about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

DCAU Review: Harvey and Pals, Part 2: "Almost Got 'Im." Plus, rare art!

Welcome to the next installment of my three-part review series which I have dubbed "Harvey and pals!" Why? Because calling it "Harvfield and Friends" probably wouldn't have flown with anybody. That said, now the theme song is stuck in my head...

The first uniting of the Unholy Three ended, unsurprisingly, with defeat and arrest, but this doesn't prove to be the only time that Harvey, the Joker, and the Penguin decided to hang out in their downtime away from schemes and deathtraps. Maybe the events of the previous episode taught these rogues to enjoy (or at least tolerate) one another's company? To paraphrase a character from the wacky 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:

Wherein several of the rogues play cards and trade stories about how they each almost killed Batman, but there's more going on than meets the eye. Watch it here!

What is there to say about Almost Got 'Im that hasn't been said already? I think that it's about the most perfect episode of B:TAS, packed to the brim with action, mood, plot, character stuff, quotable lines, and all in all, it's just plain fun. It's everything that's great about Bronze Age Batman comics, which isn't surprising considering my strong suspicions that it's inspired by the 70's sorta-classic storyline, Where Were You The Night Batman Was Killed?, which featured the villains each recounting their own stories of near-triumph against Batman.

Most importantly, it's a rare show of the villains interacting as peers in a non-scheming capacity, and seeing them in their downtime goes a long way to treating them as characters rather than just as... well, "comic book villains." Just look at the great interplay from the very first scene, as our heroes deal themselves in:

JOKER: I want a nice clean game, gentlemen.

PENGUIN: That'll be a first. So, I hear 'you-know-who' nailed the Mad Hatter last week.

JOKER: No kidding. He sure gets around for one guy.

TWO-FACE: Yeah, well that's where you're wrong. I don't think it is one guy.

CROC: Hun?

TWO-FACE: The way I figure it, Gordon's got a bunch of them stashed someplace like a SWAT team. He wants you to think it's one guy but--

JOKER: Ehhh, you're always seeing double.

PENGUIN: It's obvious our caped friend suffered some crime related drama when he was younger. Perhaps an over-anxious mother blew off a piece of his face.

JOKER: Sure! He could be all gross and disgusting under that mask! Uh, no offense, Harv.

TWO-FACE: ... Just deal.

CROC: Well, you know what I think?

JOKER: (Groans) Not the robot theory again.

CROC: Well, he could be.

As with the airport scene of The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne, the real pleasure here is seeing how these very distinct personalities interact, and how each of their lines actually reveals character.

Penguin's line about an "over-anxious mother" seems to be one of the only surviving example of the original plan to depict Ozzie as a Momma's Boy. Croc is an imbecile, and even though he's--SPOILER ALERT!--Batman in disguise (just as Batman was--DOUBLE SPOILER ALERT!!!--disguised as Two-Face in Where Were You The Night Batman Was Killed?), this characterization was so much more interesting than Croc has been anywhere else in the show that it stuck. The Joker is... well, he's the Joker, the guy who knows that he's superior and who revels in undermining his fellow rogues.

As for Harvey, here he displays possible tendencies towards paranoia and conspiracy, at least if the Joker's assessment of "always seeing double" is astute rather than just usual brand of trolling. Of course, this too could still fit my pet theory that Harvey's just covering for Bruce by misdirecting the other rogues, but no, no, stop that, Hefner, it ain't happening, move on. Besides that, Harvey remains the most serious, grumpy, and humorless person in the room, but to writer Paul Dini's great credit, he still manages to give Harvey one of the best quips of the show, and it comes coupled with the long-awaited awkward reunion between Harv and Pam for the first time since Pretty Poison.

"To hit you with a truck" would be a shockingly blunt line for a kid's show no matter who said it, especially during this time when villains couldn't even say "kill," instead usually having to substitute it with the more softer "destroy." But somehow, the fact that it comes from Harvey just gives it extra effect, especially when it's followed by the casual responses by Ivy, Pengers, and Joker. It's a perfect use of Harvey being the most somber, bitter, deadly serious character in a room full of more fun villains with their own varying styles of flamboyance.

