about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

REVIEW: "The Big Burn," Part 1: The All-New (52) Origin of Harvey Dent (2014)

Right off the bat upfront, I'll say this much for Harvey Dent's new origin The Big Burn from Batman and RobinTwo-Face #24-28: it sure as hell is not what I had expected. Even as I was reading it and kept thinking that I knew where it was going, the damn story kept subverting my expectations and surprising me. Which, as it turns out, was probably by design.

Batman and Robin writer Peter J. Tomasi made the unusual choice to reveal Harvey's new backstory through flashbacks that run backwards scene by scene, ala Christopher Nolan's arguably best movie, Memento. As such, the first issue showed how Harvey got scarred and gave some clues about what led to that moment, and then the next issue showed what happened right BEFORE the previous scene, with information that fleshed out what we'd already learned. In this way, Tomasi was able to set up expectations and toy with the readers' assumptions.

Frankly, I resented this kind of open manipulation. At least in Memento, it served a very specific purpose that was directly relevant to the main character's affliction. Here, it serves only to screw with the reader. I'm not saying that this choice wasn't effective on a certain level, as it kept me on my toes and I was genuinely surprised a couple times there. I suppose that garnering an emotional response should be the basic goal of every storyteller, but I can't shake the suspicion that those reactions were empty, and that there was no depth behind the twists. A twist for twist's sake is one of the cheapest forms of writing, with little more worth than a "BOO!" scare in a horror movie. 

Thus, at the risk of betraying the integrity of Tomasi's story, I want to review this one a little differently. Rather than examine the origin as presented, via backwards flashbacks in between the modern day stuff, I'm going to do like I did with my review of Two-Face: Year One and examine the origin's events in chronological order.

You’re going to begin at the beginning? How pedestrian!

This is not the way that Tomasi intended you to read this story, and the truth is that, yes, it's more emotionally effective to read it in context. However, the real test of this origin's worth is if it can still hold up when read chronologically, without any of the twists and misdirects. My goal is to examine how TBB works as a character piece for Harvey Dent and as an origin for Two-Face (NOT as a story as a whole), and if it doesn't hold up when told as a linear narrative, then it's a failure. So let's tear into it together, shall we? 

Note: All that said, if you are able to read The Big Burn yourself, I highly recommend that you do so first. Just start here and read on. Seriously. It's worth reading for much the same reasons that Tomasi's Nightwing: The Great Leap is recommended: it's flawed as hell but filled with so much great stuff for Two-Face fans that I'm tempted to put it high on my list of recommended stories despite some huge reservations. Don't just rely on my reviews here if you can help it, as I'm going to tear this story apart and piece in back together in a way that will fundamentally alter the intended reading experience. Again, I'm reviewing the ORIGIN more than the STORY, so please try to approach this review with that in mind as much as possible.

As the first part we'll be examining occurred in the last issue of The Big Burn, we're starting with the scene wherein Tomasi wanted to reveal this new backstory's final details. As it turns out (and as will become clear once we review the modern day stuff in the next post), these details will prove to be at the very heart of Harvey's character arc.

As we’re dealing with a whole new continuity here, I should probably say a quick word about Scott Snyder’s still-in-progress new Batman origin, The Zero Year. I haven’t been following it aside from bits that get posted in the usual places, so I cannot say with certainty whether or not Tomasi’s new backstory for Harvey jives with Snyder’s. Of course, it was supposed to back with the original plans for TBB, since TZY was to have featured Bruce dealing with “run-ins” with Harvey, who was said to be an aspiring D.A.

Right away, as you’ll see in these scans, that detail right there is a big clue of how different the two TBBs really are, and that’s not even to mention Bruce himself. From what I’ve seen of TZY Bruce Wayne, he’s an angry young man who hasn’t yet figured out to create the carefree playboy persona of Bruce Wayne. The young, college age Bruce we see in TBB’s earliest flashback, however, doesn’t seem to fit with what I know of TZY’s Bruce at all. This is classic Bruce all the way, and it makes me wonder how much else of TBB doesn’t fit with TZY, which will thus put it at hazard of being ignored by continuity as Harvey’s story isn’t the “important” one.

In the following flashback scenes that came out first, we got no indication that Bruce and Harvey were exactly close, thus leading me to fear that this was yet another instance of a writer neglecting the importance of their friendship. This was one of the last instances (and thus, your first instance) of Tomasi misdirecting the reader, as we learn from this flashback that Harvey and Bruce have been friends since at least their preschool days! Which is fantastic!

