into a back-up story in the same issue, where revelations about Harvey and the murdered rogues are on the verge of coming to light, thanks to the investigations of PI Jason Bard. He tracked down Orca's husband, who explained that she, KGBeast, Magpie, Ventriloquist, and Scarface were all working for the Penguin. Or at least, they were, until they were "recruited" to change sides. Bard asks, "Who by?"
... Tally Man? So we're referencing yet another Grade-D villain, while arbitrarily making it a new villain?
Or maybe he wasn't meant to be a new Tally Man. Not originally. That "nice outfit" line makes me wonder if he was meant to be dressed as the original, gloriously-ridiculous Tally Man, since there's nothing really remarkable about this guy at all. In fact, as he's quickly knocked out by Jason Bard (who survives) in the next issue, we never see or hear from this new Tally Man again. What's his deal? Who knows?! Clearly, no one cares, least of all the writer and editors who put this story into motion! I love Peter Tomasi as a writer, but damn, I'd love to sit down and ask what the hell he was thinking when he edited this sloppy mishmash of a story.
I'm reminded of the fact that the original Tally Man was Harvey's henchman in No Man's Land, and was even killed off by Two-Face himself in Rucka's novelization! I wonder if there's any significance to this boring new Tally Man being the murderer who's been framing Harvey Dent. Probably not.
Either way, with subplot reaching its climax and the truth of Harvey's involvement with the Rogues finally exposed, I was really, really hoping this would mean that the next issue wouldn't have been devoted to Harvey becoming Two-Face again. Because we've seen that story so many times already! Surely they wouldn't give us that cliffhanger just to build it to the most obvious, boring, and goddamn annoying conclusion, right? Is HAS to be misdirection. The Bard/Tally Man subplot has to beat Harvey's subplot to the punch, so that our expectations are subverted. I mean, that's what a GOOD story would do, right? Right?
Let's see for ourselves. In a dingy apartment, Two-Face torments Harvey with reminders of just how awesome it felt to be a criminal, as if Two-Face--as a character--was only ever in it for the adrenaline rush of being eeeeevil. "It was better than ANYTHING. Better than sex. Heroin. Cocaine. Weed. OPIUM. Valium. Crystal. Acid. ECSTASY. Better than ALL of it combined." Jesus, does Harvey have first-hand knowledge of these substances or is Two-Face just talking out his ass here?
Harvey resists Two-Face's taunts, reminding him(self) that the "Gotham Protector" job was Batman's to take from Harvey, since it was Batman to gave Harvey the job in the first place. Cue flashback:
AAAAAAARGHHHH, NO IT ISN'T. IT NEVER WAS. STOP MAKING SHIT UP, JAMES ROBINSON.
Batman mentioned how he met with Harvey's capable (and non-Arkham) doctors, who seemed to be appropriately skilled enough to earn Batman's respect. He then mentions that he'll be leaving Gotham for some time, taking Robin and Nightwing with him, and that he wanted Harvey to be Gotham's new protector in his stead.
Hey, remember Batman's line earlier on about how much Harvey "WANTED" the job? Because he was so VAIN and wanted something to prove, right? Heh-heh, yeah, remember that?
Oh yes, Harvey clearly "wanted" the job. Tell me, Batman, how does it it feel to be a LIAR?! HUH?! WITH YOUR PANTS CONSTANTLY ON FIRE?!
Seriously! Harvey was all, "Ummm, isn't this an incredibly bad idea? Come on, you're telling me that in your whole Bat-Family, there's NO ONE else who can do this job?" I mean, Jesus, from the brutal way that Harvey handled those bank robbers (and I'm not so sure that he wasn't the one who threw KGBeast off the building, even if he didn't deliver the kill-shots), Batman might as well have gone for Huntress! Instead, he dismissed that particular notion in an INCREDIBLY dickish way. I'm not even a Huntress fan, but seriously: fuck you, Bruce.
Regardless, even Harvey knows that this isn't a good idea. From the looks of things, he's settling nicely into his new life (as a lawyer, now that his license has been reinstated as of Hush?) and is ready to put Gotham's underworld behind him. And what does Batman want? To throw Harvey right into the fucking thick of it again.
