about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

The first appearances of DCAU Harvey Dent in B:TAS ("On Leather Wings") and "The Batman Adventures"

Strange as it may seem, many people never even noticed Harvey Dent's first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series! I'm not just talking about people who'd never heard of the character before, but actual Batman fans who should have otherwise recognized the man who would become Two-Face! Seriously! How could this even happen?

Well, to be fair, Harvey's initial appearance was so brief, so blink-and-you'll-miss-it, that his debut feels less like a cameo and more like an easter egg. Also, never mind the fact that On Leather Wings isn't the most memorable episode either. While there's not much to discuss about this tiny appearance, it's worth noting not only as being one of the all-too-few appearances of Harvey pre-Two-Face, but also because his presence in this pilot gives Harvey the distinction of being one of the few characters whom we can say was in B:TAS from the very beginning.

On Leather Wings (available to watch for free, with ads, over at theWB.com) was a bizarre choice for a pilot episode, especially one that premiered in prime time for adult audiences. I can only imagine these kids and adults--people who largely only know Batman from the Adam West show and the still-very-huge Tim Burton movies--watching this in Fall of 1992 and thinking, "What in the hell is a Man-Bat?!" At least, that's what little twelve-year-old me thought at the time.

Turns out, this was entirely intentional. In a recent-ish interview, Bruce Timm said, "Man-Bat was chosen specifically [for the first episode] because he wasn't familiar to very many people outside of comic book fans. Nobody had any preconceived notions about him. It wasn't like the Joker, where you had to deal with people expecting him to be Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero." Which was a smart idea, although I don't think anybody really became fans of Kirk Langstrom after that episode. In a show that specialized in humanizing villains, Man-Bat's basic inhumanity was probably a detriment.

If you're a Man-Bat fan who disagrees, by all means, feel free to explain why in the comments! Extra points if you go "SKREE!" between every sentence. And then dance for me, my pretties, dance!

Nonetheless, the episode made the desired impact, partially because the animation is gorgeous. I'd consider the animation in On Leather Wings to be superior to every other episode in the show. It's just so lush, so fluid, so bracingly cinematic, that the ho-hum "Batman is framed by a bat-monster!" story is incredibly watchable, even if the episode itself is rather forgettable.

As such, it's unsurprising that few people have a vivid recollection of one rather mundane, talk-heavy scene early in the episode, set in Mayor Hill's spacious, deco-tacular office:

In this scene, the show's administrative heads of Gotham government gather to discuss the problem of Batman. Or at least, what they think is Batman. Man-Bat, mistaken for the real Batman, has been terrorizing the city and attacking guards, and thus everyone's favorite slob cop, Harvey Bullock, has taken it upon himself to vow war on the vigilante. Of course, he did so without first going to Commissioner Gordon, who has repeatedly opposed Bullock's desires for a tactical anti-Batman strike force.

And so, for a couple minutes, Bullock and Gordon debate while Mayor Hill referees and a mysterious figure in shadow watches while flipping a coin. The camera pans to the shadowed hand in the foreground while Bullock argues against Batman by saying, "Your Honor, any nutcase that dresses up like a bat sooner or later is gonna snap!" I suspect that the juxtaposition of the flipping coin and Bullock's line was a purposeful bit of foreshadowing. The scene then gets a second touch of irony once Hill requests Bullock's anti-Bat squad, because a smug Bullock turns to the man who actually will snap, and asks District Attorney Harvey Dent for an airtight case to be made against the Batman.

Cut to our guy with his only line of the episode, his first words spoken in the DCAU:

Source: FuckYeahBatmanGifs.

"If you catch 'im, Harvey, I'll put him in jail for you."

I always liked how Harvey's one line is spoken towards the other character who shares his name. The Two Harveys! Quick, somebody throw together a fabulously 80's-tastic mockup movie poster, stat!

Source: World's Finest Online. I'm amused by the "Harry" typo too. Because the world simply couldn't handle two Harveys at once!

Personally, I suspect that Dent there had no great personal interest in capturing Batman, so his casual line could easily be read as "Suuuuure, Bullock. I'll totally do that when you capture Batman, which I know you're TOTALLY capable of accomplishing, absolutely. Go have fun now!"

Of course, my reading of Harvey's words cannot be supported by these five seconds of screen time. For that, we have to go elsewhere for more insight about his feelings about both Bullock and Batman, to the story which is the single greatest appearance Harvey Dent in the DCAU. What may come as a surprise (or may be absolutely no surprise whatsoever), this appearance happened not in the TV show, but rather in the supposed "kid's comic" tie-in, The Batman Adventures.

