about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

DCAU Review: "Two Timer" by Paul Dini and Ty Templeton (1995)

This has to be the single most depressingly tragic tale in all of DCAU canon. It's also, not coincidentally, one of the greatest. But I'd be lying if I said that it was one of my favorites, or that I looked forward to posting about it here.

In the wake of Batman Forever, the second season of Batman: The Animated Series was renamed The Adventures of Batman & Robin, to emphasize the presence of that damn smartass boy hostage. Following suit, The Batman Adventures was canceled (ending with a wonderful Hugo Strange story) and rebooted as Batman & Robin Adventures. What's more, the TBA creative team of Kelley Puckett and Mike Parobeck (a stellar team who had, in my opinion, only begun to produce some of their very best work) were replaced by TAS co-mastermind Paul Dini and original TBA artist Ty Templeton, who took over writing duties from Dini after issue #3.

They hit the ground running with their first outing, the two-part storyline Two-Timer, which was released little over a year after the bittersweetly hopeful Second Chance first aired. Unlike most DCAU tie-in comics, which were largely self-contained and didn't/couldn't really alter the status quo, Two-Timer took the ongoing story of Harvey Dent to new depths of tragedy, apparently shattering the lives of several characters beyond any hope of repair.

So yeah, this story is a downer, but it's not without a certain amount of sadistic glee provided by--who else?--the Joker himself, whose actions here count among the worst things that the Joker has ever done. Which is to say, there's far worse that you can do to someone than just kill them. It's a lesson that far too few writers seem to understand.

Here we see Harvey's fiancée, Grace Lamont, for the first time since Two-Face, Part II, and her absence has gone a long way to explain how Harvey went from being a tragic and complex character to a one-note villain in most of his appearances. I'm sure I've harped on this in the past whenever I've gone on at length about the importance of Gilda Dent, but I'll say it once more: there is no other character--not even Bruce Wayne--who is a direct anchor to the Harvey Dent who was. As such, Gilda/Grace is the single most important character to have in relation with Harvey/Two-Face, more so than even Batman himself.

That said, in the specific realm of the DCAU, Harvey's relationship with Bruce about equals the one he has with Grace in terms of importance. So leave it to a certain someone to cast aspersions on both, much to the dismay of most and the sadistic delight of others.

Joker, you dick. Playing Iago to Harvey's Othello, the Joker suggests that Bruce is really fronting Harvey's bills to keep him locked in Arkham "while he and Grace... y'know, wink-wink, nudge-nudge?" The guards end up having to drag a furious Harvey away from the Joker's cell, refusing to believe these lies. For now. And sure, while we know that the Joker is playing Harvey, I wonder how the latter would feel if he knew what his two best friends were actually spending some time together alone?

After visiting Harvey, Bruce takes Grace up to the rooftop of his new business complex, one which will be initially opened for shops and a theater, all with the long-term plan of eventually being opened up for low-income housing. So basically, it's a typically two-sided Bruce Wayne plan, hiding an act of philanthropy within a self-serving business venture.

Bruce invites her to the opening night gala for the complex, offering her just one worry-free night. Hesitant at first, she accepts and thanks Bruce for being such a good friend to Harvey... and to her, too. Hmmmmm... obviously, the Joker's insinuations are false, but might there not be a touch of truth to them?

For some reason, I feel like glaring at surrealname. Also: Jervis and Arnold: chess buddies forever!

The Joker is so wonderfully Looney Tunes in this story, which is especially effective when you consider that it doesn't make him any less dangerous. That's one big reason why Dini is a masterful Joker writer, and the artistic team of Templeton and Rick Burchett (who is tied with Templeton in my mind as being the MVP of the DCAU comics) are in top form here.

Try as he might to ignore the Joker, Harvey can only fume with rage when he finds the newspaper in his cell, with a front-page story about Bruce's new dream for the business complex. Meanwhile, the Joker steals a phone and proceeds to make his next move, calling up a certain somebody-somebody for--shall we say--"outside assistance." Oh, Joker, you dick.

Grace shows up at Bruce Wayne's soiree, dressed to the hilt in her most elegant finery but nervous and self-conscious just the same, as "it's been so long since I've done anything like this!" Taking her hand, Bruce assures her, "You'll be fine." Y'know, even without the Joker's machinations, I suspect that there's a wee bit more going on here than just friendship:

Ah. And there we go.

And yet again, I'm wondering if Dini read the Batman newspaper comic strip, where Bruce and Harvey were best friends (the first-ever instance of this idea in any medium!) and the former spent an awful lot of time with the latter's wife. In private. If that weren't enough, Bruce eventually does admit that he had feelings for her, although nothing ever came of them.

