about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

NEW COMICS REVIEW: "The Beautiful Ugly" from "Legends of the Dark Knight" #56-58 (2013)

In case it hasn't been clear from how much I've been taking this up, I absolutely love The Beautiful Ugly, the latest Two-Face story from DC's Legends of the Dark Knight. Although only a one-shot issue in length, it's a story that works on multiple levels as a crime thriller, character study, urban tragedy, and as a exploration on both vigilantism and the limits of our criminal justice system, something which has become depressingly topical of late. It's also one of the best Two-Face stories I've ever read, largely because it's one of the few stories to really tap into the character's rich-but-wasted potential.

If you'll pardon the pun, Harvey Dent has always been criminally misused by writers. Over the years, he's played a number of roles--thief, bank robber, gang leader, mob boss, terrorist, supervillain--but none of them has ever made much sense for the character when you consider the character's history before the acid hit. This guy was a crusading district attorney, one of the only people fighting crime rather than committing it or simply just trying to survive in the corrupt hellhole that was Gotham City. Why would such a character just suddenly become the antithesis of everything he stood for and become the very thing he once fought? Why did he essentially become an entirely different character?

Part of the problem is that the majority of writers think of Two-Face as a scarred, coin-flipping, duality-obsessed gimmick gangster who once was a good guy. By only focusing on who he is now with little thought to who he was then, this has all too often led to the character being a cipher, one not rooted in any real personality nor motivation. This is probably the single biggest reason why there are so many mediocre Two-Face stories out there. Even still, the character has endured because, beyond the iconic visual appeal and his gimmick, there's the great idea of a character, one who could be used for many excellent stories if only someone would break him out of the usual villain roles and stop relying so much on the coin-flipping as a plot device.

Thankfully, comics writer (and sometimes inker) Derek Fridolfs felt the same way. He's an old-school Batman fan after our own hearts, and it comes through in his work on titles like Batman: Arkham Unhinged, the villain-centric tie-in comic for the Arkham Asylum/City games wherein Fridolfs frequently married comics and TAS elements into the Arkhamverse. In that series, Fridolfs was the first writer to really explore Killer Croc and Black Mask origins since both characters were created in the mid-80's, and his take on Talia al Ghul was far more in keeping with the character's morally gray canon than the Vigo-the-Carpathian-esque mustache-twirling villain she's become in the mainstream DC comics.

Point is, this is a guy who both loves and understands villains, so it's no wonder that The Beautiful Ugly--co-written by promising newcomer Kenneth Elliott Jones, who deserves at least half the credit here--is one of the only stories that seems to have some real insight as to what makes Harvey Dent tick.

Ultimately, though, to simply describe TBU as a character study for Harvey Dent--no matter how excellent--would still be a disservice to all the great stuff that Fridolfs and Jones--along with artist Jason Shawn Alexander (Arkham Unhinged: End Game)--have crammed into this taut little tragedy of Gotham City.

In its opening pages, The Beautiful Ugly doesn't seem like it's going to be anything special. Just like countless other Batman stories, it opens with Bruce grimly narrating about crime and his own sacred mission: "You push yourself. Past empty. Past reason. You anticipate. You prepare. But you can't be everywhere at once. And you're surrounded by fractures. Things slip through. Precious things. The only things that matter. And all you can do is keep pushing. And try to remember why you started in the first place."

While it may not sound all that important right now, these lines establish a major theme of this story: perseverance in the face of failure. Constant, inevitable, unavoidable failure. Not exactly a cheery concept, but it's certainly an important one, especially for a character like Batman who is locked in a never-ending war on crime. Besides, it's a perfect theme for a story with Two-Face, given that he's the living, walking, killing embodiment of Bruce's failure.

