about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

Stories That Never Were: The original "Big Burn" with Carrie Kelley and Harvey Dent?

Just replace her with Harvey, no one will know the difference.

I'm still reeling from the finale of The Big Burn, the current storyline in Batman and Robin Two-Face #24-28 which serves as Harvey Dent's new origin and first major storyline in the DCnU continuity (the less said about whatever the fuck Tony Daniel was trying to do, the better).

The short, spoiler-free version is that it was a surprisingly different take that I mostly found very interesting, occasionally wonderful, and sometimes frustrating and even upsetting. I've been drafting up reviews all week in preparation for the finale, and now that it's out, I fear that all my plans and criticisms have been shaken to their very core. I'm going to need another week or three to write up the reviews.

And yet, even after all's said and done, and I can't help but wonder what the original plans were for The Big Burn. Because there's one thing of which I'm certain, and it's that this isn't the story we were supposed to have gotten, the story that writer Peter J. Tomasi originally intended to tell.

At this point, I'm convinced that The Big Burn was originally supposed to go very differently, and that it was drastically changed at the last minute for reasons we can only speculate. The prospect of Harvey getting a rebooted origin for the Ne2 52 was stressful enough in the first place (look at what the hell they've done to Penguin, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Mister Freeze, Clayface, and the Joker so far), but it's mind-boggling to consider that Harvey's new history is something that was sabotaged and then Frankensteined back together from the scraps of the original plans.

Bizarrely, this whole mystery seems to be centered around the appearance (and then disappearance) of Carrie Kelley: the Robin from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns who had been introduced into mainstream DCnU back in April 2013. There had been big plans for Carrie Kelley, whose origin was to be revealed in The Big Burn and tied to Harvey Dent's own origin in some way. She even appeared on the covers as they were originally solicited, but when the actual issues came out, she'd been scrubbed and replaced entirely.

Just replace her with Harvey, no one will know the difference.

So before we delve into The Big Burn as it is, please join me in retracing the past year of hints and foreshadowing to try and determine that The Big Burn was originally supposed to be, and how much has potentially affected this new version of Harvey Dent that we're stuck with, for good or ill.

Let's go back to April 2013. Batman mastermind Scott Snyder's major Death of the Family storyline had just wrapped up, featuring a brief appearance of Two-Face that served to completely misunderstand the character on a fundamental level in order to make the Joker look good. Meanwhile, former Batman mastermind Grant Morrison commenced the climax of his own long-running epic story, culminating with the death of his original character, Damian Wayne, at the hands of a horribly-out-of-character Talia al Ghul who was mercifully killed two issues later.

The only bright spot to come out of Damian's death was to be found in the pages of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin, starting with a stunningly powerful and wordless issue of Bruce dealing with his son's murder. Tomasi isn't a perfect writer, but he has a knack of taking the big ideas and events of other writers--Geoff Johns on Green Lantern, Grant Morrison in Batman/Batman Inc.--and applying them to great stories which are more based in character development and interaction. At his best, he breathes humanity into characters after someone else does all the world-building and plot stuff.

Case in point, he followed up the silent issue with a five-partner wherein Bruce goes through each of the five stages of grief, and the results were powerful and heart-wrenching. Then again, I may just be saying that as a father myself, which I'm sure colored my reading experience. This storyline, however, served a secondary purpose, which was to introduce Frank Miller's alternate-universe Robin, Carrie Kelley, into mainstream DC continuity for the first time!

Despite the cover, she was not being introduced as the new Robin following the death of Damian Wayne. At least, not yet, anyway. This new version of Carrie Kelley is reimagined by Tomasi as a snarky theatre geek who had been tutoring Damian off-panel for months now, which seems like a rather random revelation to throw in at the last minute, but whatever.

She's also kind of a snot, but then again, maybe I'm just a grouchy old man at age almost-31. Pshh, 1999 wasn't THAT long ago... was it? Also, "Apollo?" Hmmmm...