Man, I've been so sick and tired of seeing new childhood friends pop up for Bruce--characters like Roman Sionis, Tommy Elliot, Rachel Dawes, and now a certain pair of twins we're about to meet--while his friendship with Harvey in The Animated Series and the comic strips went unexplored in the comics, and was only sometimes alluded to, although mostly ignored. This wasn't helped by the fact that The Long Halloween established Harvey and Bruce as having never been friends, and that the former was resentful and antagonistic to the latter from the start.

As such, I'm delighted to see Tomasi finally, explicitly establish that they've been lifelong friends, even if later stuff we're about to see may not quite mesh with their history. But as much as I love this, there’s another historic addition by Tomasi which I love even more:

Yes, Gilda is here (unlike in Two-Face: Year One, one of the many reasons why that book was useless), and what’s more, she’s definitely not the same Gilda as the one from The Long Halloween! As another little perk for the few of us who love the character, this is probably the first mention of her maiden name in decades, and it's the only time I think we've ever seen her in pre-married life! Alas, we only get one more page of that, plus a scant bit of information about her interests before she regrettably falls into more... shall we say, standard roles for women in comics. For now, let's savor the better times between our doomed lovers.

Yeah, I'd say he moves a little too fast, but eh, I guess we don't have enough time for a more realistic courtship, one which could better explore just why these two fell madly in love and became such a strong couple. Hey, I shouldn't complain, since this is still WAY more than we've ever gotten before, but surely I can't be the only one who wants to see more of Harvey and Gilda's relationship, especially considering how important their love will be in this particular storyline.

Now, I am quite disappointed that Tomasi forgot that she was a sculptor (and has been since her very first appearance in 1942!) and instead chose to put her in marketing, especially since that never comes up again nor serves any purpose in the plot. Well, you can't expect anyone to get all of the details right, especially since Gilda hasn't been depicted as a sculptor since 1993 in Two-Face Strikes Twice!. Hell, in TLH, she didn't even have any interests of her own whatsoever aside from Harvey! Sadly, I'm afraid that this version of Gilda doesn't get any interests nor agency of her own anywhere, but at least the stink of what TLH did to her has been erased in this new continuity.

More importantly, let's discuss the biggest change: Harvey Dent aspired to become a defense attorney rather than a crime-fighting prosecutor! On the surface, this seems like it may be a major shift in Harvey’s character, setting him up to focus more on his vanity (my least favorite of the canon traits, especially as it only seems to be played up by more superficial writers, go figure) than his nobler aspects, especially with his line about how cool and slick TV lawyers were. As you’ll be seeing soon enough, there will be every possibility that this Harvey may not have been the hero that the character has mostly been depicted, give or take the occasional Doug Moench tale.

Personally, though, I prefer to latch onto his line, "I believe everyone deserves a fair trial." That, to me, indicates that even this Harvey Dent is driven by a sense of justice and fairness, that he's still an idealist but just from the other side of the courtroom. He's certainly drawn to the more glamorous aspects too, but I would greatly prefer to think that he just sees those as handy perks. Otherwise, then he's kinda an asshole, especially considering how he advances his career.

These panels don't put Harvey in the most noble of lights, as it appears that he's exploiting Batman's illegal vigilante actions to defend the kind of people who would attack the elderly. Now, this may not contradict the idea that Harvey is still an idealist who believes in a fair trial for all, because even alleged scumbags deserve legal council, but it does make him out to be more of a morally gray (though ethically pure?) lawyer whose questionable actions are at least more within the bounds of law than anything Batman does. Would this make him Lawful Neutral, then? Sorry, I don’t even play D&D, yet I can never resist trying to fit characters into the alignment chart.

Even if this Harvey is on the right side of the law, the narrative suggests that he may not be on the right side of justice, especially once you discover who his biggest clients are. Despite all this, Gilda has nothing but complete support for Harvey and his prospering career, so if she’s aware of the shadier clients that Harvey has been helping to let off the hook, she doesn’t seem to lose sleep over it anymore than he does.

Considering that Gilda is more of a moral center to Harvey later on, it’s a tad dispiriting that we don’t show her at least gently questioning Harvey’s choice of clients. They aren’t exactly the most reputable of people, in case you couldn’t tell from that cell phone bit which may—as I suspect—have been a tad influenced by Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad with that "are you using the phone we gave you" bit. Considering that Saul's the most famous and beloved mob lawyer in pop culture since The Godfather's Tom Hagen, I have to wonder if he may have influenced this new take on Harvey.

