about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

New Comic Review: "Without Sin," from LotDK #42 (Part 1/6)

Harvey is popping up in the latest (digital) issue of Legends of the Dark Knight, which is the first of six parts, thus making it the longest storyline yet to run in the digital LotDK revival. To make matters more interesting, the story is by old-school DC veterans Dan Mishkin, co-creator of Amethyst and Blue Devil, and Tom Mandrake, legendary Spectre artist and co-creator of Black Mask, plus he also has experience with Two-Face.

Since each installment of LotDK, like all digital releases, only constitutes 1/3rd the length of a typical 20-22 page comic, the first part of Without Sin (which will run in six parts, thus making it two issues) is mostly set-up and exposition. Harvey doesn't even get to do much, but his appearance here is damn intriguing, and it could potentially lead to an excellent story. Since there's not too much to go on here, I can't really review anything other than to go, "Huh, interesting, let's see where they're going with this," but let's nonetheless take a quick look at the first part of Mishkin and Mandrake's Without Sin.

The first thing that's worth noting about this tale is the dedication to former Batman editor Bob Schreck, who was fired by DC in 2009. According to this article,Schreck was responsible for bringing Greg Rucka to the Bat-titles. It looks like he was laid off right before the One Year Later era kicked off, giving us the abysmal Face the Face which in turn led directly to the age of Grant Morrison under editor Mike Marts, whose carelessness I've ranted about once or twice. Say what you will about the Rucka era, but at least it was mostly overseen with a basically professional level of competence.

Anyway, I find the Schreck dedication interesting, and combined with the writer and artist involved, it only adds to the feeling that this Without Sin is going to be a Bat-blast from the Bat-past. Honestly, it makes me wonder if Without Sin is one of those stories that was produced years ago and just sat in production limbo until it could be dusted off for a publication like the digital LotDK. Further credence is given to this theory by Mandrake's art itself, which doesn't seem to have been formatted for digital publication. Digital comics have their own, tablet-friendly format, wherein each page of a digital comic is half of a full comics page, so when the digital comics are published on paper as a normal book, it makes for a rather bisected reading experience.

Here are two pages from the digital version of Batman: Arkham Unhinged #9. And here's how it looked when the issue was published in physical print as Batman: Arkham Unhinged #3, sans words.

Not too noticeable on its own, but it gets a bit annoying when every single page of a comic is laid out in the same way.

By contrast, the pages in Without Sin seem to be divided up less evenly, suggesting that Mandrake did not draw them for the digital format. Unless Mandrake just didn't get the memo, I think it's pretty safe to assume that this story was meant to be published elsewhere, perhaps in the pages of an anthology series like Batman Confidential, which was the poor man's Legends of the Dark Knight. Here, judge for yourself with these opening pages, which I shall offer here uninterrupted:

Well, that's certainly an interesting set-up for Two-Face! I don't mean the murder, which I'll get to in a second, and which Harvey almost certainly didn't commit. I mean, that's too obvious, not to mention too sloppy for Harvey. No, the fact that Harvey is not just shown as a regular to this confessional, but also that he seems to have some familiarity with Catholicism, is a fascinating new tidbit for the character.

Until this point, I think the only instance of Harvey showing any religious inclinations was in that one issue with Hal!Spectre by DeMatteis (warning: scans are crappy, tiny, and need to be redone with better commentary). I'll be interested to know if we learn anything more about Harvey's religious background as this story unfolds. Is he a Catholic, lapsed or otherwise? Or has he just turned to the confessional for some other reason? I've always kinda imagined Harvey being an atheist, but then, some of the most vocal atheists I know are Catholics. Well, as long as he's not Presbyterian Calvinist, we'll be all good.

In any case, I really like that Harvey is contrasting his own conflict with the Holy Trinity, as this is fitting in a way that could only work with Two-Face, no other rogue. Just as the Holy Trinity is three entities which are all aspects of the same being (if I'm understanding it correctly, and it's likely that I'm not), so too are both of Harvey's sides just himself, rather than two distinct people sharing one body. This is a neat idea on Mishkin's part, one which makes Harvey's situation potentially more interesting than if he were just simply to entirely pawn the blame off himself with a kind of "The Devil made me do it" reasoning. Furthermore, considering that Harvey is at least partially absolving himself of blame, I think we have some idea of where the title Without Sin will come into play. We'll have to see where it goes from here, as for now, Harvey vanishes as the actual plotline kicks off, and we meet our cast of characters.