This narration accompanies an all-too-typical scene of chaos in Gotham City, as panicked citizens race out of a subway station as it's being gas-bombed by a pair of upstart crooks known as the Gotham Kingz. If they sound unremarkable, that's because they are: just another bunch of Gotham thugs who think they can throw on some makeshift costumes and terrorize people. There's no profit involved as far as I can tell, no motivation other than a desire to spread mayhem. Basically, it's Tuesday night in Gotham City. When we finally meet up with Batman, we see him gas-masked and directing the throng of terrified citizens out of a train car towards safety. Perhaps to punctuate the "only things that matter" line, we get a small scene which, I think, rather nicely defines who Batman is for this story.

And without his gas mask, Batman barrels into the gas to fight the gang, who are still wearing their gas masks. This is a nice character moment in what is otherwise a typical Batman-fights-the-goons action scene. In this one moment of Bruce's selflessness, we get a perfect indication of why Batman is a hero--albeit one with an arguably reckless side--rather than just a guy who likes the beat up bad guys because his parents are DEAAAAD. Batman's main goal should always be to save people rather than to trounce criminals, and that distinction will be especially important in this story.

After swiftly defeating the Kingz, Batman leaves them in the hands of Commissioner Gordon and his men before charging back into the city to fight more crime. All's well that ends well, right? Usually, but in this case, we get a glimpse of how ordinary Gotham citizens have to deal with the damage wrought by the city's rampant costumed criminal problem. Enter Marissa Collins, a nurse at Gotham General Hospital, just one of the people who must once again deal with a flood of the wounded and the dying. She's someone who has constantly witnessed first-hand the devastation wrought by these criminals--most of whom are unknown wannabes like the Kingz--and it's clear that the strain is taking its toll.

First of all, I imagine that some eyebrows will be raised at the notion that outsiders consider Gotham to be "alluring," as some stories have established that Gotham's reputation is quite the opposite (as if Gotham itself were, shall we say, "two-faced?" Ahhh, I see what I did there!), that it's seen as a hellhole of crime and evil dominated by the freaks who run rampant. Well, there's no reason why it can't have *both* reputations, just as places like Las Vegas and New York City once had back in the day. It's just striking to actually see a story where Gotham is seen as someplace positive in any capacity other than "Well, at least it's not as bad as Hub City or Blüdhaven!"

That last page may well be the most crucial of this entire story. First off, it introduces Aiden Bennett, her high school sweetheart who now works with kids in some unspecified capacity. Yeah, he seems like a decent guy all around, but he will be the center of everything that's to come. Marissa will be right there alongside Aiden, but her role might be the most important one in this story because of what's established in the page above. Her narration indicates that she's only able to cope with the daily horrors she witnesses thanks to her relationship with Aiden. She believes in him and in their love (Shades of "I Believe in Harvey Dent?" Maybe that's reaching, but it's not out of place, given how this story hinges on both love and the idea that Gotham can corrupt decent people), and that faith is about to be put to the test.

In their earlier plans for TBU, Fridolfs and Jones included a lot more details of Marissa and Aiden's backstories and the history of their relationship, so much so that their editor had to remind them they were writing for Legends of the Dark Knight, not Legends of Marissa and Aiden. Ultimately, the editor made the right call, as more backstory would have just added bloat to this lean little story. Still, as someone who loves tales of normal people in superhero worlds--Marvels, Astro City, and the unfairly-obscure Batman: Gotham Nights minis by John Ostrander--I enjoyed the quiet little moment of seeing these two average Gothamites taking comfort in one another, blissfully unaware that there's no real shelter from the horrors in this town.

The lovers kill a bottle of wine and go to sleep, only to be rudely awakened by someone saying, "Not the castle I expected to find you in, Mister King." Before they can react, Marissa and Aiden are grabbed by a pair of goons, and when Aiden begs them not to hurt them, the voice responses, "Hurt you? Not that I'd mind, but it's not my decision to make. What I want is simple."

As I said before, that might well be the single ugliest Harvey Dent I've ever seen. If I may be forgiven for copy-pasting my thoughts from the previous post, I'm intrigued by several of the unusual details--the solid white suit suit, the opaque eyeball--but my god, he looks like a desiccated half-zombie half-drug addict. Granted, everyone in this story looks rather filthy and unkempt because that's the artist's style, but it's always jarring to see a Two-Face who looks like a wreck even on his good side.