Her introductory storyline was a subplot set around Bruce Wayne having to convince Carrie that Damian was still alive, happy and frolicking on a farm somewhere studying abroad in Europe. While this storyline was decidedly secondary to Bruce's plot, Tomasi made it clear that Carrie wasn't going anywhere, and that her big moment was set to arrive in just a few months.

"She's gonna be in the book for a while," the writer said back in late April 2013, in a video interview with Newsarama. "She's very important to the batman mythology, and we'll have a big story arc coming up in the, uh... let's just say 'a Two-Face story,' and leave it at that. So who will be the new Robin? [It's] anybody's guess right now."

So not only was Carrie Kelley going to become more important, but her story might even be in keeping with the old tradition of Two-Face being the trial by fire for new Robins (a tradition that had already, sadly, been broken by both Steph and Damian, neither of whom ever even met Harvey). And sure enough, just weeks after Tomasi made this announcement, we got our first hint of this storyline in the very next issue of Batman and Robin!

Well, actually it was Batman and Robin The Red Hood, because in the wake of Damian's death, the name of Batman's co-star changed every issue, although the title was still technically Batman and Robin. As such, issue #19 became Batman and Red Robin (as you can see above), while other issues because Batman and Batgirl, Batman and Nightwing, and so on. At the end of issue #20, which was Batman and the Red Hood that month, the final page featured a stark and mostly-silent appearance of someone who had nothing to do with the story.

Note: this page is my own edited version, as I've taken the liberty of cropping out the "NEXT: BATGIRL IN 'THE BARGAIN'" teaser that overlapped the last panel in the original published page. I think it looks better this way, and evidently, so did the penciler himself!

I must admit, I do love this single page. The pencils, inks, and coloring all come together to create a sparse and haunting Two-Face moment. But mood aside, what did it actually signify? What did the "no" mean? One could guess that maybe he was going to strike in some fashion, but the coin's ruling made him decide not to do it, or at least, "not tonight, not yet." Heck, for all we knew, maybe he was trying to decide if he wanted sushi for dinner.

In any case, the implication was clear: Two-Face was coming, but what he going to do when he got here was anyone's guess. Whatever it was going to be, though, it was apparently going to be so major that even main Scott Snyder was planning to get in on the new Harvey Dent backstory in his next big Bat-event!

Mere days after B&R #20 issue came out, the DC solicits for July 2013 included a mention that a young Harvey Dent would appear in Snyder's upcoming prequel event, "Batman: The Zero Year." In an interview with Newsarama,, Snyder himself briefly elaborated on Harvey involvement, hinting at how it tied in with Tomasi's "big plans."

Nrama: Scott, we've also found out from solicitations that we'll meet Harvey Dent in the past. Is this the origin of Two-Face, or is it before that?
Snyder: No, this happens before that, not to give too much away. Pete Tomasi in Batman and Robin has some plans. You've seen Two-Face appear briefly, haven't you? That issue's out?
Nrama: Yeah, yeah.
Snyder: He appeared at the very end?
Nrama: Yeah, we saw the coin.
Snyder: They have really big plans, and cool plans, for revealing more about Two-Face's background. For us [in Batman: Zero Year], Harvey appearing as Harvey is part of that tradition of him and Bruce being in an alliance before things become what they are.

Putting aside my apprehensions given the last time that Scott Snyder wrote Two-Face, I did my best to prepare for the release of Batman #22 and hope that maybe Snyder would be better suited to writing Harvey pre-scarring. And it's here that I should have sensed the first sign of trouble, because despite both the promise of the solicit and the enthusiasm of Snyder, the actual issue featured absolutely no appearance of Harvey Dent. Not even so much as an off-handed mention of his existence! What's really odd about this is that the solicit remains unchanged even now, over six months later, STILL proclaiming that it features Bruce clashing with a young Harvey Dent!