"... But to print a picture like that!" Since I don't see anything wrong with the picture, I can only guess that this was an error on Mandrake's part, and that the picture should have been of the priest's mutilated half-face. But yeah, if it wasn't already clear before, that headline makes it apparent (to me, anyway) that Harvey almost certainly didn't murder the priest, and that he will find himself framed for this crime.

In case it wasn't clear (and I had to double-check myself), the murdered priest isn't the same one as the one Harvey was talking to in the confessional. No, that abrupt and gruesome scene took place in another part of Gotham that's currently being renovated in a joint effort between the Church and City Hall to revitalize a run-down neighborhood known as Devil's Ridge. While Batman and Two-Face are going to be involved, these characters are the real players who are moving this story forward.

Monsignor Carl D'Angelo is the likeliest candidate for this story's villain, mainly because he looks like the Kingpin, but we'll see if that turns out to be a red herring. As for Father Paul Tenney, he seems to be the same priest that Harvey spoke with at the story's beginning, and it looks like he'll be the focus of Without Sin.

Ahh, so the Devil's Ridge development was instigated at the expense of the people who were living in those buildings? Definite shades of Batman: Run, Riddler, Run going on here, only it's worse, because the wealthy classes have already succeeded in kicking the poor people out of their own homes. Of course, we know that there's more to Bruce than he's letting on, but Tenney just sees him as another callous ass, and he storms out of the meeting. After getting a brief word of warning from Councilman O'Shea (who is also immediately suspect, because how often are Councilmen in Gotham not corrupt assholes?) not to alienate people like Bruce, Tenney meets with the Archbishop to examine the problems raised by the murder of Father Richter.

It turns out that Richter's chief role in the archdiocese was as a fundraiser, and when that tidbit becomes public knowledge, the press will label this murder as having something to do with money, and the last thing the church wants is for people to see them as a political and financial entity. Considering how issues of hypocrisy and corruption are time-honored themes in Harvey Dent stories, it could potentially be interesting to see how this tale will explore the two-faced nature of the church. As Tenney and the Archbishop are anticipating questions such as "Why don't we open our books to public scrutiny?" and "If we cared so much about the Devil's Ridge neighborhood, why didn't the archdiocese just buy up the properties?" this leads to Tenney deciding to take matters into his own hands.

And with that final bit of information dumpage, the first part of Without Sin ends. Like I said, this was mainly just about exposition to introduce the characters and set the scene, so hopefully something will actually happen in the next part. You can't really blame Mishkin for this, since this was almost certainly written for a full-length story, and we're only 1/6th of the way through. As far as first acts go, I think this works well enough, as I'm certainly interested to keep going.

Besides Harvey's role, I'm wondering about how Father Tenney will fit into all this. From his hotheaded blowup at Bruce (followed by him indignantly snapping at Councilman O'Shea immediately afterward), he seemed to be a voice of moral indignation, a decent man caught up between his altruism for people and his duty to the Church. Based on these last panels, however, that duty seems to be the overriding trait, as he appears to be primarily interested in covering the church's ass rather than exposing the truth to the public. I'm looking forward to seeing how his (old?) friend Harvey Dent will fit into this, seeing as how he'll be the primary suspect before too long. I get the distinct impression that even the darker half of Harvey's soul will come out looking more sympathetic than certain members of the Church and City Hall before this story is through.

I don't know if I'll be able to keep up weekly reviews for the other five parts as they come out, but so if the story becomes less remarkable, I might just stop and wait to review the whole thing at the end. We'll see how the story goes, and if my own free time in real life will be cooperative. In the meantime, I wholeheartedly recommend buying this issue at Comixology (only 99¢! Cheap!). This could potentially be a damn good Two-Face story, and hey, you'll be supporting two industry vets, so that's win-win.
Tags: dan mishkin, new comic reviews, tom mandrake
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