It's hard enough to review single installments out of context, especially these days, with the majority of comics authors "writing for the trade." Nowadays, you can breeze through most superhero comics within minutes thanks to all the watered-down decompressed storytelling, and what's worse, it can be whole pages before anything actually happens. The best you can hope for is a memorable scene here, a good moment there, and enough intrigue to keep you interested in the next part.
Comics shouldn't be this way. We deserve better. But that's the way it is right now for far too many comics. As such, if so many writers are having trouble telling substantiative stories in twenty pages, what the hell can they possibly do in eight-page backup stories like Welcome to the Dark Side? Well, let's find out for ourselves.
The story opens with a man stumbling through an alleyway, and between the narration (with open with the line "Nailed me.") and the body we know two things: 1.) It's Harvey, and 2.) he's injured.
When I read this page, my mind immediately went back to the events of Harvey's first backup story, The Long Way Down. I wondered, was Daniel finally going to pick up on the dangling plot threads from that shambling misbegotten mess of a story? No, of course not. It's just an unfortunately coincidence (and bad omen, if that last story is any indication) that both Two-Face backup stories should feature Harvey stumbling through an alleyway, injured, bleeding, and about to pass out. Because even when he's the star of his own story, it sucks to be Harvey Dent.
Okay, I need to point out right here that they've used two pages--a quarter of this ENTIRE CHAPTER--to showing Harvey falling down, peppered with three small panels. While I really like the art and the way that Szymon Kudranski draws Harvey's scarring (especially with how it's colored by John Kalisz), that could easily have been spent on a single splash page at MOST. I already know that Tony Daniel is a poor economist for storytelling based on all the needless splash pages in his previous Two-Face story, but it's especially inexcusable for an eight-pager like this. Shit, we could already tell that it was Harvey and that he was gravely injured in the first page. Why did we even need such a big reveal?
The next page is similarly egregious, with the vast majority of the page being devoted to an image of Harvey unconscious on an operating table, being worked upon by two bald henchmen. At least, I think they're henchmen. The line about "your road to enlightenment" seems awfully eloquent for your usual Gotham hired help, who become even more suspect as they set about to clean and repair Harvey's wounds... not just his physical ones.
What the hell is happening here? Who are these characters? Why should we care? No reason is given. Considering that Daniel is currently fucking around with Hugo Strange and his long-lost son/protegé Eli Strange (hello there, hoary Mary Sue fanic cliché), I kinda like to think that maybe Hugo's along for the ride here, which would make me exponentially more interested in this story. So could that be Hugo? It's possible, but we're given no reason to suspect that either way. We've not really given anything.
Edited to add: my observant Henchgirl noticed something obvious which I completely missed, namely that these are Buddhist monks! I completely didn't notice that between the murky artwork and the fact that Harvey had to give a password to be let in, so my mind naturally went "hideout." So Harvey has some dealings with Buddhist monks? Well, that's certainly... interesting. But why? Please don't tell me that Harvey is mistaking Buddhism for Taoism, is he? Either way, so much for the Hugo theory.
Cut to a flashback, set thirteen days earlier. We spend another page with Harvey waxing philosophic about good and evil while the coin spins on a table. He slaps the coin down, casting judgment on some poor schlub who may or may not be lying to Harvey. When it comes to determining the truth, Harvey says, "It's all up to the flip of the coin." The terrified schlub--a guy named Harden--frantically asks which side of the coin came up, but for once (for some reason), Harvey's not telling.
With this panel on page five, we FINALLY get some semblance of a story, even if it's one that raises more questions than we should have. Even before we start learning the plot, we discover Harvey's ultimate goal, which is apparently to be reinstated as District Attorney. This is by far the most interesting--but befuddling--part of this story. Even if this story takes place in Harvey's past (and we're given no reason to believe that it is), he's still clearly been Two-Face long enough to be an infamous criminal. There's no way he could ever be D.A. again... could he?
Okay, so the main conflict is between Harvey and a prosecutor named Dominic Sterano, who is ready to drop a series of unspecified charges against Harvey on one condition: that they first set up a personal meeting between Dent and Sterano. Right away, this sets off a red flag for Harvey.
Nice. I like the personal history Daniel is giving us between Harvey and his new (old) nemesis. You have to figure that Harvey made a lot of enemies as D.A., but very, very few ever factor into stories with Two-Face, which is a shame. The extra touch about Sterano hitting on Gilda (before or after Harvey became Two-Face?) is great. It gives Harvey a great personal reason to hold Sterano in disdain, especially considering that Daniel, for all his faults, did at least reinforce her as Harvey's one true love.
So Harvey has good reason to distrust Sterano, which is all the more unfortunate for poor Harden, whom Harvey suspects was sent to be an assassin, not a messenger. Harden denies this and tells Harvey to call Sterano himself for verification, but Sterano is mysteriously, conveniently out of town. Suspecting that Harden is working for someone else besides Sterano (another Rogue, I wonder? An original character?), Harvey orders his men to torture Harden for information.
We cut to Harden screaming while Harvey confers with his lawyer, McMurphy, who makes some interesting allusions to Harvey and Sterano's recent clashes. "They know their case will be dropped by the judge eventually, Harvey. I think all these blown cases have made you a severe detriment to the prosecutor's ambitions." It looks like the conflict between Two-Face and Sterano isn't between criminal and prosecutor, but rather between an ambitious politician and the prey who keeps slipping through his grasp. Has Two-Face become an untouchable Rupert Thorne mob boss?
Oh Harvey, you ruthless scamp, you. I'm learning that I really don't mind Harvey being a vicious criminal when he's taking it out on other criminals, rather than innocents. If Sterano really is the scumbag we're led to believe he is, then this story has potential for Harvey to be a great antihero, especially if his goals truly are for more than just the usual money and power.
The beeping sound, by the way, is McMurphy's phone, and the call is from Sterano's office. Turns out that Sterano DOES want that meeting, and that Harden wasn't lying! Womp-womp. Harvey then calls off the torture and orders his men to bandage up Harden and send him to the E.R. A bloody, weakened Harden asks, "Seriously...? So... the coin... was it...?"
What? So... if the coin toss earlier was to determine whether or not Harden was lying, does this mean that Harvey believed Harden the whole time, and still tortured him nonetheless? Or was he truly deciding whether or not to kill Harden outright? Either way, it's a troublesome thing that the good side can come up, and Harvey will still go ahead and torture a guy with a blowtorch.
And that's the end of the first part. While I did manage to find something to say, it wasn't easy when nothing actually happened. This was all mood, set-up, and exposition, and very few actions that characters perform here are muddled in their motivations. Still, there was just enough potential (or potential for potential) for an interesting story here.
That said, you'll notice that Daniel hasn't yet gone into Harvey's personal history in any detail. Will he screw around with Harvey's origins? Is he planning on introducing wild new theories about Harvey's mental state? Will this story change any of Harvey's pre-DCnU history? We'll have to wait and see next month. Hopefully something will actually happen, and hopefully it won't be awful.
Detective Comics #8 is out in comic stores today, and can be purchased as a digital comic over at DC's Comixology app for the ridiculously expensive price of $3.99.