This wasn't the first time that a Harvey Dent story didn't match the solicitation, as DC has had a bad habit over the last few years of promoting one Two-Face story and then quietly releasing something completely different, with seemingly no one noticing nor caring. Remember how Harvey's first solo adventure in Streets of Gotham was supposed to directly follow his appearance in Manhunter, which ended on a cliffhanger, only to up and turn into a completely different story with no explanation whatsoever? After that, the lack of promised Harveyness--even something potentially problematic by Snyder--left me frustrated, but unsurprised. It all seemed like another instance of DC being their usual annoyingly careless, sloppy selves, and nothing more remarkable than that.

Well, it hardly seemed to matter much either way. It was only going to be a minor appearance of Harvey, a mere adjunct to whatever plans that the mastermind Peter Tomasi had coming up, so I tried not to sweat it too much. Instead, I focused my attention on the current and upcoming issues of Batman and (Whoever). Having skipped #21, Harvey next appeared two issues later after his one-page appearance, showing up right after the conclusion of Carrie Kelley's brief subplot, wherein the once (in another continuity) and possibly future (in this continuity) Robin's to see Damian was resolved thanks to a bit of technological wizardry by Bruce and Alfred.

Having bought the ruse, Carrie's suspicions were allayed, and Bruce was in the clear... at least until her impending return, set to occur a mere two issues later in the next big storyline, which had already been announced in DC's solicits. According to the solicit for Batman and Robin Two-Face #24, The Big Burn would reveal "the mysterious connections between Harvey Dent’s life and the origin of Carrie Kelley." Carrie herself would then take center stage in the next issue, Batman and Robin Carrie Kelley #25, with the solicit teasing, "Who is Carrie Kelley and how can her mysterious connection to Harvey Dent help Batman?"

Little did most realize at the time that no such story would ever be told, that this above page from issue #21 would instead end up being Carrie's very last appearance in the DCnU to date. For now, though, let's go back to Harvey's next teaser appearance, which is rather underwhelming compared to the first one it's intended to echo:

I'm not really clear on what he hell's going on here. Did Harvey, whilst brandishing a gun, just wander into a random restaurant, sit down at a table amidst the terrified populace, flip the coin, and then leave? Was the implication that he would have killed everyone there if the coin flip had gone the other way? Again, for all we know, he may have been deciding whether or not he wanted sushi that night. This second teaser was as incomprehensible as the first without any of the first's haunting artistic merit. Again, all we got from this was that Two-Face flipped for something, and the answer was "no," and nothing happened.

Still, there was every reason to believe that we'd be getting some answers a month (plus a week) in Two-Face's solo one-shot written by Tomasi for the big Forever Evil, in an issue scheduled first as Two-Face #1 before it was changed to Batman and Robin: Featuring Two-Face, #23.1. Seeing as how this issue came out right before the first part of The Big Burn, it was thus reasonable to assume that the one-shot would serve as a prologue to the main storyline, right? Surely this issue would have something to do with the two teaser "No" images over the past few months, right? Or hey, maybe it would foreshadow something that would in some way end up be tied to Carrie Kelley, yes?

HAHAHAHA, foolish me for expecting this to make any kind of logical sense! No, as I learned when I reviewed the issue back in September, this is another case of a continuity clusterfuck brought on by editorial interference during a major comic event. Ever since comic companies came up with the idea of these huge crossover events, writers have had to deal with having their own carefully-planned-out stories getting sabotaged by DC or Marvel forcing them to tie it into whatever huge Crisis was happening that week.

For example, Phil Jimenez's big climax for his run in Wonder Woman was completely screwed over because DC forced him at the last minute to tie it into the lousy Joker's Last Laugh event, resulting in a messy story that "wasn't particularly satisfactory to anyone." The Forever Evil event was no different, as we'd already learned that Batwoman writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman had been setting up big plans for Killer Croc, only to have them scrapped at the last minute and replaced with an entirely different one-shot issue written by Hack/Slash creator Tim Seeley, in his first major Batman work for DC.

Then again, while this was an incredibly dickish and unfair thing to pull on Williams and Blackman, it may have been for the best, as Seeley's Croc issue turned out to be the single best villain one-shot of the whole event, and one of the greatest Croc stories of all time, but I digress.

