about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

Comic Review: Matt Wagner's "Batman: Faces" (1992)

Preface: This story deals with sensitive subjects, mainly concerning circus sideshow performers, and I'm not quite sure what the protocol is when it comes to discussing such people. Google didn't yield much in the way of help, so if I end up saying anything incorrect, inappropriate, or offensive, please let me know and I shall change the review accordingly.

Also, you may notice that this review has absolutely nothing to do with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which is today. Regardless, I hope that you're having a good one whether you celebrate it or not, no matter your circumstances! See y'all when the tryptophan coma wears off!

Matt Wagner's three-part Two-Face story, Batman: Faces (1992), is a Bat-classic by a master comics storyteller working at the height of his abilities, one that's been hailed by the likes of Joe R. Lansdale and blogs like Comics Should Be Good. The latter particularly hailed it as "a great Two-Face story," and Mark Waid went one step further, listing it in the top four "Essential Storylines" for Harvey Dent. That lofty standard alone would have caused me to harshly scrutinize Faces, but the fact is that this story has never sat well with me when it comes to its depiction of Two-Face.

One way or another, there's just something about what Harvey does in this story that just seems fundamentally wrong for the character. I've theorized that if this had used the Oswald Cobblepot instead of Harvey, it would be one of the greatest goddamn Penguin stories ever published, which is a shame all the more because the Penguin needs more great stories! Croc would have also worked perfectly, especially considering that circus sideshows play a very large part, and it would have played with similar ideas as the B:TAS episode Sideshow.

But on second thought, perhaps I'm unfairly judging a great story--and it is a pretty damn great story--just because it doesn't fit my (admittedly-exacting) view of Harvey. For one thing, it's rooted to the popular idea that Harvey's insanity is directly tied to his vanity, which is one of my least favorite classic tropes about Two-Face. Regardless of my misgivings, the vanity aspect is a legitimate one depending on which canon you follow.

Taken within that context, is Faces a great Two-Face story even if it doesn't have my preferred version of the character? Or do the problems with Wagner's Two-Face go deeper than my superficial nit-picks? Are the flaws with this Two-Face merely skin deep, or does it go down to the bone?

Faces originally ran in issues #28-30 of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, which *might* just be the single greatest Batman ongoing series ever. Overblown hyperbole? Probably. At the very least, the first fifty or seventy-five issues are worth reading. Headed up by editor Andrew Helfer, whom I consider to be the greatest editor who ever worked at DC (and not just because he wrote my favorite Two-Face story ever), LotDK was a host to unparalleled talent working to tell all manner of Batman stories with relative creative freedom, all published with the best quality paper and printing of any comics I've ever read.

Even the failures were interesting ones, and among the successes in the first fifty issues include such great stories as Gothic (one of the only Grant Morrison Batman comics I love, so go figure that the Comics Should Be Good--who dub Morrison "God Of All Comics"--deemed that it "falls a bit short"), Prey, Venom, Blades, and Hothouse. Heck, I'd even include Loeb and Sale's original three Halloween specials in the must-read categories! When LotDK was on fire, there was nothing else like it on the shelves, and no other single Batman series has yielded quite as many timeless, standalone, casual-reader-friendly storylines that were all easy to collect and publish in graphic novel form. From both creative and marketing standpoints, LotDK was a great, great series.

At about the issue #50 mark, the track record for quality got spottier, possibly because Andrew Helfer left DC (was he fired?), and was placed by "Mr. Nice" himself, Archie Goodwin. Goodwin was a great writer and editor in his own right, but in my estimation, his eye for talent yielded less rousing successes. He's also the guy who championed the team of Loeb and Sale, but as I liked those early stories, I can't blame him for that.

After Goodwin's untimely passing, the quality of LotDK's fare became depressingly standard and forgettable. From this point on, it was less of a showcase for talent to tell offbeat Batman stories, and more just another Batman book, albeit one that had the notable attribute of being continuity-free when it wasn't crossing over into events. You can still find gems like Going Sane and The Demon Laughs, but I'm at a loss to name any other truly great storylines. If you guys have any favorites I didn't mention, tell us about them in the comments!

