about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

Comic Strip Review: (most of) the super-obscure Two-Face story from the 1970's Batman dailies!

So hey, remember when I said that I'd discovered an even-more-obscure Batman newspaper comic strip, one which featured what may well be the single rarest Two-Face appearance ever?

Well, good news, everyone! I have come into possession of several scans of the strips, including most of the Two-Face stuff! Not all of it, sadly, and I'm missing the surrounding strips, so the result kinda just feels like being plunked into the middle of a story. But the important thing is, hey, long-lost Two-Face appearance! What's more, as this pre-dates the O'Neil/Adams classic Half an Evil, this strip is actually Harvey's first true appearance during his seventeen-year absence in the Silver Age! So okay, it's crazy rare and historically important, but is it any good? Let's find out!

PREVIOUSLY IN THE 1970'S BATMAN COMIC STRIP, BEST AS I CAN GUESS: In a rare show of inter-villain cooperation, a gang comprised entirely of Batman Rogues--including Scarecrow, Riddler, Tweedledee, and Tweedledum, and more!--have been perpetrating a series of Wonderland-related crimes! It doesn't take long for Bruce to determine the identity of whoever's leading this all-star (plus the Tweeds) gang: Two-Face! Of course, it all makes s-- wait, what?

This, it occurs to me, is perhaps the very first time we've seen the acid-in-the-face origin told in any capacity since 1948, where it appeared in the "Wilkins" impostor story! Since the conventional wisdom surrounding Harvey's absence from comics and even the TV show centers around the gruesomeness of his origin, I find it interesting that it should be replayed all these years later in the pages of a family newspaper! Then again, perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising, considering that Chester Gould's Dick Tracy regularly displayed the kind of violence that would even make Golden Age Batman wince.

Hey, once again, it's one of the very few stories to remember that Harvey would donate to charity! I think that this one might be my favorite example of that simply because it shows him clash with the understandable "Wait, we're donating to WHAT, now?" reaction of his fellow rogues. Am I the only one who thinks it's funny that the Scarecrow is completely intimidated by Harvey's gun in a "Oh no! Bullets are my only weakness!" kind of way? Two-Face takes charity very seriously.

I also kinda love how artist Al Plastino has decided to draw Harvey's "good" side as always looking pleasant and smiling. This is one of the only takes on Two-Face to really look like he's a man who is both good and evil, rather than relying on that same theme being conveyed through handsomeness/normality and hideousness/abnormality. Combine that with the fact that he's ready to blow away any other rogue who objects to his donating to charity, and you get the makings of a wonderfully complex and unpredictable anti-villain! Love it!

As such, it's really too bad that Harvey pretty much disappears from here on out. What we've just read is the majority of his appearance in this story, since the rest of the events revolve around the Bat-Team of Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Alfred, and Jim Gordon trying to anticipate Harvey's next move, made even more tricky by the fact that he has the Riddler in his employ.

So after looking through his criminal files (before the Bat-Computer, Bruce seemed to have to rely on the Bat-Dewey-Decimal-System), Batman deduces that Harvey's next target is a loan shark named Damon Silver. After conferring with Gordon, they realize why he would interest Harvey so much: Damon was convicted twice and spent two short terms behind bars. "A natural victim for Two-Face," Batman says. "A two-time loser!" Well, I suppose if the strip was good enough to include Harvey's tragic origin, they're allowed to use the cornier aspects of his Golden Age characterization!