Furthermore, I feel like this is one of the rare moments when Two-Face actually displays some personality. I hate to say it, but B:TAS!Two-Face often seems like he's dead inside, a neutral party running on little more than cold burning rage. Maybe this scene is greatly helped by the fact that all of Harvey hates Ivy, and more importantly, it's a direct connection to the old (and whole? Was he ever whole?) Harvey Dent. Two-Face pretty much hates everybody, including himself, but he has a very special kind of hatred reserved for Ivy, and with good reason.

Of course, all that bad blood is forgotten once "Croc" gets the ball rolling about one of them should have killed Batman by now, kicking off an argument of one-upsmanship over who came closest to killing Batman. Taken on its own merits, it's kind of a silly argument, with everyone debating about who was the most accomplished attempted-murderer (quoth Sideshow Bob: "Do they give out Nobel Prizes for attempted chemistry?"), all of which culminates with Harvey saying, once again, "Get out of my face!" Either he hasn't learned anything at all, or he's just trying out a new signature phrase.

Spurred off by the Joker's invitation for everyone to share their own "Almost Got 'Im" stories--saving his own (and therefore best) for the last--the episode becomes a sort of rotating anthology of stand-alone "overly elaborate deathtrap" stories for the villains. It's a pretty brilliant setup for a superhero show, really, and a perfect way to mix both homages to classic comics with the progressive greatness of B:TAS itself. That said, this all becomes somewhat problematic when it comes time for Two-Face's segment.

If the trade-off of every great Two-Face story is coupling the character's tragic roots with his penchant for outlandish two-based death traps, then this episode delivers the second part of that in spades (sorry for the poker pun) with Harvey's own "almost got 'im" account. According to his story, he once hired the "Two-Ton Gang"--a gang of abnormally-large henchmen why not?--to steal "$2,000,000 in two dollar bills" from the Gotham Mint When Batman tried to thwart the robbery, Harvey responded in turn by tying the hero to a giant penny, as one does. ... God, it's even sillier when you write it all out like that. Yeah, if the rest of this episode is pure Bronze Age, then this moment is a classic throwback to the late Golden Age, specifically the Dick Sprang classic Two-Face Strikes Again!.

Incidentally, that story was also written by Where Were You The Night Batman Was Killed? author David V. Reed, thus making Almost Got 'Im an indirect double-dose tribute! Also incidentally, Reed once wrote an incredibly callous and tasteless comic about Bill Finger just after the Batman co-writer's lonely, impoverished death. Seriously, what a petty, cruel little dickbag Reed must have been to write such a shameful piece of crap.

Where was I? Oh right, the overly elaborate deathtrap involving the oversized novelty penny!

In keeping with the Reed/Sprang story, Harvey's deathtrap here is disappointingly rigged towards death either way. While Harvey says that Batman "deserved a 50-50 chance," it's clear that he only meant that ironically: "Here's the deal: the coin lands face down, you'll be squashed flat. It lands face up, you'll just break every bone in your body!" Sigh.

How sad it is that such an otherwise great take on Harvey should here reduce him to being the kind of one-note cheater right out of a Chuck Dixon comic. On top of that, everything surrounding the robbery is so out of place for everything we've seen of this Two-Face thus far, which Dini apparently decided to ignore in favor of recreating a classic Two-Face scenario from the comics. Just like Reed's own Two-Face Strikes Again!, this story is both one step forward and two steps back for Harvey's characterization.

But what bothers me even more than that is Harvey's actual coin itself. Not the mega-penny (MegaPenny? Great, now I'm imagining a giant, robotic British secretary. WTF, my brain?), I mean his trademark scarred silver dollar quarter thing, which is here shown to be inexplicably jagged on one edge:

There is absolutely no in-story reason for the coin's redesign other than to provide Batman with a means of escape, using the now-jagged coin (which he picked from Harvey's pocket) to cut the ropes while he flies midair on the giant penny. This, of course, is how Batman escapes his deathtrap and manages to thwart Harvey and the Two-Ton Gang, with the irony being that it was Harvey's downfall was due to his own coin.