That lack of continuity, I should mention, was one of LotDK's main hooks. Well, that, and the fact that there's no Robin, since it's set in Bruce's early crime-fighting days in the mold of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One. Generally speaking, it's best to treat these as out of continuity unless otherwise noted, a policy that will help you reconcile the fact that this is set in Batman's early days even though he seems to already have a history with the star of our show, whom we find cooling his heels in Arkham.

Let's begin, shall we?

And he strangles the guard with his own key chain. Oh, Harvey, you scamp! We don't actually see this, since the scene cuts to Jim Gordon telling Harvey about the murder and escape, which occurred at 2:22 AM. "Which means it's not Harvey we're after," Gordon says, and Batman finishes the thought: "He's Two-Face again." So while this is out of continuity, we can assume that Harvey's gone on a Two-Face crime spree at least once or twice before this point. There's already history here, even if Matt Wagner chooses not to elaborate upon it.

Right away, Wagner's art is all about mood and minimalism, and the color palate by Steve Oliff suits him beautifully. While Harvey's unscarred side will show up in flesh tone a couple times, it will usually appear pale and washed out as it does here above. It's a beautiful choice, but one that wouldn't work in book with a more conventional use of coloring. I'm also a big fan of how he'll draw the scarring throughout this story, particularly the fact that Wagner made it a point in his sketches (included in the TPB) that it should be "RED" since he's a burn victim and it "stresses the 'devil inside' motif." Good choices! *nods approvingly*

Harvey vanishes for exactly two years, which is a hell of a long time for Gotham to be without one of its most famous rogues. Again: out of continuity. When next we see Bruce, he's at a masquerade being held at the French consulate, where he hopes to buy an island. Like you do.

Bruce's reasons for wanting D'Urberville's island aren't explained, so we have to assume that he probably plans to turn it into his own Euro-Batcave. A little bit of pre-"Batman Inc" planning going on here? While Bruce and and Paul D'Urberville hash out the plan, Nelson Wren is distracted by the affections of a mysterious French woman who seems very interested in his work:

Even if you didn't catch the big cheesy clue in the dialogue (I wouldn't have, but I know Henchgirl would, as she is a smarty pants cookie), anyone who's seen a film noir should be able to tell exactly what's going on here: she's the femme fatale, and he's the sucker. Her "REALLY?!" is hilariously unsubtle, and it especially works because Wren is clearly too smitten to notice. But as you can guess from that scream, their amorous mood is interrupted by foul shenanigans within the masquerade!

Eyugh! That's rather more Black Mask's style than Harvey's, isn't it? Once again, it's a shame that no writer has really tried to play Harvey and Roman off of one another, since this is just another way in which their mutual favorite themes seem to intersect. Also, it only now occurs to me how disappointing it is that no modern Black Mask writers have kept the whole "he makes his enemies wear masks that fuse to their faces and kills them" thing, because that's such a wonderfully disturbing M.O.

Deducing that the mask was "rigged with a slow release of molecular acid," Batman (somehow) concludes that the plastic surgeon's murder was merely a distraction from Harvey's real objective: to steal "an immense jade yin-yang being installed tonight for the upcoming Asian exhibit at the Gotham museum. The warring sides of life... of a man's very soul..."

Right away, this touches upon the idea of Harvey as a man at war with himself. Unfortunately, this conflict never comes up in this entire story. For Wagner's purposes, this Two-Face is someone who has already lost that war in his soul the moment the coin came down in Arkham, and there's only one side in control this whole time. The only exception we get is right before the robbery, when Harvey seems to be conferring with himself. Even then, it just sounds like the evil side talking with the evil side.

Note: Hey, is this the first-ever instance of Two-Face's dialogue being depicted via scratchy, scary-looking word balloons? I think it is!