It's a shame, as I otherwise like the artwork, even though I know that it's not going to appeal to everybody. It reminds me of late 80's, pre-Vertigo DC horror/supernatural comics with healthy doses of Bill Sienkiewicz and Dave McKean in the mix. Again, it's really not for everyone, but I think Jason Shawn Alexander makes it work with this story. And while his Harvey above is hideous, yes, we can be thankful that his Two-Face improves dramatically by the next part, in a scene that takes place some time later. Abducted from their home and tied to chairs, Aiden and Marissa are unmasked to find themselves subjected to that time-honored Two-Face tradition: a trial.

Murder, you say? I've been debating whether or not to mention this, but this second part opens with a flashback of a museum robbery that went south, in which a guard was shot and killed by one of the masked robbers. I was tempted to withhold this revelation until later, just to keep readers in as much suspense as Marissa herself, but it's best to tell the events in the order that the authors intended them to be revealed. Besides, even though we saw the crime, there was no way to extrapolate the shooter's identity, as he (or she?) was masked. So even though we don't know the full story, we readers are at least one step ahead of poor Marissa, who can do nothing but profess Aiden's innocence. Unfortunately for her, Harvey doesn't put too much stock in innocence. Not Aiden's, nor anyone else's.

Despite the vitriol in Harvey's colorful description there, I find it interesting how his view of Gotham City and its citizens compares to Marissa's. While there are many people outside (and presumably also plenty inside) Gotham who think of the city in a more positive light, Marissa's view of Gotham leans more towards Two-Face's end of the spectrum. It makes sense, as Marissa is a pretty average person in this story, whereas Two-Face has often represented the light and dark sides inside everyone. In this moment, he embodies Marissa's POV to the extreme, and isn't shying away from describing Gotham as a cesspit.

What's more, he's ready to implicate everyone for being corrupt in one form or another. This trait, in of itself, isn't an especially innovative take on the character, and if that's all there was to this Two-Face, then he'd be no better than your average surly "Everything sucks" teenager. Thankfully, this Two-Face isn't a single-minded nihilist, nor is he a snarling thug as the above panel might lead you to believe. If you're someone like me who doesn't generally care for Harvey being written as a thug, you'll be relieved to know that Fridolfs and Jones have opted to depict this Two-Face as one who shifts constantly between his two sides: the cruel and snarling Two-Face who speaks like a mobster, and the eloquent and calm Harvey Dent. Yes, it does eventually tend to get a bit "Ventriloquist and Scarface" after too long, but for the most part, it works.

In full prosecutor mode, Harvey makes his case against Aiden Bennett, whom we learn is the son of an alcoholic mother and a father in the Irish mob. Oh yes, Harvey's come prepared with Aiden's full case file.

I'm not entirely certain what Harvey's holding there, as the story doesn't clearly identify it beyond it being a statue of some kind (and I love the implication that Harvey RE-stole the statue just to use it as evidence). What matters is that it was valuable enough for a young newcomer to Gotham named Aiden "King" to steal for the Penguin, who--in this continuity--has apparently always been a mobster and fence from the Iceberg Lounge, which allows him to serve the usual narrative purpose of being the guy that Batman later pumps for information after the museum robbery fiasco.

It's a tad bit disappointing to see Ozzie in this role yet again, but then, I'm probably overly defensive of the character given that I've recently had to deal with people on Tumblr who think that the Penguin is a boring, annoying, one-note mobster who would--I'm not even kidding here--be best suited to a vapid Michael Bay movie. Oh well, what can you do? I can only hope that someday, someone will come along and utilize the Penguin as well as this story does with Harvey.

But I musn't get ahead of myself, as we must first see what happened to Aiden after the robbery and shooting. As it turns out, the murdered museum guard was just a green eighteen-year-old trainee, hardly anyone who could have threatened them, especially given how Aiden and his crew were fully disguised. After a burgeoning career of thievery "without violence or witnesses," this single major screw-up ruined everything. After trying to leave Gotham, he was caught by the Batman and prosecuted by a fresh new D.A. named Harvey Dent. Oh yes, this time... it's personal.