I've said it before and I'll say it many more times: the TAS tie-in comics are brilliant, and collectively the best Batman comics published over the past twenty years. While TBA is my least favorite of the four TAS comic series, that's kind of like saying I have a least favorite kind of bacon: even when it's not as good as the others, it's still great. In later reviews, I'll elaborite further on the greatness of men like Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck, Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, and more. For now, I'll just say that TBA was pretty damn great, on par with any average episode of the actual TV show, and sometimes it even surpassed the show in terms of dark subject matter.

For example, take issue #3 (which conveniently just so happens to be the issue we're reviewing today!), in which the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon. In a scene that would have been too violent for the Fox Kids TV censors at the time, the Joker proceeds to savagely beat Gordon with a baseball bat on live TV. You can see it yourself here if you scroll down near the very end of the article. It's a shocking scene thanks largely to Ty "The Guy" Templeton's chilling depiction of the Joker in the thralls of orgasmically evil delight. And again, this is meant to be, you know, for kids!

So who can possibly thwart the Joker and save the day?

Why, none other than Harvey Dent and his Action Bathrobe! Okay, not really. But kinda! Sorta. Really, you just have to see it for yourself.

Again, if you haven't yet, scroll to the bottom of this article to see the scene with the Joker beating the crap out of Gordon. We're looking at what immediately comes next.

Along with the Joker's "freak everyone the crap out" plan to spread chaos, this story also anticipates Nolan's The Dark Knight by having the Joker's next target be none other than D.A. Harvey Dent. In response, the two Harveys meet by the Bat-Signal to confer in a scene which--appropriately enough--kicks off Act 2 of our story:

With no hesitation, Harvey agrees to let himself be used as bait, especially since he quite logically acknowledges that he's already in danger and might as well help Jim Gordon however he can. That is awesome. In these two pages, we see more of how truly heroic and selfless Harvey is than anywhere else in the series. Based on his appearances in TAS, one could be forgiven for seeing D.A. Dent as nothing more than a nice guy politician with anger issues, but here, we actually see him as a hero. I love it!

I'm intrigued by his little moment there with Harvey Bullock, revealing the teeniest hint of history and conflict between the Two Harveys. The brief bit of collegiality we saw between the Harveys in On Leather Wings is undercut by this sense of past tension, presumably by Bullock stepping out of line at some point (as Bullock has a way of doing) and Dent putting him right back in again. This is what I meant by my reading of Dent's line to Bullock in On Leather Wings feeling a touch sarcastic to my mind. Considering that Bullock was written to be a rule-breaking corrupt cop in the first place, I imagine that Dent has a fair amount of disdain for the cop. All the more reason Dent would put his trust in a vigilante over a slob cop with a bad track record.

Later at his apartment, Harvey receives some unwelcome visitors bursting through the door, catching him with his pants down. Or rather, off.

And just like with the scene with Bullock, we get hints of history between Harvey Dent and another character! Only this time, the implications raised are more intriguing.

Have Harvey and the Joker known each other for some time? How long into the past are we talking here? As you'll find out in Pretty Poison, Harvey's been D.A. for five years at this point. Combine that with the fact that TAS followed the Burton movie origin to a certain degree, once naming the Joker as "Jack Napier" in the episode Dreams in Darkness and showing him as a mobster in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Even if the show decided that the Joker wasn't really Napier or didn't follow the Burton storyline, B:MotP ensured that he was nonetheless unquestionably a mobster in his past life.

As such, it'd only be logical if D.A. Dent (or even A.D.A. Dent) ran afoul of Napier at some point. Considering how quickly TAS jettisoned its Burton roots (starting, obviously, with the Joker not being street pizza), not to mention how Timmverse slowly developed its own history, I'd love to see what happened when Harvey Dent tangled with Jack Napier, or whoever the Joker was. It'd certainly add a new wrinkle to what goes down between Joker and Harvey in upcoming stories. Especially one in particular. Man, the Joker is an asshole.

But of course, he's not a stupid asshole, and can always smell a trap. As such, even as he and his men proceed to carry out Harvey's tranq'd-up body, Joker's already well-prepared for the arrival of a certain party-crasher:

Oh hai thar, Dark Knight Returns reference. Is it just me, or is that Miller line jarring in this context? It's almost like writer Kelley Puckett was still trying to find the "voice" of TAS' Joker. Although in fairness, the show itself was still trying to do the same in 1992. That knowledge doesn't lessen the feeling of a rough early start, although it certainly holds up better than, say, the first season of The Simpsons.