This lack of conflict (despite lip service being paid to Harvey's duality) is one major reason why this story has always underwhelmed me. Still, as that Comics Should Be Good review noted, this story is remarkable for how it avoids going into those ideas in favor of what Wagner has to say instead. So let's see Wagner's Two-Face in action, as his henchmen wheel out the pilfered giant jade yin-yang:

Besides the scarring detail, which I especially love in the "An icon of our duality" page, I'm quite fond of how Wagner and Oliff illustrate Harvey's style. The silver-gray looks great, and I love the stylized black-and-red checkers that go in an uninterpreted pattern no matter what position he's in. It's a snazzy look, and combined with the scarring, it's one of my favorite Two-Face designs.

I think it's also important to note that Harvey's talking about starting a new beginning, with an emphasis on wiping out his "dark and ugly past." I wish I knew what exactly Wagner had in mind when he said that, because what does this Harvey consider "dark and ugly" about his own past? I wish I could say that it pertains to his childhood abuse or his tormented psychological state, but based on where this is going, I think it has more to do with how he was (or thought he was) shunned and hated for his hideousness after the scarring. Still, I'm intrigued that Harvey's motivation seems to be gaining a fresh start, which is rather sympathetic... give or take a few murders and ruined lives.

The henchmen use the giant jade disc as a battering ram against Batman, knocking him aside and numbing his arm completely as Harvey and his goons escape with their prize. Never let it be said that the villains never win! Meanwhile, Nelson Wren--the broker/sucker, who is still reeling with delight from his encounter with Manon--receives a mysterious disguised visitor with an outRAYYYgeous French accent who claims to be verrrry interested in the deal between Wayne and D'Urberville:

Yes, who could this mysterious masked man (whose left eye we never see) possibly be? Well, I suppose that it's not entirely obvious, since one could be thrown for a loop into thinking that it's not Harvey because his word balloons aren't scratchy and horrific like they were in the robbery. But if it is Harvey ([Spoiler (click to open)]duh), then does this mean that his good side is pretending to be a masked Frenchman while the bad side takes over the openly Two-Face stuff? I'd say that counts as duality, except that both sides are working towards the same evil goal, so perhaps duplicity is more appropriate.

Wren tells Bruce that another buyer is interested, and after thanking the sucker, Bruce suggests that they and Paul meet up to talk turkey on the track at the Gotham Men's Club. The page that follows is a testament to Wagner's abilities as a writer/artist, and it goes a long way to explaining this story's enduring appeal.

It should be noted that this page serves little purpose to the narrative. More than anything else, it seems to just be here for Wagner to show off his storytelling skills, and with a neat page like this, he can't be faulted for that. But it's just kind of empty in terms of story, and it doesn't say much about the characters that we couldn't already figure out. Wren is out of shape compared to Bruce and Paul? Gasp shock.

Then again, I suppose it does help illustrate why Wren should be so willing to let himself get suckered in by Manon's wiles. Earlier on at the end of the masquerade, after the whole "That guy's goddamn face just peeled off, ew!" debacle, Manon agreed to a date with Wren, who was left reeling with hormone-filled joy. "Good lord, she's a goddess!" he exclaimed. "Ha-ha, who says you need to be over six feet and have a zillion bucks?"

Personally, I think that moment was enough to establish why he'd fall in with Manon, but just to drive it home (and to make Wren's next actions more plausible), Wagner follows the above page with this next transition which seems to suggest that Manon makes the insecure Wren feels every bit as handsome and fit as Bruce and Paul:

Between the coloring and the hair curl, I wonder if Wagner is purposely drawing her like Neil Gaiman's Death? Femme Fatale indeed! She confesses that she shall have to be leaving soon for France with her cousin, a fellow realtor. Before going, Wren meets this "Cousin Hervé" himself, although only briefly, and only from the neck up.

In the first panel, Cousin Hervé is strongly hinted at being the man with the mysterious third party rather than Harvey, but that red herring is disproven in the very next panel when we see that he has no legs. But Wren doesn't see that, so the mystery misdirection is no longer for the benefit of us--the audience--but for poor sucker Wren.

I love that second to last panel and how elegantly it depicts Wren as a very little man caught up in a very big scheme that will soon overwhelm him, but he's too greedy and too horny to see it. This, needless to say, is where Wren makes his biggest mistake. Being suckered into Harvey's scheme with the promise Manon's affections was one thing, but to paraphrase Martin Prince's father, "You got greedy, Nelson!"

