about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

The misbegotten history of Duela Dent, and the one time she confronted Two-Face, her father (?)

Sometimes, I just don't know where to begin writing a post. Such is the case when talking about Duela Dent.

You know, the Joker's Daughter, who was actually the daughter of Harvey and Gilda Dent, except no wait, what, that makes no sense but CRISIS! and now it makes even less sense and COUNTDOWN and what? Exactly. You have one of the muddiest clusterfucks of a character this side of Zero Hour Hawkman. Maybe not a clusterfuck, exactly, but more like a character who went through several reinventions in rapid succession while making no impact and being met with resounding apathy. She's kind of the Madonna of failure.

But for a second, let's not forget that there was a time when she actually was meant to be Two-Face's daughter, for reals. Even though she was introduced in 1977 as a criminal dressed as the Joker and calling herself "The Joker's Daughter," it was quickly revealed that she was actually Harvey Dent's long-lost child, and that her crimes were more along the lines of "malicious mischief" to prove herself worthy of joining the Teen Titans. Because Dick is apparently a good-hearted idiot, this plan works and he vouches for her membership, which she wins (although Speedy don't trust that dame one bit, no siree).

I should probably mention that I haven't actually read those issues, and am just going by 1.) what I've learned on the Duela's profile on TitansTower.com, and 2.) the following storyline, wherein the big confrontation finally happens:

Note: Scans are from Teen Titans #47 and #48.

Have I mentioned that this trio of supervillains all have really, really silly names to go along with their terrible, terrible costumes? I love that I'm at a point as a fan where I can enjoy even crap like this without (much) irony. I credit Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which is where these characters should make their grand return.

After their rousing failure, they head back to Titans HQ, where Roy acquits himself well as Ollie Queen's protégé. Which is to say, he's a judgmental jackass. But really, can you blame him when you're dealing with a girl who decides to dress up as the DC Universe's greatest monster for fun? "I don't care what the others say, I've got a bad feeling about you, Girl Hitler!"

Okay, I don't know about you guys, but I'm feeling a weird irrational hatred for Duela already. Something about her is incredibly irritating, but while I can't quite put my finger on why, at least I know that people like Marv Wolfman feel the same (more on that later).

So the Titans lose, but Robin and... "Jokesy" (ugh, it actually hurts to type) get their butts captured, which is there things finally get interesting. Well, to me, anyway.

*looks at my camping supplies, thinks about local comic dealer*

Nnnnno, I would still prefer not. /montyburns

Still, I do like that the two people Harvey hates the most are Batman and the Joker, the latter feud probably stemming entirely out of their clash in Joker's solo series, wherein Harvey threw a bowl of pears at the Joker. Because they're "pairs"! GET IT? HAW!

Also, so Duela and Harvey apparently share a mental link? How the hell does that work? No, y'know what, don't question it. In fact, that could be interesting in of itself, in the hands of a good writer. Duela, the hero who dresses like a villain, rebelling against her father, the former hero turned villain, with whom the two share a psychic link. Okay, so maybe there isn't a good story there, which is probably why the rest of this plot drops that aspect entirely.

If you want to follow the command of the editor's footnote, you can read that origin story right here, wherein it's revealed that Maroni wasn't aiming for Harvey when he threw the acid. It's also the only other story from this era to mention the fact that Harvey and Gilda had a daughter. Even if it doesn't make a lick of sense under scrutiny.

So she's a teenager, presumably born shortly into Harvey's career as Two-Face (Gilda was with Harvey while he was Two-Face? What? Okay, whatever?) which means that Two-Face and Batman have been around for about fifteen years, except that Robin is still young enough that he couldn't have been Batman's partner for more than five years at this point, and there's no way that Batman could have been solo for almost a decade before Robin. Even by early Bronze Age standards of logic, this doesn't work. That's probably why it was largely abandoned by subsequent writers.

Thing is, the way this scene played out, I could honestly believe that Duela was just making it all up and that Harvey--crazy that he was--believed it. Duela could be totally delusional, and her story was so convincing that Harvey--who seemed blown away by this revelation--came to believe it himself. But at the time it was written, it's pretty clear that Rozakis meant for this to be the truth, and that it was all coming back to Harvey now:

Ah, the Bronze Age: where Harvey Dent is DETERMINED to become sane, even if it means killing a few dozen or a few million people.

Also, man, that's a distracting amount of gum on his bad side's mouth. He looks less like an acid vicim and more of a dentist's model. But in all seriousness, I do like how Rozakis made it a point to emphasize Harvey's good/evil duality, rather than just paying it lip service like most writers.