When Harvey meets with his clients, he learns that they put out a hit on the entire family of James Gordon, who is apparently already Commissioner in this new continuity. Really? Again, I haven't been reading Scott Snyder's The Zero Year in full, so I don't yet know everything about what Batman's backstory is in the DCnU, but I already know that they've decided to go with the Pre-Crisis/Nolanverse idea that Gordon has always been a Gotham cop, thus retconning out Frank Miller's Batman: Year One entirely, so maybe he already is Commissioner this early on in Batman's career.

This change doesn’t bother me too much, although I dislike that B:YO has been so thoroughly retconned, which strikes me as especially stupid given that it was just adapted into a movie that was undoubtedly seen by far more people than just comic readers. What does bug me is that this new version of Jim Gordon—the most down-to-earth, realistic, average everyman of Batman’s world—is now an asskicking marine action hero like something out of a Jason Statham movie. Seriously, look at the panel below, and you can almost see the slo-mo kick in as doves flutter around the carnage.

As mothy_van_cleer said, "There’s a difference between 'beating up a Green Beret armed with a baseball bat' and 'just one flock of startled doves away from a John Woo gunfight,' Jim. You’ve crossed it." It's a bit jarring to watch him become a superhero and then settle back into the role of being a life-sized, normal defender of law and order.

Yep, those are the McKillen twins, Erin and Shannon, who we saw earlier at Bruce’s party for reasons which will be discussed in the next review. While they may look like go-go dancers from the 1960’s, they are in fact the most ruthless crime bosses in Gotham City (you can tell because they have “kill” in their name!), and Harvey has been representing them. Which, of course, makes him a mob lawyer.

What, are we in Earth-3 all of a sudden here? Rebooting Harvey as a mob lawyer who suffers a crisis of conscience would be a brilliant idea for DC’s mirror universe where good and evil polarities are swapped, but doing it to Harvey in the mainstream DCU is a questionable choice, at best. Thing is, this is actually the SECOND time that an upstanding, crusading, Golden Age era District Attorney character has been rebooted as shady mob lawyer!

The Black Bat is an old pulp character who Bob Kane credited for inspiring Bill Finger’s Two-Face origin. Granted, anything Bob Kane says should be taken with a whole bag of salt, but then again, how often has Kane ever credited somebody else for anything? In any case, given that the Black Bat was originally a D.A. who had acid thrown into his face and then became a blind, bat-themed vigilante, I think it’s safe to assume that there were several characters he influenced, including Harvey Kent.

So why the heck have both characters been changed? I can only guess that writers are less interested in genuinely heroic characters and more interested in telling stories about morally flawed characters who try to do the right thing and then get punished for their efforts. While I do like those kinds of stories, I’m getting rather sick of this notion that fewer and fewer characters can be decent and heroic without being assholes first, as if everybody has to have a character arc like Peter Parker's or Dr. Strange's.

It strikes me as the same brand of cynicism that’s led to Jim Gordon—the one character who has always been the most honest, decent, and upstanding person in Gotham City—being rebooted as a corrupt cop in both Snyder’s The Zero Year and Geoff Johns' Batman: Earth One, not to mention how Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises tore him down so much that his actions caused Not-Robin to quit the force in disgust. Heroes, it seems, all have to be flawed to the point of corruption, whereas villains like Mister Freeze and the Mad Hatter are only getting darker, more loathsome, and less sympathetic.

As such, even Harvey’s pre-scarred days are now tainted by the fact that he once represented mobsters for an unspecified period of time. This is deeply problematic, because if you take away Harvey’s heroism as D.A., then there’s no tragedy when he becomes Two-Face. That heroism and idealism is absolutely key to making Two-Face an interesting character underneath all the bad suits, duality gimmicks, freaky scars, and coin-flip decisions. Without it, then he's just an asshole who becomes a monster, and who'd gives a shit about that?

The question we must therefore explore is just how heroic is this Harvey Dent at heart? Well, with these last couple panels, we see that there is definitely a line he’ll refuse to cross, and that he’ll stand up for those convictions while too many other lawyers would go right along with the McKillens’ demands. While I appreciate how this serves as proof that Harvey has some sense of morality and integrity, I have to wonder how much he'd already morally compromised himself during his time as the McKillen family's lawyer, for however long he'd been on retainer. What exactly were the last charges that Harvey has cleared them of, and how much about them did he know when he agreed to take them on as clients? The fact that none of this is established, not even how he got involved with them in the first place, is deeply frustrating.