But there's still one part of Riddler's clue that eludes our heroes, namely the part involving "sawdust." And that's when Robin cracks the mystery, and in so doing, we learn what Harvey and the gang are REALLY after:

Holy crap, drugs? In MY Batman? Yep, it's the early 70's! Was this the first time that narcotics were involved in a Batman crime story? I can't recall anything from the Golden Age, and I sure as hell guarantee you that the Silver Age never touched upon that subject matter. Man, this strip really was a trailblazer! Or at least, it was on the cutting edge of social issues at the time, especially considering that the same year saw the release of the infamous "My sidekick is a JUNKIE!" issue of O'Neil/Adams' Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

And so Batman decides to stalk Damon Silver--loan shark and secret narcotics dealer--even going so far as to break into Silver's place to grab a mysterious burned document which may be a clue. Jinkies! What I find most interesting is how the story goes out of its way to show that Batman isn't just a reckless vigilante, though:

Because, of course, this is back in the day when Batman was still a duly appointed deputy in law enforcement! I kind of wish we could see more of those kinds of stories rather than read yet another story along the lines of "Batman is a vigilante who perverts law and order but it's okay kinda!"

Analyzing the burned piece of legally-obtained evidence, Batman and Robin discover that the drugs are being smuggled through an area called Cutlass Cove, where pirates used to bury their treasure. And so, Batman decides to confront Silver personally with a plan of his own:

Two faces, with a "second" Damon to capture Two-Face! Oh, comics, I see what you did there! So after tying and gagging the real Damon Silver, Batman goes in disguise to infiltrate the next deal on the Cove, knowing that he himself will now be the target of the gang. So which members of said gang show up to thwart the robbery?

It's the unholy alliance of... uh... villains who use green in their costumes! More importantly, this was also one of the rare major appearances of Poison Ivy during this period. I guess Harvey's not the only one to get more attention in this comic strip than the actual comics at the time! Still, heroin doesn't really seem like it'd appeal to any of these rogues. That's more the territory of the mob and corrupt businessmen and politicians like Rupert Thorne than costumed criminals, especially around this time period. But eh, I guess Mothy's gotta eat.

Yeah, I don't know why these heists are known as the "Wonderland Crimes." I imagine that's just something that happens when you have both Mad Hatter and the Tweeds in your gang. You kind of just have to make concessions, like, "Okay, fine, we'll do something Wonderland-themed, and yes, yes, we'll leave a riddle, don't worry. Okay, everyone happy? Fine, fine, we'll steal something bird-themed next week, promise."

So while Batman and the Rogues have a stand-off, their guns vs. their Batarangs, the regular joe-shmoe drug dealers decide to just kill off everybody and take the drugs for themselves. But they didn't count on a surprise guest star joining in:

I like to think that the only reason the writer wanted to use drugs in the first place was to have Robin make that pun.

Am I the only one who wouldn't have even caught Ivy's pun if Dick hadn't pointed it out? Personally, I'm more distracted by the fact that Pam seemed to think that she'd be any match for Batgirl, be it on equal footing or otherwise. So after having to decipher yet another of Eddie's riddles, our heroes manage to figure out where Harvey and the gang are located:

Oh Ozzie, you self-serving bastard, you. Really, I can't imagine that he would have settled for taking orders from Harvey for long, nor would the Joker. I love Harvey and all, but it's frankly amazing that he managed to get them all to play ball long enough to get all their asses kicked by the heroes.

At this point, I must regretfully confess that I am missing the next few strips of the big fight scene, which of course is the scene which I find most interesting after the introduction of this strip's take on Harvey. Blast!

And on that cliffhanger, I'm afraid I've run out of strips. If I ever get my hands on any other scans, I'll be sure to either revise this post or do a whole new, more complete version of this. So yeah, all in all, this strip is much more what I expected the 90's strip to be: an amusing and kinda cool little artifact with some neat bits, but ultimately nothing to write home about for any reason other than its sheer obscurity. Pretty much everything that I didn't include centered around 60's-style Batman detective work and riddle-solving, which didn't exactly make for compelling reading nor offer any character moments. Still, I'm glad to at least have found this much of something which isn't anywhere else on the internet! What think you folks?
Tags: batgirl, catwoman, comic strips, dick grayson, jim gordon, joker, killer moth, mad hatter, moroni/maroni, origins, penguin, poison ivy, riddler, scarecrow
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