In this case, I don't suppose it counts as an emotional affair, or even just a one-sided affair on Grace's part, but it also helps to show that the Joker's suggestions are not entirely unfounded. There's a tiny little germ of truth which is breeding into a full-blown plague within poor Harvey's paranoid mind, and now a new player is about to help make it that much worse:

Hrm. Y'know, I never liked the fact that so many writers, including Dini, have Harley call people who aren't the Joker "puddin'." I always took that as a pet name for Mistah J specifically, not a casual term for everyone.

On her way out, Harley hands the photo of Grace kissing Bruce to the society editor for the Gotham Globe, assuring, "Here's a red-hot scoop for ya... they just announced their engagement!" Oh Harley, I am disappoint. Don't 'cha understand the importance of not messin' up true love? Me, I just wish I could include the subsequent fight scene between Harley and the heroes, as it plays to the strengths of Dini, Templeton, and Burchett at the top of their game.

Instead, let's fast-forward to the inevitable fallout:

And of course, Harvey goes on a rampage, stealing a gun and leaving a train of unconscious guards in his wake as he escapes Arkham. Batman openly suspects that Harvey was goaded by somebody...

"Sooo I pushed!" Man, talk about yet another way that the DCAU influenced and/or anticipated The Dark Knight.

Much as I want to hate the Joker for this, the "Because it was Tuesday!" is a brilliant moment that's both hilarious and--in my opinion--a bit chilling too. For the longest time, I took it to just mean that he did it for no other reason than he was bored and that it was fun, which of course would be typical Joker. It took me years to realize that, duh, "TWO's-day" is a pun! Thankfully for my ego, I've learned that I'm not the only one to have missed this pun on the first read.

Either way, it's a spectacular double-meaning (appropriate!), and one of the best examples of the Joker I've ever seen. The Joker has not just driven a decent man completely over the deep end, but he's also turned that man against the only two friends he has left in the world. To me, that's far more evil than just killing somebody.

After Grace is kidnapped, Batmand and Robin proceed to tear apart the underworld looking for Two-Face, with no leads and no luck.

Following Second Chance, which hinged on the importance of Batman's unwavering faith in Harvey, these panels feel like a cold hard smack in the face. But then, it doesn't help that they come from Dick bloody Grayson, a character who has never had a lick of sympathy for Harvey in any continuity.

As you may recall (since I certainly complained about it a lot), Second Chance featured Dick being a whiny, petulant brat over Bruce's concerns for Harvey: "Sorry. Harvey's my friend, and I'm worried about him." "Right, and I'm just a kid in tights. WAH." Perhaps the quote isn't 100% accurate, but that's how I always heard it.

So while Dick may be right about reminding Bruce that Two-Face is always going to be a part of Harvey, I don't like that it comes from Dick, of all people, and I especially don't like the "He's not Harvey, Batman" implying that there ISN'T actually an innocent there worth saving. Maybe Harvey wasn't really cured, but jeez, Dick, not all of him actually wanted to lose control again. Let's not forget this panel:

That's not the portrait of a guy who's looking for an excuse to go on a rampage. That's a man who is desperately trying to get better, and to fight against demons both internal and external while holding onto the two people left in his life who were still supporting him. As such, I'm kind of annoyed by how Paul Dini's own narrative seems to now be supporting Robin here, when it isn't reflected in what came before.

Also, hey, why does the above scene seem familair? Oh right, because it was recycled by James Robinson for that OTHER "Harvey goes insane again" story, Batman: Face the Face, published about twelve years later:

Speaking as someone who usually likes Tim far more than any of the other Robins, now I know why he annoyed me so much there: he was sounding just like Dick. Look, I appreciate that both Robins don't want their father figures to be tormenting themselves, but I really don't like how they both seem to be speaking for the narrative itself to shift the blame back on Harvey Dent, making it his own fault that he's insane and that he was "waiting" for an excuse to be evil.

As such, the next scene gives me a small touch of satisfaction as Dick slips back into his civvies and heads back to his dorm room, only to find a few unwelcome visitors:

While Harvey is saying this because of how it all ties into his belief that Bruce and Grace were having an affair, I think it's incredibly illuminating that he had always noticed something two-faced about Bruce Wayne. This is a real change from the likes of Pretty Poison and The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne, where Harvey seemed blissfully unaware that Bruce was anything other than his façade.

Then again, as I said in my Strange Secret review, I always liked to believe that Harvey knows--on some subconscious level--that Bruce is Batman. That may be unlikely, I admit, but I find it very interesting how this scene shows that some part of Harvey has always noticed (and resented) the sense of duplicity from his best friend. That's the most insidious part of the Joker's manipulation here: it's a giant lie cupcake with a few truth sprinkles on top.

