about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

DCAU Review: "Fifty-Fifty" from "Batman & Robin Adventures #22" (1997)

Ty Templeton was the original DCAU Batman comic artist who returned to title when it was rebooted as The Batman & Robin Adventures, but it wasn't until issue #4 that he took over writing duties. His writing style wasn't quite as gracefully operatic as the Puckett/Parobeck era of The Batman Adventures, but he more than made up for that by packing each issue with character moments that expanded upon the lives of these heroes and villains between the televised episodes, as well as the comic appearances that the show would never end up acknowledge.

This was especially true in the case of Two-Face, especially in the aftermath of Paul Dini's Two Timer from TB&RA #1-2. As you'll recall, that story expanded upon both Harvey's rehabilitation and his relationship with Grace Lamont, only to destroy them both seemingly beyond repair in a soul-crushingly depressing ending. If that were an episode of the show, that would have probably been the end of it, considering how little interest the show had in exploring Harvey as anything other than a villain for the vast majority of his appearances.

Thankfully, Templeton--who was the artist on Two Timer--had different plans, and he wrote three stories which each respectively fleshed out Harvey's life, backstory, and psyche. With the first of these, Fifty Fifty, Templeton told an unusual Two-Face tale that explored the limits of Harvey's adherence to his coin, and in the process, he managed to bring Grace Lamont back to the DCAU one final time in a way that provided some small measure of closure to their broken love story.

Unfortunately, the art by Brandon Kruse and Wild Dog co-creator Terry Beatty isn't quite up to par with the likes of Parobeck, Templeton, and Rick Burchett, and it's easily the weakest part of this issue, but at least we're treated to Ty's fantastic cover. It's a beautiful take on Harvey, although some of you more observant Two-Face fans might notice something a bit off about the coin. Don't worry, unlike the show's weirdly inconsistent depiction of the coin, this time it's quite coincidental!

While Two Timer ended with Batman asserting that "there's nothing left to be saved" of Harvey Dent within the monster that is Two-Face, this issue suggests that Bruce may have softened on that stance. In a throwaway comment early on in this story, Bruce--as Batman--mentions that he's been keeping tabs on Harvey's progress, which has involved skin grafts and continuing visits to his therapist.

It's rather poignant to learn that Harvey has kept trying to get better even after he's lost one--if not both--of the biggest pillars of support he has. It says a lot about Harvey Dent's character that he is still determined to overcome Two-Face rather than give into the monster entirely, and perhaps the horror of his actions have given him incentive to work all the harder. Of course, life still sucks for Harvey Dent, and thus, en route to Gotham General for a third round of skin grafts, his police escort is attacked and he's abducted by mobsters.

Yeah, this scenario feels a tad derivative of Second Chance, except this time, it's clear that no part of Harvey wants this "rescue." Batman himself quickly figures out that Harvey didn't plan this one, as evidenced by the fact that the coin (which is gold for some reason; dammit colorists, knock that off!) has been left behind.

Naturally, Harvey himself is deeply displeased with this situation, especially considering the replacement he's been given by his abductors. This marks an interesting turn of events for anyone who has wondered about just how beholden Harvey is to his coin, and it makes me wonder if maybe a different Harvey Dent--one who hasn't been undergoing so much therapy by this point--would have handled this situation. Without his coin, the Harvey at the end of Two-Face, Part II broke down screaming and sobbing. But this Harvey isn't quite so impotent, and proves himself to be reluctantly adaptable. Which, of course, just makes him all the more dangerous.

Right away, we see a Two-Face at his most dispassionate. In the next page, he flips the quarter a second time with Grace on the line, but when it comes up scarred once again, he once again refuses to help. Now, the fact that Harvey is going by the scarred side as the negative answer raises further questions on its own about what the supposedly "good and bad" sides mean to him, but I don't think that really matters to this story. Considering the position Harvey's in, there's really no such thing as a good choice or bad choice, which makes this situation especially interesting.

Even with a mobster explicitly threatening the life of Grace, Harvey remains steadfastly Lawful Neutral on the matter, showing no hint of conflict nor humanity. This, of course, is rather troubling. Has he become a cold robot in the wake of Two Timer's fallout? For some clues on the matter, Batman and Robin go to Harvey's psychiatrist, Dr. Nora Crest, whom Templeton has renamed as "Dr. Sloane." This may be an innocent mistake, since Dr. Crest was never named as such in the show, and perhaps Templeton needed to come up with a name on his own, and thus chose to name her after the greatest of the Two-Face impostors.

"Yeah, right." Shut up, Dick.

Second Chance already showed us that Dr. Sloane's treatment of Harvey is a bit on the sketchy side, something which we should all keep in mind when it comes to her next and final appearance in the DCAU. Here, though, we learn nothing about how she continued or adjusted Harvey's treatment in the face (hurr) of not one, but two horrible relapses, which I'd kinda like to know considering that--if what she says is to be believed--Harvey is finally on the Road to Wellville. Again, this is all the more remarkable on Harvey's side considering that he's already lost at least one of the two people closest to him.