Around that same time, Batman is stalking Harvey's next likely victim: another plastic surgeon, this one who is attending the opera with his wife to celebrate their twenty-second anniversary. Did I mention that two nights have passed since the last murder?

Welp, so much for Batman's protection! He hunts down the sniper and terrorizes him into confessing his connection to Harvey, whom the killer admits he met in France. Man, did Harvey take a cue from Hugo Strange and spend his Batman-free time away from Gotham to build his criminal empire?

I do find it interesting that Harvey is described here as someone who both craves and shuns attention. Hey, does that count as internal conflict? I'm not so sure, but it's intriguing nonetheless, especially as it plays into the themes of insecurity as embodied by Wren. Assuring the nebbish sucker to "Leave D'Urberville's persuasion to me," Harvey allowed Wren to see him slip away in "Cousin Hervé's" limo (thus furthering the con) before heading back to his hideout, where he can hang up his mask and be himself in the company of his... peers?

Aw, Harvey's made some new friends! And/or henchmen. And/or captives. Good and/or bad for Harvey!

So yes, the legless Cousin Hervé was foreshadowing for the next stage of Harvey's plan, which involves a dozen or so... well, what's the proper term for people like these? I don't want to call them "freaks" or "oddities," since they're just people with various conditions that cannot be homogenized under a single label with than a common profession of being sideshow performers.

Well, for lack of a better word to encompass this group as a whole, I may end up resorting to "freaks" for a couple reasons. First, because the word "freaks" has become a go-to label to describe the Gotham rogues in general, Harvey included, and I think it's worth keeping that in mind as we look at the types of people who have typically been associated with that word. Second, I'm fairly certain that Tod Browning's cult classic Freaks is a major inspiration for this story, as well as many of these new characters, so any similarities are likely not coincidental.

I have to wonder how many of these medical terms are accurate and/or have since become outdated. "Vertical hermaphrodite" sounds particularly suspect to me. Some of their names also stand out to me. I, for one, had no idea that A.C. Slater had a parasitic twin in his chest the whole time. Also, I find it amusing that the name "Alain Rachins" is one letter away from being the guy who would voice Clock King on B:TAS in a year or so from this story's publication!

But hark! A plot hole! How did Batman know to investigate missing sideshow performers? The last thing he learned about Harvey was that he spent some time in France, shopping around for capable snipers. Where did Batman jump from that to "Say, I wonder if any sideshow performers have gone missing?" Considering that Batman's role in this story is mainly focused on trying to save the lives of plastic surgeons, I'm not sure that he even needed (from a narrative point) to know about the missing freaks. That information could just as easily have been conveyed to us--the readers--via Harvey himself, perhaps via a roll call right before his next appearance right here.

Meet the original "One-Face!" None of that Harvey-on-Venom/Titan/Whatever crap! Also, here's a handy tip: don't show this comic to your Henchgirl when she's pregnant. It really won't help the anxiety about having our child end up with birth defects. Trust me, it's not a good idea.

So wait, back up... "My people?" What, is Harvey now styling himself as the Magneto of the deformed, and is Isle D'Urberville to be his own personal Asteroid M/Utopia? Okay, so Wagner is definitely going for the classic Two-Face idea that he's hideous and therefore shunned by society. Gotcha. Sigh.

I know I've said this before, but I really don't care for themes of vanity and beauty vs. ugliness in my Two-Face stories, as I think there are far more interesting things to say with a formerly noble D.A. and friend of Batman who became an insane coin-flipping killer. Give me stories about fate, chance, duality, friendship, betrayal, anger, justice, and/or vengeance (just to name a few) over a story that hinges on his looks. But okay, context is everything, and Wagner definitely has his reasons for playing Harvey this way.