Also, "Two for one! It's my lucky day!" Coincidence of dialogue, or intentional foreshadowing by Puckett! You decide! Or else let your lucky coin decide FOR you!

And so the daring rescue doesn't go so well, which leads us to the Joker setting his master plan in motion with a surprise special guest star:

Thus we end Act 2 of the issue! Anyone else feel like it's time for a commercial break?

If so, it's no coincidence. Puckett seems to be intentionally emulating the TV show's three-act structure, another aspect of B:TAS that was planned from the start. I suspect that Puckett had the show's writer's bible on hand when he worked on The Batman Adventures, especially since the first issue featured a Penguin who included original aspects of the character that weren't included in the show, such as Oswald's tendency to bluff his way into looking smarter than he actually is. Again, we're seeing both the comics and the show in the early stages before anything's been nailed down, which--speaking as a fan--I find absolutely fascinating. Because, y'know, NEEEEERD.

Either way, Puckett's dedication to following the show's story structure really went a long way to making the comics feel up to the show's quality, even back in the earliest issues. Really, as we reach the tense conclusion of Act 2, I can almost hear the ominous Shirley Walker music swelling up before it cuts off with a Fox Kids promo followed by ads for toys and cereal:

My childhood, ladies and gentlemen. My childhood. Back in my day, we had a Cookie Cop and a Cookie Crook! And there were THREE chefs for Cinnamon Toast Crunch, gol-dangit! I'm just sad that I couldn't have found a block of old ads featuring Gak. Because Gak. Nothing else quite sums up my childhood like Gak.

Aaaaaaaaaaand we're back! Time for the big reveal! Harvey Dent, kidnapped! Gotham, in peril! Commissioner Gordon, smarting like hell! And Batman at the Joker's mercy! Just what oh what will the clown prince of crime find behind the mask?!

Whattatwist! I like how Montoya is all "Hell YEAH," while Bullock is still "Hurr?" But as always, Alfred's reaction trumps all. Because after all, this is a man who appreciates a fine acting performance.

And thus, "Harvey" proceeds to beat the living crap out of the henchmen while the Joker slips away. Soon, Batman ditches his disguise to pursue the Joker while the real, heroic Harvey Dent is meanwhile still really, heroically unconscious:

The issue ends with a standard action-packed fight and Joker "death," but naturally, the above pages were this issue's highlight for me. I mean, while I'm not quite certain how Batman and Harvey Dent were able to trade jawlines when they switched outfits, I love this twist.

For one thing, it's a great play on the original, ill-fated identity swap from the Laughing Fish storyline. More than that, it retroactively reveals that Harvey Dent was actually a pretty capable ass-kicker, since he managed to wallop four henchmen before Joker shot him full of sweet, sweet tranquilizer dart. Man, between Bat!Harvey and the Joker's whole chaos-centric plan, I have to wonder if Kelley Puckett was inspired by the Batman newspaper comic strip, which did both first! Why, no, I'm not gonna stop singing that comic strip's praises at any given opportunity, why do you ask?

Either way, it marks the second time that Harvey has dressed up as Batman. What's more, it's a wonderful glimpse into the proposed (but abandoned, or at least modified) partnership/friendship between these two men, and I so wish that could have been explore more before it all went to hell. But even if the partnership between Harvey and Batman was painfully brief, the same can't be said for Harvey and Bruce Wayne.

But we'll look into that in the next post, when I review Harvey's single major appearance before Two-Face: Pretty Poison. If you haven't seen the episode, I'm sure you can guess the surprise mystery villain. No, it's not the Mad Hatter.

If you'd like to read these issues of The Batman Adventures in full, the first twelve issues are 99¢ each up at DC's Comixology site, and you can even read the very first issue (with a fun but off-sounding Penguin) for free! Try out that issue to get some idea what digital comics are like. If you still prefer paper comics, then your course is going to be harder, since the first TBA trade paperback is long out of print. Why the hell doesn't DC keep these comics in print? Why have they NEVER reprinted the vast majority of the DCAU tie-in comics? Utter foolishness!
Tags: alfred pennyworth, bruce timm, dcau, harvey bullock, jim gordon, joker, kelley puckett, reading list: two-face in the dcau, renee montoya, ty templeton

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