about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

DCAU Review: Harvey and Pals, Part 1: "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne"

Hello, hello! I am finally back, here to present a special three-part review over the next week!

I've been working on these for a while now, and since I have a lot of irons in the fire at present, I figure it's high time to look at some of Harvey's more notable second-string episodes before I get to the really meaty TAS-era stuff! So, over the course of the next few posts, I shall review Harvey's three biggest supporting-role appearances in Batman: The Animated Series and examine what they mean for the character himself! After becoming Two-Face, Harvey became a full-fledged member of the Batman rogues gallery, and he would sometimes be seen rubbing shoulders with the worst of the costumes rogues.


While this fits the status of the comics--wherein Two-Face being held up as one of the most important and prominent rogues--it's still strange company for the former District Attorney to be keeping, even insane as he's become. Let's face it, even Big Bad Harv isn't the type to fraternize with the likes of the Joker and Poison Ivy under any circumstances, and yet, he's seen hangin' around with the Rogues on several occasions! How the hell does this work? Does the show even try to reconcile the Harvey that was and the Two-Face he's become with this newfound club of "friends" that he has every reason to loathe, or do the writers just shrug their shoulders and go, "Eh, he's evil now, let him hang with evil people"?

To find out, let's examine Two-Face's three biggest supporting appearances over the show, all of which involve him sharing screentime with the Joker and various other villains. Perhaps tellingly, all three of these episodes are greatly influenced by classic Bronze Age stories, which might account for their particular treatment of Harvey as Bat-Rogue member. And let's start with a review for an episode that's long, long overdue for anyone who's familiar with this blog.

Wherein Batman investigates the mad scientist, extortionist, and inexplicably-Russian Hugo Strange, who in turn subsequently discovers Bruce's secret identity and plans to auction it off to the highest bidder. Watch it here.

Considering that I have a soft spot for ol' Hugo, you'd assume that I'd have given this episode its own full review post long ago rather than just giving it a mention in my review of the wonderful Hugo story from the DCAU comics. I ignored this episode because it's a pretty crappy take on Hugo, one which turned him into a sleazy, conniving extortionist whose only resemblance to comics!Hugo is the funny-shaped head design and the fact that he tried auctioning off Batman's secret identity to the highest bidder. Does that scenario sound familiar to anyone?

Yup, the episode's auction aspect is adapted in part from the classic Englehart/Rogers Strange Apparitions storyline, only with the notable substitution of using Harvey instead of Rupert Thorne, the story's original main baddie. While the show could have easily used Thorne again (and furthermore, no mention is made of the significance of switching out those two characters who have such bad blood), Harvey's inclusion here actually serves a specific narrative purpose. But I'll get to that in due time. First, I want to look at how Harvey's introduced here, along with his fabulous co-stars, travel companions, and follow auction-goers.

Since Harvey is being used in place of Thorne in the auction, this means that he gets to bid alongside the original comics' bidders: the Penguin and the Joker. Yep, it's the trio which has been dubbed by some as "The Unholy Three," and what's most remarkable is how well they play off of one another. The Two-Face/Joker/Penguin stuff is the absolute highlight of the episode, revealing some great insights about their characters and distinct personalities. Just look at the dialogue in their arrival at the airport:

JOKER: (inhales deeply) Ah, sunshine! Clean air! (coughs) Ooh, I hate it!

TWO-FACE: This Doctor Strange better have a good reason for draggin' us out to the middle of nowhere.

PENGUIN: Have you no poetry in your soul, my dichotomous friend? (Raises umbrella dramatically) There is a certain stock beauty to this environment!

We learn a lot about these characters just from how they react to their surroundings. The Joker is irreverent, Harvey is all SRS BSNS, and Penguin is all poetically appreciative of his surroundings. This scene alone makes me wish they'd blow off Hugo's auction and instead go off to have wacky road trip misadventures, just to see how their personalities would play off one another. The little bits of interaction we see here are great: Harvey and Ozzie are the ones most interested in money, Penguin and Joker share a certain light-hearted approach to everything, Joker relentlessly teases the dour Two-Face and Penguin has to play referee, and so on. These three should have been a recurring, iconic team right alongside Harley and Ivy. Only, y'know, without all the homoerotic subtext.

Okay, maybe a little homoerotic subtext.

Unfortunately for my dreams of seeing wacky supervillain cross-country adventures, this auction is a business trip for the trio, and thus we have to get to the business at hand of hearing what the hell Hugo Strange has to offer. At the auction, Penguin sits calmly, Joker eats popcorn (because of course he does), but grumpy Harvey has little patience for pomp and bullcrapinstance.

"First of all, I would like to thank you for coming all this w--"


". . ."

"...very well."