Dick Grayson: he will beat the crap out of you using your own daughter as a bludgeon. I mean, sure, it was probably mostly chair, but I'm sure some of Duela was used to wallop against Harvey.

Argh, so... many... puns! Let's just skip ahead to the finale, shall we? Needless to say, Harvey is soundly defeated (off-panel) once his plans are foiled by the Titans and Duela's quick-thinking. We don't actually see Harvey in any of this action until the very end, as he's apprehended just in time for Duela's grand announcement:

Wow, Aqualad-by-way-of-Everybody's-Stupidity, way to totally upstage Duela's grand reintroduction in her stupid, stupid new costume. Seriously, pretty much the only thing Duela had going for her as a character was her sexbent!Joker fashion sense. Good for her for trying to have a new identity and all, but FAIL.

I liked the bit of repentant, lucid Harvey wanting to reach out to his daughter, but this bit is completely forgotten by the next issue with Harvey's disappearance back to Arkham. It's a shame, because much as this defies all logic, I'm honestly intrigued by seeing more of the dysfunctional Dent family dynamic of Harvey, Gilda, and Duela. Alas, no one ever even tried to make use of this premise, as Duela apparently fell into obscurity shortly thereafter.

She was finally dusted off for a cameo by the superstar team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, the saga of which I'm just gonna cut-and-paste from Duela's profile page on TitansTower.com:

But when Donna Troy was married in Tales of the Teen Titans #50 [1984], it made sense to acknowledge those also-ran members as attending guests. So what was to become of Duela Dent? A heavy-set woman who now appeared older than her colleagues, the purple-haired prankster admitted she is neither the Joker’s nor Two-Face’s daughter. As Dick Grayson deduced after the Teen Titans first disbanded, she was too old to be either criminal’s daughter. Dick tell her, “By the way, speaking of Harlequin — I realized something awhile back.. You’re too old to be Two-Face’s daughter.” Duela quipped back, “It took you this long to figure it out? tsk, tsk, Batman would not be happy…. Maybe, Dickie… Just maybe I’ll tell you [the truth] one of these days, that is.”

Hefner's note: "Hon?" Why has Duela all of a sudden turned into a waitress at the Tastee Diner?

George Pérez recalled Duela’s appearance, “I told Marv I was going to put the Harlequin in there because I knew the Harlequin was one character that Marv definitely wanted to disavow ever existed. And I said, ‘No, no, no, the greater challenge is to try to explain why this character is invalid, like maybe explain that she’s not the Harlequin.’ Which is what we ended up doing – saying she’s not Two-Face’s daughter, but not saying anything else beyond that. Marv was not fascinated with this, because it wasn’t his idea, it was my idea, and I didn’t want to put him in a bind he didn’t want to be in. But he also doesn’t take the easy cop-out by saying, ‘She didn’t exist.’”

So it seems like, basically, nobody liked Duela as anything other than a challenge at best. Well hey, I'm of the opinion that it's always best to make lemonade out of the lemons of bad continuity rather than ignore continuity altogether, but here it looks like Duela was pretty much thrown under the bus. Or if she wasn't yet, she soon would be, as you'll see if you keep reading her TitansTower profile there. Yeesh.

When I told Henchgirl about Duela and Harvey, she said, "Y'know, that actually might work if they established that she was actually Two-Face's daughter from an alternate earth, and..." But of course, I had to stop and tell her that they already kinda did that in the misbegotten Countdown maxi-series, but with her father being the Jokester and her mother being a Dent with no real similarities to Harvey and/or Gilda.

Here's this universe's version of a Dent character. Yeah, it's best not to ask.

And while I think that the Jokester was the one and only worthwhile part of the disaster that was Countdown, even that was pissed away far too early. So there are missed opportunities and wasted potential all over the place when it comes to Duela.

That said, in this current era of cosplay and fandom (not to mention the recent popularity of Martha Wayne as the Joker in Flashpoint: Batman--Knight of Vengeance, the most recent high-profile female Joker out there), maybe Duela is due for rediscovery by fandom, even if DC Comics themselves don't care. After all, she recently saw inclusion in the line of anime-style DC character action figures:

I'm not a huge fan of it myself, but others are, including one fan artists who included her alongside her dear parents (Gilda unfortunately-but-understandably being the "mousy twit version" from The Long Halloween):

Arkham Festival by *s-azma on deviantART

I won't lie, just seeing the three of them there makes me want to see an Elseworlds that looks at the Dent Family dynamic. But until then, as I said before, the legacy of Duela Dent is one of missed opportunities and wasted potential, just waiting for something to come along and care.
Tags: bronze age, dick grayson, duela dent, marv wolfman, teen titans

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