Suspecting another target, Batman stalks a plastic surgeon who has a twin brother. Even after investigating every scrap of the house for signs of poison or sabotage, the surgeon is nonetheless murdered thanks to Harvey planning two steps ahead. Man, between the robbery and the murders, Batman is 0-4 with Harvey! Kind of nice to see the bad guy winning so often! With Batman focused on his repeated failures to save these surgeons, Harvey sends his legman Anton "Cousin Hervé" Ecole to sneak into D'Urberville's house and gather blackmail-worthy information. It's funny because the legman has no legs! Ha-ha!

The next day, the deal between Wayne and D'Urberville continues to move ahead as planned with Wayne making his downpayment, while by night, Batman finally manages to save one of the plastic surgeons around the same time that Paul D'Urberville receives a certain unwelcome visitor.

Damn, Paul, I bet you're regretting not taking Harvey's forty million dollar bid when you had the chance! The next day, D'Urberville vanishes from public view and Wayne's down payment, which naturally makes strikes Bruce as highly suspicious. Wren, meanwhile, passes the bank transaction number of Bruce's down payment onto French!Harvey, who in turns sends Manon along to reward Wren for his faithful service.

On the off chance that you didn't notice her earrings (an entirely forgivable oversight), she's sporting the Yin-Yang symbol in the same color as the giant jade one that Harvey stole. Thus, whatever utopian confederacy that Harvey and Manon are in, the jade Yin-Yang is their crest. For me, this is where the themes and symbolism get even more screwed up.

Like, I can obviously understand why Harvey would want to utilize that symbol, sure. But his actual plan to create an island refuge for "his people" (and Manon's involvement in it) have little to do with duality. Remember the ad at the very start of this review? "Everyone has more than one face that they wear in public. Some people... have no choice." While that does explain why Harvey would feel kinship with the freaks, it doesn't have anything to do with duality.

The whole point is that these people--and Harvey himself--have one and ONLY one face to show the world! So how can the Yin-Yang symbol be a "crest for a new beginning" for "his people," not to mention Manon? Furthermore, I thought the yin-yang was "an icon of our duality." How does that apply to anyone other than Two-Face? Perhaps that's the point. Or perhaps this is, ironically, just two separate Two-Face subplots smooshed awkwardly into one. As if that weren't enough, Wren has his own subplot going on, one that will come to reflect Harvey's own in subtle ways.

Man, that panel looks like the seediest Family Circus strip ever. After calling the French Consulate, Wren learns that there is no "Comte de la Enance," and he finally starts to suspect that something stinks here. After hours of driving around in a haze of worry, he tracks down Manon and demands that she tell him the truth. Rather than torture us with more stereotypical over-the-top French accented dialogue, Manon mercifully just shoots Wren instead.

Don't worry, kids! To quote Werner Herzog, "It wasn't a significant bullet." All she did was give poor Wren a taste of sweet, sweet tranquilizer dart. Although considering what's ahead of him, a quick bullet might have been more merciful, even if it meant that he would have to live with the Dart Monkey on his back. Meanwhile, Wren isn't the only member of the "Say, who wants to buy an island?" gang who's having a lousy day.

Now a miserable shell of his usual dashing self, D'Urberville begs Bruce not to fight the bid and admits that he's being blackmailed by someone calling himself "Count Enance" (say it aloud), which is just the kind of ridiculous pun that I'd be writing all the time if I wrote comics.

From there, Bruce learns that a pilot was kidnapped at the same time he saved that one plastic surgeon. The pilot was scheduled to fly "the first trans-Atlantic dirigible flight in over seventy-five years--the Gothzeppelin," and that's what Harvey will use for transportation to Isle D'Urberville. So yes, this story is getting a blimp. Awesome!

Bruce heads to the hangar where the Gothzepplin (an awesome name for a band, by the way) is housed, only to end up getting knocked out. When he comes to, he finds that there's good news and bad news. The good news is that he found both Harvey and the Gothzeppelin! The bad news?

Well, how awkward. But really, at this point, it's kind of hard not to love this story. Well, that's assuming you're like me, and you're a sucker for old trope of "Art Deco Noir Superhero Story that Features a Blimp." Okay, so maybe by "trope," I mean The Rocketeer. Don't judge me, you know you love it too. And thus, with the hero strapped to the Gothzepplin, Harvey allows himself a moment to wax villainously (and kinda slashily) about how Batman is "so sleek, so powerful, so perfectly perfect..." (stop saying that!) "... except for one thing..."