Poor Hugo. I bet he had a whole spiel planned and everything. So the auction goes underway, with the three rogues putting in their bids to own the tape that supposedly contains Batman secret identity. As you might imagine, the bidding becomes increasingly heated, building up to one of the most gif-able moments of the episode, and--if Tumblr is to be believed--one of the most popular TAS moments:

Source: cottonkitten

Well, really, Harvey should have seen that one coming. For all the times that these two clash, sometimes Harvey's lack of self-awareness and self-seriousness just makes him such an easy target for the likes of Joker.

Source: Also cottonkitten

Thankfully, Penguin is there to play the mediator between them both, seeing as how he's the most level-headed of them all: "Gentlemen, it behooves us not to fight amongst ourselves!" Appropriately for the greatest of the sane Batman villains, Ozzie is the voice of reason, the only one who can play as referee and arbiter between the opposing forces of Harvey and the Joker. And so, agreeing with the Penguin, our "heroes" instead decide to pool their resources, much to Hugo's greedy Uncle-Scroogian delight.

Man, where the heck did Harvey, Penguin, and Joker even GET that much money? Don't all of their robberies end in failure? Or are they secretly getting away with stuff that we never hear about because they haven't gotten caught by Batman? Also, with a pile of money that big, I don't think that there was any way these three wouldn't have just killed Hugo anyway once they saw the tape. I'm not sure that he really thought this plan through. Not that it matters either way, since Bruce secretly switched the tapes with a fake one that made it look as though Hugo was pulling a con on the crooks. Freaking out, Hugo tries to explain, but rogues are too furious to listen. The way they react to this news also reveals character, although for fans of Harvey, that may or may not be a good thing:

PENGUIN: Fellow miscreants! We've been had!

JOKER: I'm gonna use your head for a bowling ball, Strange!


Let's examine these three battle cries for a moment. Penguin's line? Gloriously old-school villain fun! Joker's line? Darkly hilarious and threatening! But what does Two-Face say to follow it up? "GET HIM!" To paraphrase Dr. Venkman, "that your whole plan, huh: 'Get him?'" I can't tell if that's just boringly unimaginative, or if it's in keeping with the no-nonsense attitude of Mr. "GET TO THE POINT!" Either way, Harvey really gets the short end of the stick for good lines in this episode save for one moment near the end, when Hugo makes a last-ditch effort to save his skin:

Source: wouldyouliketoseemymask

Well, then... all hail King Harvey the First (or Second?)! And this scene is why we have Harvey in this episode rather than Thorne: more than any other villain, he's the only one who can dismiss Hugo's assertions before Joker or Penguin could even get a chance to consider the veracity of such a claim. If it weren't for Harvey, I could see Joker and Penguin going, "Really, now? I mean, we're still gonna kill you, Hugo, thanks for playing the only card you had, but we might look into that card sometime after you go splat."

In my head-canon, I always kinda liked to think that Harvey knows (on some level) that Hugo’s telling the truth, and that he's lying to cover for Bruce. Then again, I feel the same about one scene from the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon with Doc Ock and an unmasked Peter Parker (anybody remember that episode with the Sinister Insidious Six?), so I guess that it’s just an idea that appeals to me. I know it's unlikely, but it's something I like to keep in mind, especially considering some of the stuff that goes down between Harvey and Bruce.

This scene also perfectly encapsulates why this is a lousy take on Hugo Strange. In the actual comic storyline which inspired this episode, Hugo was a bold master criminal with a strong will and a twisted sense of honor and ethics, refusing to divulge Batman's secret identity even while he was being beaten to death:

The Hugo of The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, is a sleazy, conniving, cowardly extortionist who got in wayyyyyy over his head, partially because he didn't thought things through. When faced with his moment of truth, he doesn't face it bravely and defiantly as comics!Hugo does, but rather cries, whines, and begs pitifully, desperately throwing out the only card he has left as if it would possibly save his skin.

By the end, he tries once more to use the secret identity to his advantage, but he's ultimately discredited thanks to Dick Grayson showing up disguised as Bruce Wayne to stand alongside Batman. While this crappy take on the character did absolutely nothing for his popularity, at least he got better treatment in the Batman Adventures comics, and he even managed to land a choice cameo in Justice League Unlimited, indicating that he went high places in the world following his arrest. Do you think he was the one who told Amanda Waller that Bruce was Batman?

As for the Unholy Three, they're arrested at the end, but this isn't the last time they hang out in their downtime away from schemes and deathtraps. Maybe learned to enjoy one another's company thanks to the events of this episode? To paraphrase a character from the great cannibal movie Ravenous, "It's lonely being a supervillain. Tough making friends." Perhaps that's what led to the scene of villainous socializing that occurred in one of B:TAS' best-ever episodes, which we'll be looking at in the next part.
Tags: animation, dcau, hugo strange, joker, penguin, reading list: the complete hugo strange, reading list: two-face in the dcau, riddler

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