Harvey just casually mentions the detail about this having been one of his old cases--his first case, no less, and thus also his first failure--and that revelation suddenly casts these proceedings in a whole new light. Is all this just little more than Harvey wanting to carry out an old vendetta from his D.A. days, something along the same vein as The Face Schism by Doug Moench? Dear god, no, please, anything but that! For a moment, it looks as though this story will just be going through the usual "Two-Face holds a rigged mock trial" motions: he'll flip the coin, it'll comes up scarred, "The sentence is... DEATH!," Batman'll sweep in at the last minute, biff bam pow, and Harvey goes back to Arkham. Same old, same old, right?

Except that Batman isn't coming to rescue them. He's not even aware that they've been kidnapped, nor does he know that Harvey is up to anything! Last we saw, Bruce went off to continue fighting crime, but as his narration said in the beginning, he can't be everywhere at once, and that sometimes, "things slip through." This time, Marissa and Aiden have slipped through the "fractures" and past Batman's all-too-human notice, just as Aiden once slipped through Harvey's own grasp. One way or another, they're on their own, seemingly at the mercy of Two-Face, so anything goes at this point.

Aiden, at least, seems perfectly aware of how hopeless his situation is, and confesses. Not to shooting the guard, no, but to being a part of the robbery where the guard was shot, so he takes that much responsibility. Thing is, neither Harvey nor Marissa believe him, for entirely different reasons.

I love that picture of Harvey, even though his body seems a bit too teeny compared to his head and hand. As for the moment itself, his compassion for Marissa feels poignant, if a little odd, as it's coming from his Two-Face side. It's nice to see that Harvey hasn't completely lost touch with the knowledge that there are innocents getting hurt in the middle of all this, and that he shows some shred of regret about how things are going to play out. It's certainly a better take than the usual raving, fanatical Two-Face we'd get in this scenario.

So Marissa thinks he didn't do it at all, whereas Harvey thinks that Aiden is completely guilty and just lying to keep Marissa as his advocate by playing the martyr. The damning thing is that the truth of the situation never gets clearer from here on out. None of them has any further evidence to support their positions, so all it all comes down to us as readers to figure out who to believe. Here, let's back up and look at something from the robbery flashback. I won't post the two-page (one full page) scene, but I'd at least like to point out the panel which showed the clearest depiction of Aiden's gang.

For a little while there, I was wondering if Fridolfs and Jones were going to throw in the twist that Marissa was in on the robbery with Aiden, and that she was the one who killed the guard. The first time I saw that panel, I thought that the shooter looked somewhat feminine, although it's hard to tell with this murky art. But that would have been a cheap twist, one that would have wasted the realism of Marissa herself as a normal person caught in the middle of Gotham's 24-hour funhouse of horrors.

So if Aiden didn't pull the trigger, who did, and why doesn't Aiden offer them up as the guilty party? Does the shooter's identity even matter at this point? Is Aiden still culpable for the act because he was the one who orchestrated the bungled heist and/or for choosing the shooter for his crew? Is Harvey targeting Aiden because he believes that Aiden is the shooter, or because he just has to answer for the guard's death? The situation becomes more gray and murky the more you look at it, but none of these questions will be answered.

One way or another, whether deserved or not, Aiden is going to have to answer for that guard's death, and here's where the real twist comes in. Back when Harvey said "Hurt you? Not that I'd mind, but it's not my decision to make," I imagine that you were thinking the same thing I was: Harvey meant that the final decision would come down to a coin flip. That's what always happens in this kind of story, right?

Before we talk about the implications of this reveal, I want to quickly remark on how unusual this depiction of Harvey is. Not only is this the most gaunt Two-Face ever drawn, but he actually seems to carry these proceedings with a dramatic flourish that other rogues have been known to display, but not Harvey. Usually, he's second only to Mister Freeze in terms of being the most stiff and serious of the rogues, but here he's showing a moments of flair that would put him in good company with the Riddler. It's quite effective here, especially given how it contrasts with the murky, grim artwork.