That's a load of guano. Bruce doesn't really give a shit about Harvey "assuaging" his own "guilt." Batman's not doing this out of the kindness of his heart. He's doing this to assuage his OWN guilt at failing Harvey in the first place. At least, that seems clear to me.
But wait, Batman, I thought you said that Harvey wanted this job out of VANITY, to prove that he could do it better? Because that's what you told Gordon and Robin! Is Batman just a lying asshole, or is Harvey just an unreliable narrator who's changing the events in his own memory? That's a possibility, but we have no reason to doubt his recollection. After all, we know for a fact that Batman hire Harvey Dent to protect Gotham. And really, that alone is enough to condemn Batman.
I mean, really, bad enough that he's pushing Harvey--who's had a long history of slipping back into madness--into becoming Protector of Gotham. Bad enough that he's jeopardizing all of Harvey's hard work to make himself feel good. No, Batman had to go even further and give him martial arts training! Great! Now when he becomes Two-Face again, he'll be even more PHYSICALLY formidable to go with his criminal-mastermind brain! Super! Well done, Batman, you have truly thought this through!
I won't lie... I ADORE the idea of Harvey becoming the Protector of Gotham. Not only does it make Harvey even more badass, but this has such rich potential to make him the biggest wild card in Gotham. I mean, nobody would trust him. Not the Rogues, not the cops, not the mob, not the politicians, not the heroes. But he did it anyway, because he's a good guy. And what's more, he did it without a mask, without a costume. He was just Harvey Dent, and he was finally the hero that Gotham both needed AND deserved.
And yet, this fact was ignored by everyone. Shit, even in 52, which took place during the year that Batman was gone, Harvey never showed up. When Renee Montoya and the Question visited Gotham, the only protector they found was Batwoman. Far as fandom's concerned, she was the only one holding up the fort in Batman's absence.
Bad enough that Harvey was ignored by Greg Rucka himself, but Jesus, what a PRIME opportunity that would have been for a Harvey/Renee reunion! Not just because it would have been the meeting of Renee and the platonic face-themed men in her life, but what would she have made of the new Harvey Dent? And how would Harvey have reacted to seeing Renee again? Would he still be hung up on her, and/or would he ask for forgiveness?
Bear in mind, she was in the deepest pit of her depression and self-loathing following the murder of Crispus Allen. She would have been the loudest voice of opposition when it came to Harvey, louder even than Dick Grayson could have protested, which could either have led to a fantastic bit of closure from what Harvey did in Gotham Central: Half a Life... or conversely, it would have been the first step on Harvey's road back to Two-Face. Because that would have been proof that there was no redemption for Harvey, no second chance or fifth chance or any chance at all. Far as Renee would be concerned, especially at that point in her life, Harvey Dent was the last person who deserved happiness.
I wish we'd seen that story. But no one cared. Yet another bit of potential wasted right before our eyes in this dragging slog toward inevitability.
Two-Face reminds Harvey about how Harvey was rejected once Batman returned (and really, why couldn't Batman have said, "Good work! I'm back, but you can join my team!" rather than "I'm back, thanks, here's your gold watch"?), and then Harvey asks Two-Face the obvious question:
Oh boy, here we go...
No, bullshit. Harvey Dent never agrees with Two-Face. Unless maybe that's the point. Maybe that's what Robinson was going for, to show how far Harvey and Two-Face's relationship has evolved by this point. Who's to say that this is the next step in his mental illness, after his last rehabilitaton? If so, that changes the ENTIRE dynamic of who and what Two-Face is. Personally, I don't think Robinson gave it that much thought.
Besides, how the hell could he so quickly be seduced to Two-Face's rationale? Harvey was a LAWYER. He should know full well that there's definitely evidence to frame him, if nothing else. The only explanation is that he's already well into mental illness to believe what his head-voice wants him to believe.
I hate that. I hate that we have to fall back on him already being crazy to accept why he goes even crazier again.
What the fuck is with this? So Harvey's ADDICTED to crime? Why? Why is it such a thrill? Are we even bothering to try giving him an actual motivation here, other than he's got some abstract "hunger for evil" and he's a vain jackass with a persecution complex? I mean, on top of that "vanity" bullshit? And even still, why is he glamorizing his villainous past, when it's clear that he "LOVED" being a hero? There's no consistency here!