On one hand, this is a petty clever--if very comic book--way of the hero defeating the villain and saving the day. But speaking as a fan of the villain himself, I find this mildly annoying, especially since Dini couldn't have been bothered to come up with even a half-baked reason for the coin being jagged. It could have been as simple as getting the coin damaged in the initial scuffle when Batman arrived to thwart the robbery, and that would have even had the added benefit of pissing off Harvey even more! Alas, there's no given reason for the coin to be jagged, and it never looked jagged in any other appearance within the show, although the comics are another matter.

"Here, I owe you a dollar." So it's definitely a silver dollar, then? I guess they just really look like quarters in the DCAU.
Source: castlewyvern

All in all, there's a lot about this sequence which I dislike, but it's a testament to this episode's greatness that it's still thoroughly fun and enjoyable nonetheless. Also, it doesn't hurt that this sequence leads directly into one of the best moments of the entire series, which in itself offers the show's alternate take on the origin of the Giant Penny in the Batcave. In case you're one of the only people on earth to have missed out on Croc's defining moment--for better or worse--here's the scene in question.

Man, it never gets old. It really should be old by now, but somehow, it isn't. Once again, the love I have for this episode trumps the effect is has on its characters, so that I still laugh at the "it was a big rock..." even though it redefined Croc as an idiot. I mean, sure, it's Batman in disguise, but no one else at the table questions Croc's idiocy, presumably because the real Croc is that inept as well. It's a shame, especially since both Croc-centric episodes Vendetta and Freakshow really did their best to paint Croc as a fearsome, formidable man-monster.

The rest of the episode is even better than before, with one of my favorite takes on the Penguin ("Aviary of Doom?" "Sheesh, Pengers, how corny can you get?" "Bah! Just because you mundane miscreants have no drama in your souls! Anyway there he was in my Av-- big bird house..."), classic Joker and Harley, and a last-minute appearance by Catwoman tying into what's really been happening all along. When the truth of the Joker's big plan to grind Selina into cat food finally comes out, even Harvey, Ivy, and Penguin look horrified. Hardened and cruel as they are, I've always kind of liked the implication that something things are just too horrible even for them.

Having clearly heard enough, "Croc" reveals his true identity, and the whole episode is revealed to be one great big con by Batman to thwart Joker and Harley and save Catwoman. This is a beautiful twist, since it takes what seemed like a fun anthology collection and reveals it to all be one big single plot-line, one which builds up to Catwoman getting a pitch-perfect "almost got 'im" of her very own. This episode is just so damn well made from every angle that even with the parts I don't like, I still feel like it's kinda perfect. If that makes any sense. Which it kinda doesn't. Whatever.

And so, the rogues (save for Penguin, presumably) are arrested and sent back to Arkham. Because, of course, putting all of the insane criminal masterminds under one roof is a brilliant idea, one that will surely never go wrong... right? But we'll examine that in the third part of our trilogy review here.

As a bonus, I am delighted to present to you something which I found whilst scouring for rare B:TAS/Two-Face memorabilia, especially limited edition collectibles from the late, lamented Warner Brothers Studio Store chain of shops. That store would often carry animation cels, lithographs, and other cool works of Batman art, and it's so hard to find good-quality scans of them anywhere online. Thankfully, I found a fantastic scan of this, one of my very favorites:

Man, forget dogs playing poker, I want this hanging in my den whenever I play cards and smoke cigars with the boys. Not that I play cards nor smoke cigars, nor do I even have boys anymore. Whatever, I still want it anyway. That and the other WB Studio Store sericels of the Rogues:

There is not a single one of these that I don't love. There were at least two others in this particular series of character line-ups, including one of the heroes (like Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Renee Montoya, and even Harvey Dent!) and a second one for the villains! Sadly, I haven’t been able to find the first one at all, and the only scan I’ve found for the second is this grainy, teeny one here:

So yeah, if you know where I can find better quality images of these awesome works of art, let me know.
Tags: animation, art, croc, dcau, gifspam, joker, overly elaborate deathtraps, penguin, poison ivy, reading list: two-face in the dcau, the coin

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