Okay, now to the more pressing matter: the revelation of the "jury." As you can probably surmise, Harvey is leaving it up to them--these people who are presumably the family and/or friends of the murdered guard--to decide whether to find Aiden guiltless and let him go free, or to carry out whatever punishment they see fit. Considering that Harvey has also brought along an entire wall of knives, swords, cleavers, and other assorted weaponry, I'm guessing that "a slap on the wrist" isn't going to be an option for Aiden.

What's inspired about this reveal is how perfectly in keeping it is with Harvey's twisted sense of justice. He's still removing himself from the final decision, only instead of using the coin to pass the judgment, he's leaving it in the hands of those who were personally affected by the one being judged. It makes me wonder who these people were to the victim, and how long they've had to wait for closure. In this sense, Harvey kinda reminds me of Agent Graves from 100 Bullets, giving victims a free opportunity to face the people who wronged them.

Of course, by having a biased jury, this situation is still a twisted perversion of the justice system, potentially little better than an Ox-Bow Incident-style lynch mob if all they're out for is revenge. This situation reminds me of an episode of Babylon 5 where a reformed killer (well, he was mind-wiped and given a new, gentle personality) played by Brad Dourif faced "justice" at the hands of the friends and families of his victims, none of whom cared that he turned over a new leaf. The key difference with this situation (besides the fact that Aiden isn't a serial killer like Dourif's character was) is that Harvey is at least offering these victims the choice to absolve or even forgive Aiden, if that is what they choose.

The only question left to answer is what's to be done with Marissa. Starting to suspect that she really might have been in on the robbery as well (ah, so my own suspicions weren't unfounded! Either that, or a part of me is as cynical and paranoid as Two-Face. Hrm.), Harvey gives Marissa an ultimatum: she can either swear by Aiden and share his fate, or she can abandon him and leave. Though terrified and protesting this situation, she's about to swear when Aiden stops her and tells her to go. She balks, but he coldly insists.

Because of what comes next, this is a crucial moment, and it's not one that I'm sure was executed as well as it needed to be. Reading it the first time around, it seems like Aiden's just telling Marissa to leave him and save herself. After all, just a few panels earlier, he's shown pleading with Harvey to let Marissa go, insisting again that she has nothing to do with this situation. But reading it again, I think there's something darker in his "Trust me," as if he's trying to get her to finally understand that he's not worth saving, and that her faith has been misplaced. Maybe I'm reading too much into this moment, but that interpretation is the only way that this next moment works for me, after a stunned Marissa silently allows herself to be freed.

Damn. This line threw me for a loop, as again, I thought that Aiden was just trying to spare her. The only way that Marissa's response here works is if it's an expression of her crushing disillusionment in Aiden. Her love for him was the one thing in her life that she could hold onto amidst the horrors of life in Gotham, and he turns out to have been just another part of those horrors. Given how much crushing misery that she's had to field at the hospital for god knows how long, it's understandable that she should feel betrayed by Aiden, so I personally can't blame her reaction, harsh though it is.

Notice that this is the first and only time that the coin appears in the story, and even then, we never actually see it get used. More and more, it's starting to look like the best Two-Face stories are the ones that take a minimalist approach to using the coin, which has too often been overused as a cheap plot device. We don't even know if the jury uses the coin themselves, but the mere fact that Harvey gave it to them as an option is brilliant. In giving them the coin, he gives them the option to pass judgment on Aiden without having to choose for themselves, which--if used--would essentially make them no different from Harvey.

So what happens to Aiden? We never find out for sure, but it may have been extremely gruesome if Marissa's reaction is any indication. She's found sometime later, so "traumatized" and "hysterical" that she needs to be heavily sedated by Leslie Thompkins.