Damn it, Harvey, don't just leave him there! Hang him! Shoot him! Hit 'im with a rock! Geez, don't you know that he's going to get away while you're not looking?! ... Why am I shouting at a comic?

Seriously, though, Batman's attempt to get through to Harvey seems out of place in the context of this story, as if this is the go-to speech that Batman just has to give when confronted with Two-Face. It just seems to hit a false note since we never see any sense of internal conflict within this Two-Face, nor any sense of the difference is between the "Harvey" that Batman is talking about and the "Two-Face" we clearly see. It's no wonder that Harvey just shrugs off Batman's half-assed attempt here. Still, even if Harvey's duality is once again only given lip service, this scene does serve a purpose by the end, so keep it in mind.

Nelson Wren awakens inside Harvey's "Fun House," and realizes that he's been had. Harvey "thanks" him for the massive downpayment and then gloats, "Heh, you could not distinguish a real French accent from a fake one, but were still lost to its charming allure." So remember that, folks: if you ever want to con somebody, impersonate Pepé Le Pew. But only use your bad French accent for good, never for evil!

As if this revelation weren't enough, Wren is visited by Manon, who pities him for only loving her form and her face without ever really knowing her. So she decides to show him.

Okay, first of all, that's an impressive beard especially considering that she was clean-shaven only hours earlier. Wagner could just as easily have shown her with light stubble and then had her show Wren a photo of her work in sideshows, where she could have been sporting a full "Alan Moore Special," but I guess it wouldn't have the same dramatic impact as "BEARD! DUM-DUM-DUUUUM!" Really, though... I can suspend disbelief for a lot of things, but unless hair growth is her mutant power, then "spontaneous beardage" is apparently the deal-breaker for me.

Two panels later, Manon vanishes from this story entirely, which is a shame. As usual, the female character gets the short end of the "character development" stick, and it would have been nice to have known her motivations a bit better. Like Harvey, she seems to be driven to get back at the world that's given her so much hell for her appearance, and it's Wren to gets to face (hurr) the full brunt of her anger.

Thing is, I'm not sure Wren entirely deserves it. Oh, he deserves some comeuppance for being greedy, naive, and two-faced (ahhh!), but that's not what this moment seems to be about. Here, it seems like he's being treated as the everyman representative of our appearance-based society, but he was never particularly superficial beyond his own insecurity compared to the handsome likes of Wayne and D'Urberville.

Now, if he'd been shown judging the appearances of other women like a self-described "Nice Guy," this moment would be a satisfying Twilight Zone style twist of the knife, as Wren would be hit right where it hurts in the worst part of him. But that's not the case here, so it seems unfair to hold him up as the everyman of a society that passes "lecherous approval" on those they deem beautiful, while rejecting and scorning the rest.

That said, Manon's point IS fair, and in another context, this moment is a powerful condemnation on society's standards of beauty, something with the B:TAS episode Mean Seasons pulled off to excellent effect. Besides, the story gives us no reason to believe that Manon isn't accurately calling Wren out on his bullshit, and it's entirely possible that he would have treated her just like everyone else has, so we can accept that reading if we wish.

But it just seems to me that Wren's real crime was in being a little man who got in way over his head, all for the love of a woman which he truly thought he could never have under normal circumstances. He's a Seymour Krelborn who made a Faustian bargain for love, and all because he was insecure about himself and envious of his handsome acquaintances. But if that's the case, then when Manon says that he cannot hide from himself, what does that say about the next page?

If this (awesomely laid-out) page is meant to punctuate Wren's inability to hide from himself, then it looks like this is meant to be a play on a twisted "House of Mirrors" scenario wherein Wren is faced with his own insecurities via the freaks. That's what I get out of this page, anyway. Even if that's the case, then I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. It kinda feels like it's inviting us to gawk at them along with Wren, and much like the horrific climax of the movie Freaks (which until that point repeatedly emphasized that these people were human beings, not creepy monsters), it feels like the story is trying to have it both ways.