Harvey's recognition of Alfred and his sardonic tone are nice touches that further hint that how close he and Bruce once were. It's kind of like Tommy Elliot, only less Gary-Stu-out-of-nowhere, without any obnoxiously cute nicknames like "Alf." And so, following Harvey's instructions, Bruce arrives on the rooftop that night, walking straight into Two-Face's trap:

Even after all these years, this is so painful to read. Not even in the comics has Harvey gone after Bruce and Gilda/Grace like this. We're watching him burn it all down right in front our eyes, completely unaware of just how horribly he's mistaken.

... goddammit, internet, why did you ever give me slash-goggles? Cannot unsee...

Oh shut UP, Dick.

Bruce and Dick manage to escape their bonds and hop on the Batwing before the bombs go off. At this point, okay, I need to ask something that's bugging me: which side of Harvey is in control here? Are there even two sides at all anymore? Even in the first part before he snapped again, Harvey seemed to entirely be his old self, or at least, just one personality.

Is this further evidence of how screwed up he's gotten due to Dr. Crest's treatments before and after Second Chance? Is even the best part of Harvey now perverted by paranoia, hatred, and obsessive control? I truly do not know, and I can't even decide if the narrative is being purposely ambiguous or just plain muddled, so it shall have to be up to you to decide as we get down to the miserable conclusion.

His horror-struck reaction is the surest indication that there is still some Harvey lost within the storm of Two-Face's madness, which immediately twists that hurt into full-blown just before Batman and Robin arrive in the nick of time. The whole time I read this story, I kept hoping that maybe, just maybe, there would be some semblance of a bittersweet ending to come from this, that Harvey could learn his mistake and defeat his evil side, or that Bruce's faith could bring out the Harvey within.

"There's nothing left to save." That line is utterly heartbreaking, especially since I can't believe that it's true, even if Bruce does.

I can understand his frustration, disappointment, and anger in this moment. But at the same time, I can't shake the feeling that by openly giving up on any hope of Harvey's redemption, he's letting Two-Face win. You know, the part of Harvey that sabotaged his own rehabilitation in Second Chance? Look at Two-Face smile after Batman says that, and tell me that he isn't *satisfied* to hear that Batman's finally abandoned Harvey. Even with Grace saved, this is a story where the monsters have won.

Also: hey, it's the return of Paul Dini's inexplicable jagged-edge coin, which was previously used in Dini's own Almost Got 'Im for similarly contrived plot purposes! To make matters worse, it only appeared jagged in this crucial moment, whereas it was whole and normal everywhere else in this story! Man, that annoying little detail just makes this defeat all the more bitter.

God. There is no gif nor emoticon that can adequately convey my sadness. Between Batman's words, Grace's bitterly-hardened manner, and what seems to be Harvey pleading in the distance, I don't think there's another Two-Face story that's quite as sad as this one.

Yeah, objectively, I know that this is an excellent comic. It's pure tragedy, and in some ways an even deeper tragedy than even the two-part origin episodes of the show. Even though everyone lost at the end there, at least that episode ended on a small measure of hope. Not so here. This is as over as it gets, and even if there is still Harvey within Two-Face, he'll have to no more allies, no more friends holding out for him. He'll be battling his demon alone, and even if he triumphs and regains full control of his mind, the Joker and Two-Face have ensured that there will be nothing left waiting for Harvey.

So what's left? Does this mean that has nowhere else to go in this series but to continue as Two-Face, master criminal and villain? No, thankfully, some of the very best Harvey stories are yet to come, courtesy of Ty Templeton taking over on writing. Regardless of this ending, Harvey will still manage to have a triumph or two in his future, and Templeton's follow-up story goes a long way to making up for the depressing nature of this ending.

If you want to read this or other DCAU Batman comics, you're in luck! The digital comic shop Comixology has made a great many of these comics--most of which are hard to find--available for just .99¢ each! YAY! Their runs aren't complete (they're seriously lacking when it comes to their selection of the first series, The Batman Adventures), but they have ALL of Batman & Robin Adventures (Vol. 2) and Batman Adventures (Vol. 4), plus most of Batman: Gotham Adventures (Vol. 3)! Check out the full selection of them here, and again, they're only 99¢ each, which is a great price to own some of the best Batman comics ever published!

And, of course, if you just want to read both parts of Two Timer, you can find them here and here! Definitely check them out in full!
Tags: dcau, dick grayson, gilda dent, harley quinn, james robinson, joker, mad hatter, paul dini, reading list: two-face in the dcau, rick burchett, robin(s), ty templeton, ventriloquist and scarface
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