The cameo by Leslie is a nice touch, and she too is an average person who has witnessed the daily horrors of what Gotham does to its citizens. The story doesn't go out of its way to mention this for anyone who isn't familiar with Leslie as a character, but her presence here--however brief--is a reminder that there is a flip side to the corrupt, cruel Gotham City that Harvey (and Marissa, to some extent) sees, and that there are good people doing all they can to help. This is important to remember, lest we (or Batman himself) get sucked into Harvey's view of the world they inhabit, especially in wake of the fact that an innocent woman has been traumatized by this story's events.

After listening to Marissa's story, Batman tracks Harvey down at his hideout--which appears to be a derelict office building--finding Harvey sitting at his desk, looking over his files.

This is another little detail which I adore. Usually, whenever we see rogues in their hideouts, we're there to watch them do the usual hideout thing: scheming about future jobs, ranting about one's arch-enemies, terrorizing idiot henchmen... you know, the classics. Instead, Harvey's here doing paperwork. For some reason, I find this a poignant reminder that he's still Harvey Dent, even if he's become his own mirror universe counterpart. That statue of Lady Justice on his desk is especially noteworthy, as he still believes in what she represents even if he's lost his faith in the justice system.

Attacking Harvey and scattering his paperwork all over the office (dick move!), Batman demands to know where Aiden is, and Harvey's response doesn't indicate a positive outcome: "Hopefully in hellfire. Forever more." Once again, the details are left unexplained, but between that and Marissa's traumatized reaction (not to mention all of the weapons at the jury's disposal), it looks like whatever happened to Aiden was gruesome and final.

Despite his personal misgivings towards Aiden, Harvey washes his hands of the situation and starts to play the classic "we're not so different, you and I" trope. Of course, Batman denies this suggestion (with fists!), asserting that he doesn't share Harvey's wacky propensity to "force the families of victims to play jury in some kangaroo court of horrors" (which sounds like the title of the best movie Hammer never made) and as such, "We're nothing alike!" This is when Harvey explicitly points out the most damning part of his scheme.

What Harvey has done here is both in keeping with who he is/was while simultaneously subverting everything that Harvey Dent once stood for when he was District Attorney. This shows how he's still true to his character, but in a twisted way, which is exactly what Two-Face should be. What's more, it's not easy to simply see Harvey as a villain here, as his actions open up several unsettling questions. Sure, Harvey didn't force those people to act one way or another, but isn't he to blame for contriving the scenario in the first place? Were those people justified in their actions, or did they simply indulge in their own darker sides, all in the name of revenge? Did Aiden's punishment even fit his crime? Did Harvey organize all this to give these victims closure or to serve some ideal of justice? Or did he have a more selfish motive, exploiting these hurt and angry people all so he could justify his own views and settle an old score?

Batman himself takes that last view, condemning Harvey as a "sociopath, not a savior," who "set a man up to get killed--by a mob feeding off rage--for your own sick pride!" What I find notable is that no one--not even Batman--brings up Marissa in this situation, as she's the one true innocent who was caught in the middle of everything. She was one of Harvey's "decent people," and yet she ended up unduly suffering for the "justice" of the other "decent people." Where's the justice for her? Or is her own trauma just collateral damage in the name of Harvey's own justice system, just as the suffering of those jury members were collateral damage when the actual Justice System let Aiden get off on a technicality?

Again, neither Batman nor Two-Face give her a second (hurr) thought, which is problematic for another reason as it creates what may be the story's only glaring plot hole. When a pissed-off Batman slams Harvey into a mirror and swears to make Harvey answer for his crimes, Harvey points out that "If ya could prove that... ya'd have Gordon an' half o' Gotham P.D. behind ya! But yer' here alone! Ya got nothin'!" Putting aside how the Scarface-ish dialect is wearing a bit thin, it ignores the fact that Marissa is alive and, though traumatized, she's already proven that she's able and willing to talk about what happened, just as she told Batman. Why wouldn't she talk now, and provide eyewitness testimony of Harvey's mock trial? She may well have her reasons, but again, no one is even thinking about Marissa anymore. Regardless, even in the midst of his trashing, Harvey speculates that there may be another reason why Batman came here alone:

I don't know if it was intentional on the artist's part, but I love how Batman's opaque white eye is reflected in the cracked mirror on the same side as Harvey's own. Suddenly, the choice to make his "bad" eye opaque becomes more significant than simply being a grotesque stylistic choice. It's hardly news to fans like us that Two-Face is a dark mirror to Batman, but rarely have we ever seen a story make this point so explicitly, nor so convincingly. Batman isn't in the best position to judge Harvey, as he too operates outside the law even as he cooperates with Gordon and the GCPD, at least when it suits him.