A more effective reveal comes when Wren is thrown into a holding cell along with D'Urberville, who comes clean about that Harvey is using to blackmail him.

My immediate reaction to this was "Now wait, why can't someone as wealthy as Paul D'Urberville couldn't have found SOME way to get hush-hush plastic surgery?" which was in turn followed by my next reaction, "Even if he could have, why the hell SHOULD he?"

This, naturally, is at the crux of what Wagner is getting at here, which will reach its climax with Harvey soon enough. For Paul, it's preferable to hide behind a mask rather than try to change himself into something he's not. I'm tempted to describe Paul as being "closeted," but I'm not sure if that would be an apt metaphor or just tasteless appropriation.

In any case, when it comes to Wren's illusions about beauty (and his own immediate future), this strikes me as the more effective moment for them to be shattered. That said, he's given reason to hope once more when Batman frees himself from the Gothzeppelin and comes to the rescue! Unfortunately, he botches the job and gets taken prisoner by Harvey again. Man, Bruce, you suck at this.

Yes, this is presumably where Batman Forever was inspired to give Harvey a bleeding red-and-black yin-yang as his crest. The "bleeding" here works because I can buy that it was just from a rushed paint job (because you really want to cover up all that hideous jade and all), but the movie had no such excuse other than "it looks cool and evil, right?"

Harvey's line about how "fate has chosen... and cannot be denied" is interesting considering that this is the same guy who said "My people... soon they shall have that which fate has denied them... a refuge from the staring eyes of blah blah blah, etc." How can Harvey be saying that fate cannot be denied, when all along his goal has been to defy fate's rule when it comes to "his" people?

In keeping with this seemingly being a Two-Face who is ALL evil, it's also worth noting that the third instance we've seen him flipping the coin in this entire story was to decide which person to kill. He was going to commit murder either way. This lack of internal conflict or even regret is what has always made this a weak Two-Face story to me, and why I think it would have worked better with a more appropriate villain. Even his questionable adherence to fate feels out of place in this story, as it just seems to be an excuse to throw out the "leftovers." Literally.

I guess you could say that Nelson Wren was... *puts on shades* ... the fall guy. "BYEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH--" But seriously, that's a miserable, awful way to go. He wasn't a good man, but he didn't deserve this, and I think that Batman's pitying judgment of Wren is fair enough. I have to wonder if he might have survived if he hadn't gotten greedy and demanded 25% of Wayne's bid, or if Harvey was planning on killing the sucker either way. I like the former idea more, that his choice to be greedy sealed his fate, but then again, this story has enough issues with fate as it is. I guess it doesn't matter.

Managing to make break into the blimp (how? Because he's the Goddamn Batman, that's how!), he finds himself once again in Harvey's sights. When Two-Face asks why Batman can't seem to grasp "the honor in this cause" and "the necessity of my actions," Batman reminds him that Harvey kinda sorta murdered several innocent men to get here. Harvey, naturally, has no regrets for killing those three plastic surgeons:

Two things. First, notice that this is the first time that Harvey's word balloon has changed from the scratchy, scary "Two-Face" voice, something that didn't happen even in the one instance where he talked with himself earlier on before the robbery. Is this the first true appearance of Harvey Dent, the side that's buried underneath the Two-Face we've seen all story? If so, what does this say about how Wagner sees Harvey's mental illness? Help me out here, because I don't know what to make of it.

Secondly: "He said he'd kill me if I didn't cooperate..." "Said he'd kill my kids." In this moment, Two-Face is revealed to be a fanatical hypocrite who doesn't speak for "his people," but rather a villain who will force those he claims to protect into obeying his whims. Any ideas of him being a Magneto-style "noble villain" are dashed, and now that he's been revealed to us, all that's left is for Harvey to be confronted with the truth about himself. This happens shortly after the blimp crashes.