As such, it was par for the course to expect that DC would bulldoze over whatever plans Tomasi had right out of the gate, with Geoff Johns' first issue of Forever Evil depicting Two-Face escaping from Arkham Asylum alongside the Riddler, despite the fact they've both been walking around freely in current issues just months earlier. Most comic fans have long ago learned to accept this type of casual incongruity lest their heads explode on a monthly basis. Thus we can just shrug and accept that the Two-Face solo issue would be an awkwardly shoehorned-in tale to coincide with the events of Forever Evil, fine, whatever.

All that said, there were two pages which seemed to serve no other purpose than to foreshadow The Big Burn, or at least, the original intended version of The Big Burn. In this scene, Two-Face went inside the courthouse where he used to work which has since been taken over by the Crime Syndicate's goons, who have slaughtered most of the lawyers and staff there in a bid to spread chaos. In the only compelling part of this otherwise-misbegotten issue, the panels alternate between the bloody present and the idyllic past, when everything looked bright and promising for Harvey Dent as well as for Gotham itself.

Let's take a moment to extrapolate all we can from these pages. From this, it appears that Harvey Dent was once a righteous crime-fighter who was as generous with his friends as we was ruthless with his foes. One of the criminals he went after alongside Batman and Jim Gordon was a unstable mob boss named Erin McKillen, who had taken over the McKillen crime family in the wake of her husband's death or imprisonment. It now appears that McKillen eventually became the criminal known as Scallop, who now leads the group slaughtering the lawyers.

Everyone can agree on this, right? Do you all get the same read from these pages, more or less? Even if you don't, there's no denying that these pages are some of the only evidence of the original Big Burn plans.

In the first part of TBB, which came out just three weeks later, we meet Erin McKillen and quickly learn that she isn't Scallop at all but rather a whole different character. Was Erin McKillen ever meant to be Scallop in the first place? It sure as hell looks like she was based on those two panels above, not to mention how artist Gulliem March gave them the exact same hair color.

The original Erin McKillen?

Secondly, as TBB unfolds, we learn that Erin McKillen had NO husband, or at least, none who ran the crime family when then passed onto her. Instead, Erin ran the mob alongside her twin sister, Shannon, both of whom inherited the position after their father died. Read the pages above again, and you'll see that Erin is referred to as a solo agent rather than part of a matched set, as she and Shannon are in TBB.

This alone would be enough to conclude, without a doubt, that TBB changed dramatically at the last minute, with less than a month between published issues. However, there's one more factor that adds the final nail in the coffin to this theory, and that's the complete and utter erasure of Carrie Kelley, who never shows up in TBB at all.

Here, compare and contrast the original and final versions of the first two covers, and notice that the solicitation STILL list Carrie as being centrally involved:

What in the hell...? Where did she go? There can be no doubt that, between Tomasi's interview last year and these original solicits, that Carrie was going to be absolutely central to TBB and Harvey's new origin. By excising a character who was going to be so important, Tomasi must have had to rewrite most of the story from the ground up! What's perhaps most bizarre of all is that the Carrie-centric original solicits are still up at dccomics.com and comixology.com, where the issues can be bought digitally. Same goes for the Zero Year issue that still claims to include Harvey Dent!

Oh, and that's another thing: the Zero Year solicit still claims to feature Bruce Wayne's "run-ins with aspiring District Attorney Harvey Dent," which doesn't at ALL match the kind of relationship they end up having in TBB, wherein we learn that Harvey was a mob lawyer who had no intention whatsoever to become D.A. until Bruce himself pushed him into it! What's more, it seems that Harvey became D.A. sometime later than whenever Zero Year takes place, after Bruce had mellowed into his current playboy persona instead of the earlier raging-asshole-with-a-buzzcut personality that he now had courtesy of Snyder's new continuity. The two just don't fit.

And again, it all seems to go back to Carrie Kelley's disappearance. For whatever reason, Tomasi was forced to abandon his plans for her, and thus Harvey Dent's first major story was sabotaged as a result. Why am I so upset by all this? For one thing, it bothers me on principle that yet another young female Batman supporting character has been casually erased, but more personally, this means that Harvey Dent's entire history--including what happens to Gilda--is now the result of a story that was slapped-together at a moment's notice. This is no way to run a railroad, especially when it comes to a character like Harvey.