Ah, Two-Face: the only character who can be both Lawful Neutral and Chaotic Neutral at the same goddamn time. Harvey pummels the one thug and nearly breaks the other's jaw as he flees, hitting the rainy streets of Gotham and heading towards a phone booth, where he has to make another choice. This leads to a scene which ranks amongst the very best in the character's animated history.

There are so many reasons to love this scene. First off, there's Harvey's smile of relief after he flips the coin, which is the first real emotion he's shown other than cold disdain. When it comes to Grace (or any version of Gilda, really), she is one of the only ties to Harvey's humanity, and it's wonderful to see that reflected here. Even though he still had to flip the coin to save her, he was happy that it came up in her favor rather than just neutrally going by whatever the coin tells him to do, which is usually the case for Two-Face. A good depiction of Harvey should always abide slavishly by the coin's law, but just like any lawyer, that doesn't mean that he has to like or dislike the ruling. Moments like that show the character's humanity amidst his insanity.

Second, with this warning, Harvey saves Grace's life and thus achieves some manner of redemption for everything he did in Two Timer. Sadly, Grace will never return after this issue, so there's no reconciliation in the cards for DCAU Harvey Dent, but at least their doomed romance has some measure of bittersweet closure with Harvey's act of selfless love for a woman he knows he'll likely never see again. It's a much better final note to go out on than watching their embattled relationship go down in flames.

Finally, there isn't a Two-Face moment that's as simultaneously badass and batshit as Harvey beating the shit out of a pay phone to get the coin back. He could have gotten away from the thugs if he hadn't stayed, but he needed that goddamn stupid quarter back. I can't speak anyone else, but for me, this moment solidified Ty Templeton as my very favorite DCAU Two-Face writer even before I read Templeton's other two excellent stories. If only Templeton had drawn it too, but alas.

I find it interesting that Bruce makes it a point to not be in the same house with Grace overnight. Sure, he wouldn't be there anyway because he's Batman during the night, but even still, it's a nice acknowledgement to the revelation in Two Timer that Grace did have feelings for Bruce. At least, that's what I get out of the fact that he goes out of his way to mention that he won't see her until the morning.

Heading to Grace's apartment, Batman and Robin surprise Little Jonni Infantino and his two henchmen as they break in to kidnap Grace. When Jonni refuses to divulge Harvey's location to Batman, Dick muses aloud, "I wonder if he's dumb enough to have Two-Face stashed in his own club...?" Sure enough, he is, as Batman and Robin learn when they break in to beat up the remaining thugs and save Harvey.

Unfortunately, they don't see Two-Face flip his coin, and when their backs are turned, he knocks them both out with a chair. "I flipped my coin to choose sides when the pair of you came in," Harvey explains to the felled heroes. "You two lost." See, Harvey, this sorta thing? This is why you have no friends.

While the fact that he just got shot does kinda add credence to Sal's line about how the hell Harvey ever became a criminal mastermind with the coin, I love that Harvey is so adherent to its rulings that he'll try to kill anyone who dares to break its law. After Robin knocks out Sal with a typically annoying bit of Dick Grayson quippery, Batman awakens to the discovery that Harvey took a bullet for him, but Two-Face is quick to dash any ideas of sentimentality.

Whether it was intentional on Templeton's part or not, this ending is a nice callback to a similar Bronze Age scene by Denny O'Neil and Irv Novick. With this ending, Harvey makes is clear that he's once more holding firm to being neutral and dispassionate, at least when it comes to matters of superheroes and mobsters. At least the moment with Grace shows that he's not entirely dead inside, and combined with what we know of Harvey's progressing treatment, perhaps there's still yet some hope for the poor guy after all. But the road to recovery is a rough one, and there's one great big one coming up eventually by the name of the Judge.

Before we get to that, though, we need to address one of my least-anticipated posts in this series: the overhaul that was the show's unofficial fourth season, when it was relaunched and rebranded once more, this time as The New Batman Adventures. Thankfully, once we get that out of the way, we'll be free to return to the greatness that is Ty Templeton, as he brings us his own DCAU version of the man who truly created Two-Face: Harvey Dent's dear old dad.

Want to buy this issue? Well, if you want a digital copy, then you're out of luck. While DC's digital comics story at Comixology has been posting most of the DCAU comics, their run of The Batman & Robin Adventures cuts off at the issue RIGHT BEFORE this one! Argh!!! So keep your eye on Comixology, and maybe someday it'll be added. In the meantime, you totally should catch up on this great series, especially issues like the greatest Ventriloquist and Scarface story of all time, great slice-of-Gotham stories like Dagger's Tale, and this Riddler/Batgirl story, where Templeton proves his proficiency with neglected DCAU villains by writing one of the very best takes on the Riddler. Good stuff, all!
Tags: comic reviews, dcau, gilda dent, reading list: two-face in the dcau, ty templeton

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