The only difference, as the opening scene showed, is that Batman's focus is to save innocents, not simply to fight "the hordes closin' in." What's especially tragic about this is that it shows how they could and should be working together, but that would never happen because Harvey is too unstable, violent, and bloodthirsty. As it is, a Two-Face who operates as this kind of anti-villain is a powerful idea, because when it comes to dispensing justice in Gotham, it shows how he and Batman really are--no other way to say this--two sides of the same coin.

I would dearly love to see more of this Two-Face rather than the usual gangster/supervillain/terrorist crap. Maybe what he needs is his own support system of like-minded anti-villain dark vigilantes like the Red Hood (putting aside the whole "Harvey killed Jason's father" thing, except wait, that's not in canon anymore) and... I dunno, Anarky maybe? Don't balk: what Harvey did here with that jury was a better example of true anarchy in action that anything that Lonnie or the Joker have done. Furthermore, imagine what such a Two-Face could do with a character like the Huntress who's always been more inclined towards violence and lethal force than the Bat-group.

Releasing Harvey, Batman vows to return and dispense his own justice if Aiden turns up and there's evidence linking what happened to him back to Harvey. Swinging off into the night, Batman leaves Harvey in the battered wreck of his office to literally pick up the pieces.

Okay, first off, I should clear up a bit of confusion. To some people--including me--it looked as though Harvey put the framed photo in the filing cabinet, and we were wondering why he did that. No, what really happened was that Harvey hung it back on the wall, and then filed away his scattered paperwork in the cabinet. So if you were confused by that as I was, there you go.

Okay, with that out of the way? My GOD, how I love that ending. If there's one big reason why I love this story, it's that ending right there. The way Harvey looks down at that framed photo of him and Bruce (whose own face, not Harvey's, is half in shadow. Neat touch!) is just heart-aching, especially given the exchanged that just happened between them both. Usually, it's only Bruce who gets to be shown having angsty feelings over what was lost, so there's something especially moving about seeing that, even in his criminal hideout, Harvey keeps a framed (though cracked) reminder of the better times on his wall. More than that, it's a symbol of everything he's lost in his own obsessive pursuit for justice, fairness, and balance. It's an abyss that Batman himself would have fallen into if it weren't for the support of people like Alfred and the Bat-family.

Something else I didn't notice the first time I read it was that it's Batman giving the final narration, as evidenced by the bat-insignia in the caption box. I thought this was being given by Harvey himself, and was initially disappointed that we didn't get even this brief glimpse into his mind. But that's the beauty of this story: the narration applies to both Batman and Two-Face perfectly. It shows how they both righteously see themselves as the heroes, and it gives some insights to what they think of their opponents, who would be horrified at the "ugliness" of their justice.

It's especially perfect that this story should then end on a silent panel of blind Lady Justice. To true justice, concepts of beauty and ugliness have no meaning. At least, that's the idea.

If you're interested in owning The Beautiful Ugly (and you should!), all three parts from Legends of the Dark Knight #56-58 are available digitally via Comixology, as well as on iTunes, Kindle, and Nook stores, direct links to which can be found here. I also highly recommend you check out Derek Fridolfs' blog for tons of in-depth discussion about this story with his co-author, Ken Jones. It's a rare insight in the creative process of a comic by two very interesting, very cool guys who understand how to tell a great Batman tale worthy of the Legends of the Dark Knight banner.
Tags: derek fridolfs, jason shawn alexander, jim gordon, kenneth elliott jones, legends of the dark knight (2013), new comic reviews, the penguin

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