But I do love that Harvey's very first thought when it comes to the past is Gilda. I don't know where she's "gone" to, but it's a great touch that she's still very close to his heart.
Harvey kept the coin as a souvenir? Isn't that like a recovering alcoholic keeping a bottle of Jack in his cabinet "for the memories"?
Two-Face's dialogue and sad facial expression really hammer home the shift in Harvey's mental state. If we're to take this as actual character canon, one could argue that there no longer ARE "good" and "evil" sides in his head. Just two Harvey Dents. Maybe with everything else on the verge of being wasted, there's some tiny potential in a new take for Two-Face. But don't expect to see that play out here.
Harvey flips the coin, and of course you KNOW which side comes up. I mean, duh. Now, wouldn't it have been fascinating if, after all this, the good side came up? Y'know, instead of the outcome which this rote sequence virtually DEMANDS to happen? I suppose the fact that his head-voice returned pretty much meant that Harvey was already lost. From the moment Two-Face appeared, Harvey had already slipped back into Crazytown. How responsible can he really be for any of his actions?
Even still, that doesn't explain why he just happens to have a bottle of nitric acid in his bathroom. Another "souvenir," I suppose. Sheesh. But wait, wait, that's not even the worst part... the part which makes me want to tear my own head off.
No. No, I'm not going to say it. Remain rational, Hefner. Maintain critical thought. Don't become yet another empty-headed comics fanboy without nothing to say.
Look. Maybe I'm just coming at this from a point of personal preference. Lord knows I've mentioned time and again how much I hate Two-Face being drawn with the scars as a clear division down his face. I think it's contrived and gimmicky, but that's personal preference. And what's more, that's not even the point.
You see, before, Harvey's scars were the result of outside forces destroying his own sanity and unleashing the personal demons he'd fought to suppress all his life. But no, not anymore. Hell, even when he undid his plastic surgery the FIRST time in Eye of the Beholder, that was the result of him melting down into madness and tearing out his own face, while he begged himself to stop! Even then, Harvey was still a victim, still a tragic figure turned into a monster by forces outside his control.
Not anymore. Now he's Two-Face as a result of calm, calculated insanity, driven by a dual lust for both revenge and general evildoing. Even though he's clearly crazy and not in control of himself, he's not PROTESTING the return to Two-Face. He's not fighting his dark side anymore. In an unprecedented development, Harvey's now in FULL AGREEMENT with Two-Face. Even if his dark side knowingly manipulated and seduced Harvey (and I think that's clear), Harvey's now a willing accomplice in evil.
Oh, you think I'm going too far by using the word "evil?"
Oh good, so it's not enough that we directly establish him as a hero who became a villain but was still good enough to become a hero again. Now that he's Two-Face once more, he's apparently the kind of all-evil, all-the-time monster who flips the coin to decide between doing something horribly evil or something not-as-bad-but-still-pretty-goddamn-horr
Batman rushes off to the zoo to find Two-Face in a hoodie with tigers, where we learn that he's pretty much improvising without any real goal or thought other than sheer anger at Batman. It's nice to see that this story has pretty much fucking given up. On the way to the Zoo, Robin asks Batman what's really bothering him:
My immediate reaction was"Fuck you, Tim," because this struck me as the most egregious example of Robins seeing the worst in Harvey Dent while Batman only sees the best. What's worse, I really expected better from Tim. Unlike Dick, he always seemed like the most level-headed Robin, capable of seeing all sides, whereas here he just assumes that Harvey was somehow be a victim in his own right, and not entirely accountable for his choices.
But then Henchgirl pointed out that Tim has every reason to see the situation this way, because he's going only by the information that Batman told him. Batman, as we've seen, has been withholding and altering information throughout this story, and it continued even beyond. When Face the Face editor Peter Tomasi wrote Two-Face's grand return storyline in Nightwing: The Great Leap, he makes it clear that Dick Grayson has NO IDEA that Harvey was trained by Batman to be Gotham's Protector for a year:
Batman had effectively erased any good Harvey did by refusing to acknowledge that year, and most people--especially people like Dick Grayson--would see no reason to believe Harvey's story over how Batman twisted the truth to make himself look better:
Again, Bruce: "There was NOTHING in our agreement about slaughter." You could have broached that topic just a wee bit more tactfully. Y'know, when YOU accused him or murder right off the bat!