Making a break for it, Harvey stumbled upon a "perfectly perfect" place to hide: a circus conveniently located at the edge of town. The appearance of this circus isn't entirely random, as Wagner briefly mentioned it in the second part when Batman noticed that no sideshow performers have gone missing from there. By the admittance of Wagner's own narrative, this circus being here at all is still a "coincidence," but it serves a purpose when Harvey's stopped dead in his tracks by one of the attractions there.

Unless a miss my guess, The Man With Two Faces is based on a real person, Bob Melvin, who was featured in the documentary Being Different. I can't help but wonder if Melvin might have inspired Wagner to create this entire story about Two-Face and sideshow performers. But when all's said and done, there's a fundamental difference between Wagner's Harvey and the people he would claim to co-opt as his own.

Man. While Harvey has a long and storied history with having epic meltdowns, this one might be one of the most emotionally charged. It's a brutal condemnation of the character, one that cuts him down to the core and exposes all the ways that Two-Face has been deluding himself. He could have had a normal life even after the scarring, but he chose to become a bitter criminal instead.

It's the ugliest, most painful truth that he could face, and it causes him to break down so completely that he's nearly ready to defy the coin and shoot anyway, even though his "good" side is the one screaming in that moment. At least, I think that's what's happening there. Wagner never really defined the mental state of what this Two-Face, so it's hard to tell just what's going on with the scratchy/not-scratchy word balloons, and just how mentally ill Harvey is supposed to be here.

As such, that muddles the question of just how responsible Harvey is or isn't for what he became. Is he correct in the idea that he's suffered more, that he's gone through more torment and this is the result? Or did he truly choose to become what he is? Even though the Man with 2-Faces gets the last word, I suppose the answer is ultimately for us to decide. All that really matters is that Harvey himself was confronted with the truth that, as Two-Face, he is a monster. He's the kind of man who is so filled with insecurity and self-loathing that he is ready to fashion himself as champion of the "freaks" whether they want him or not.

Again, this is kind of why I think this story might have been more powerful if they'd used the Penguin or Croc, both of whom have experience with hating society while craving its acceptance. What makes Harvey different from them and from any of the other "freaks" is that he was not born that way, and the majority of his life was spent as a handsome, "normal" person. This just makes his eagerness to co-opt the "freaks" for his own cause all the more poignant, albeit in a reprehensible way.

Bruce, however, sees Harvey's motivations in a more sympathetic light, as the two have mirrored epilogues in their respective bases.

I hate to say it, since I always love it when someone expresses sympathy or pity towards Harvey, but I can't entirely agree with Bruce's idea that Harvey was just seeking justice. That would have held more true if this were Penguin or Croc, but with Harvey--this version of Harvey, I stress--he seeks not justice, but validation. As such, this is truly one of the ugliest depictions at Two-Face I've ever seen, and you know that I don't mean his appearance. Which, go figure, I love here.

Still, I can't help but wonder what it might have been like if this Harvey actually had been a Magneto-style anti-villain who really did have the best interests of "his people" at heart. I would love to read an Elseworlds story that actually shows us what life is like for King Two-Face of Deformity Nation, and if he could have truly been happy there. Obviously, another thing that would need to change is that everyone would have to be there willingly, but still... if they had been willing, and if Harvey's motivations were genuinely altruistic rather than selfish, then this ending could have been far more bittersweet and tragic. Oh well.

All that said, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed dissecting this story. Regardless of my mixed feelings regarding this Harvey, he does work within the context of a story that, as a whole, is an excellent Batman tale. It's a great example of comics storytelling, one that marries the writing and art together seamlessly instead of doing what too many comics have done, which is to essentially illustrate someone's movie script. Wagner's art is not only atmospherically pretty, but also functional and fun, and while he's done some other Batman stories since then, he has yet to top the accomplishment that was Batman: Faces... warts and all.

The trade paperback of Faces is commonly available, having just been reissued with a new logo to tie it in with Wagner's recent minis, Batman and the Monster Men and Batman and the Mad Monk. If you prefer digital comics, then all three issues are currently available for $1.99 each, so about $6.00 all told! Not a bad deal!
Tags: comic reviews, matt wagner

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