Now we're left to wonder what the original Big Burn plans were, and whether or not they would have resulted in a better story than the one we got instead. Maybe the story originally went that Erin McKillen ran the mob with her husband, who was killed due to Harvey Dent's actions, thus leading her to scar him and kill Gilda for revenge. If this is true, then I'd have to admit that the twins angle is better, as Shannon McKillen being Erin's better half works as a more poignant mirror for Harvey. I don't love how that story panned out, but the final version is more compelling than if Erin had been avenging her husband, which is a bit more cliche.

Maybe this could also be tied in with Scallop, although probably not, as none of that bad blood came up in the Forever Evil one-shot. Harvey treated Scallop like just another criminal rather than the woman who utterly ruined his life after he ruined hers. So I guess that there was no way that Erin could have been Scallop at all, in which case the Forever Evil issue was... what, just a case of sloppy-ass writing?

Also, did anyone else notice the prominently-displayed necklace on Erin's neckin the first cover with Carrie/Bullock? I mean, assuming that blonde woman in the first cover was meant to be Erin (who never had that hairstyle anywhere in the story) and that it was just a colorist error? As we never see the necklace in TBB, I have to wonder if maybe this was just a bit of artistic fancy on the part of Patrick Gleason, or if maybe it would have played some part in the original plans with Carrie Kelley.

So where would Carrie have fit into all this? Considering her red hair, I can only assume that she must have been intended to be a relation of the McKillen clan, either as Erin's estranged daughter (back from when she had a husband) or maybe a distant cousin, something like that. Harvey might have therefore gone after Carrie as a way to try and get revenge on Erin, but how that might have played out, I have no bloody idea. Tomasi must have done a stellar job of filling in the gaps left behind by Carrie's absence, because I honestly can't figure out where the hell she would have fit into The Big Burn.

Of course, this still leaves the big question of WHY Carrie Kelley was erased in the first place. I've tried asking around to various sources, none of which have gotten back to me, leaving me to feel like a madman ranting to himself in the middle of the road. My only guess was that Tomasi's plans for her somehow clashed with the big upcoming Batman: Eternal storyline that Snyder and company have planned, a theory which I'm still betting on given the major revelations in last week's issue of Batman. We already knew that [click for spoiler, literally]Stephanie Brown was coming back and that Snyder OC Harper Row--another contender for the new Robin--had become a new vigilante called Bluebird, but the issue also featured the appearance of another mysterious character in the Batcave who seems to be the new Oracle:

Some are speculating that this person may be Carrie Kelley, although I recall reading somewhere that Snyder says that it's a whole different character we haven't met yet. In either case, I'm still betting that someone major at DC decided at the last minute that Tomasi's plans for Carrie Kelley had no place in their greater plans, and they forced him to abandon her and rewrite the whole story with little advance notice.

And for poor, ever-misused Harvey Dent, this is yet another case to be filed away under "Stories That Never Were," with the character, as always, at the mercy of capricious, fickle fate in the form of DC Comics' writers and editors.

Coming up next, I shall be splitting my review of The Big Burn (which I'm going to finish as soon as possible, because OH MY GOD WHAT) into two parts, separating them into flashback and modern-day storylines. What's more, I'm going to do like I did with my review of Two-Face: Year One and edit the flashbacks to review them chronologically rather than in the backwards, Memento-esque way they were originally written and published. This is not the way that Mr. Tomasi intended them to be read, but I'm mainly interested in examining what this new origin means for Harvey Dent and to see if it holds any water, so I hope that I may be forgiven for any creative critical liberties I take here.

See you folks whenever the hell I manage to get both reviews finished! And from there, I promise to finally get back to work on the reviews for The Long Halloween!
Tags: dcnu, dustin nguyen, new comic reviews, patrick gleason, peter tomasi, scott snyder, stories that never were

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