Fuck you. This is taking Two-Face so far into the realm of cartoon villainy that it's no longer funny. Shit, since it wasn't funny to begin with, now it's ANTI-funny. It's the Tim and Eric of Batman comics. When a bright and shiny kid's cartoon like Batman: The Brave and the Bold understands Two-Face with more nuance and subtlety than the actual mature comics, you know you've fucked up.
And again, WHY has he gone back to evil? He admitted how much he loved being a hero! If anything, shouldn't he essentially become a mix between Huntress and Red Hood: a vigilante who sets out to be a better hero than Batman by doing what Batman can't bring himself to do. That's what Two-Face should be anyway, as it's entirely nonsensical for him to become a gang lord, but especially here with his re-origin!
The good side comes up, and so Harvey escapes, leaving Batman with nothing to do but head to Arkham Asylum and confront the man who framed Harvey in the first place: Warren White, AKA The Great White Shark, from Arkham Asylum: Living Hell.
That book was essentially one big origin story for White, who didn't appear in his current form until the very last panel, and made no appearances in comics up to this point. So like Orca and Magpie, he's a Grade-D villain, perhaps even lower for the fact that he never actually did anything up until now. But at least they're doing something WITH him, elevating him in a way that actually works for the character, instead of using him as cannon fodder.
The next panel made me realize that, man, this story really is both the poor man's Long Halloween AND the poor man's Hush. Ouch.
But he never did. To date, Batman's never told Harvey, who still doesn't know (or care?) who framed him. I'd love to see that story, but I doubt that it's ever going to happen. Because who cares about getting closure for characters like Two-Face, am I right?
Thing is, this story wasn't ENTIRELY about the return to status quo. In fact, two big things were actually changed by the end: 1.) The Great White Shark had become the secret-but-ultimate crime boss in Gotham, and 2.) Bruce adopted Tim Drake as his son, which occurred a genuinely moving scene. Both of these were almost instantly negated by subsequent writers. The Shark was humbled in Gotham Underground by the Suicide Squad, and Gotham's Underworld became a war between Penguin and Two-Face, all of whom lost to the new Black Mask. As for Tim Drake, Face the Face led IMMEDIATELY to the introduction of Damian Wayne. So much for the father/son dynamic with Bruce and Tim, eh?
So essentially, Batman: Face the Face is the story that returned everything to its status quo, wasting the potential and development of previous stories while its own potential and development were themselves wasted by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, etc. It's a big, lousy, pointless mess.
But what really gets me now is how Bruce has totally absolved himself of his involvement in Harvey's return to madness. Bear in mind, this wasn't even the FIRST time that Bruce left Gotham City in the hands of an inexperienced guy with serious mental health issues who actually did commit acts that led to the death of a criminal:
But at least once Jean-Paul was defeated, Bruce took responsibility for his actions:
Maybe it's only different because Jean Paul came to his senses in the end and surrendered, unlike Harvey. And yet, when I read Denny O'Neil's Knightfall novelization, he added a whole new paragraph to the above scene which casts Bruce's actions in Face the Face in a whole new light (start from "Jean Paul, we're more alike than you know..."):
I want to see Bruce take the lesson he learned with Jean Paul and repeat that with Harvey. I want to see Bruce take responsibility for what he did. As Harvey himself said in Nightwing: The Great Leap, "I'm not adverse to accepting an apology now and again." That's exactly what Bruce needs to do, right before finally telling Harvey about the Great White Shark. Until that happens, Batman: Face the Face will continue to be a pointless story that served no purpose.
Batman: Face the Face can be purchased here if you wish to read the story in full, including the Tim Drake subplot, several other Rogues doing their Rogue things, and the entire issue dedicated to Harvey and Two-Face's discussion. As mentioned above, it also serves as a gateway to the comics which are coming out today, leading directly to Dini's Detective Comics and Morrison's Batman.