Despite Harvey's reaction and what he's about to do next, we can't forget that he was a mob lawyer, so we can't just pretend that he remained blissfully ignorant that his clients were the biggest mobsters in Gotham City. Even if he wasn't complicit in any crimes, he must have had to squelch his morality to some degree or else the McKillens wouldn't be so aggressively insistent upon retaining him. As such, I hate to wonder just how much Harvey has been “a party to” before he reached his breaking point with the attempted murder of the Gordons.

"If you have a choice, you're never powerless, Harvey." Well, there's a line that rights through to the very heart of Harvey’s entire character, considering what he becomes. This suggests that Two-Face is essentially powerless because he’s given up his freedom of choice in favor of following the coin’s rulings, and that the only way he’ll have any power again is to choose for himself. I suppose that even a bad choice is preferable than no choice at all, although given where Harvey’s choices lead him, I’m not sure that he’d be liable to agree on that count.

Though I do have my misgivings about how Gilda is portrayed, this is the closest I’ve ever seen the comics come to depicting Harvey and Gilda’s relationship the way I’ve always wanted to see it done. I love that Gilda is being depicted as Harvey’s moral compass, give or take how she shows little objection to Harvey's clients. I’m also not particularly fond of how this scene is basically her giving Harvey permission to break attorney/client privilege, thereby violate one of his profession’s most sacred rules, and risk disbarment at best and violent retribution at worst.

Thing is, does attorney/client privilege even hold in this case considering that the McKillen twins outright admitted to Harvey that they plotted to murder Jim Gordon and his whole family? I was under the impression that attorney/client privilege isn’t applied when lawyers learn about hard evidence of their client’s criminal activities? I decided to consult my legal eagle friend, Katie, who said that this sort of thing is tricky because "attorney-client privilege is based in common law (case law) and has since been made into a rule of evidence in many jurisdictions."

In this particular case, though, "anything they told him about crimes they had already committed are covered by the privilege. There is in many jurisdictions a crime-fraud exception that says an attorney can go to the authorities (and is excused from maintaining the privilege) if the defendant tells him about plans to commit a crime in the future." She added, "And there's no law that says a lawyer can't defend someone he knows is guilty. Honestly, it happens all the time. It's easier if you don't know, of course. :)" Yes, of course.

As such, okay, it seems realistic enough to accept that Harvey truly was screwed if he wanted to "secretly implicate" the McKillens with the information they’d already told him. Maybe he could have agreed to stay on with the McKillens and bide his time until the next time they told him about plans to commit crimes in the future, so that he could take that to the authorities and hope to god that it doesn’t get back to him before they have a chance to retaliate.

No matter what, though, it’s clear that this is a tricky, messy situation for Harvey to have been in, and if he went ahead with his plans to “secretly implicate” them now, then yeah, it probably would've lead to his disbarment. If nothing else, I'm sure it wouldn't have done any wonders for his reputation, but depending on the jurisdiction, not to mention if the circumstances of the violation were taken into account, he might have been all right if only Bruce hadn't shown up with a proposal that would seal Harvey's fate.

Why does Harvey have a framed Connect Four set on the wall? Maybe in this continuity, that’s the game that Christopher Dent played with his son? Pretty sneaky, you evil old bastard. Nah, just kidding, there’s absolutely no mention of Harvey’s father in this origin, nor is there any insight into Harvey’s childhood whatsoever.

Harvey's prickly attitude towards Bruce doesn't seem to fit with their established friendship, although of course, it wasn't established at all in the original published order. This scene was the first indication we ever got that Bruce and Harvey even knew one another in civilian life, which had initially led me to believe that their relationship was the same as it was in The Long Halloween, with Harvey holding Bruce in disdain while Bruce believed in Harvey enough to back his career as D.A. As it is, I'm not really sure how the hell they went from their friendship in the first scene to this, with Harvey explicitly thinking of them as being enemies.

Note: Now, there may be an explanation related to one of the biggest twists of this story, but let's table that possibility until we get to modern-day stuff later. Besides, it's just as likely that the twist doesn't factor into everything here, so let's just stick with what we already know thus far.

What I find interesting is that Harvey seems especially touchy and defensive about his career and how he's judged (or at least, how he thinks he's being judged) by Bruce. Harvey immediately assumes that he's about to be blamed for Gotham's ills without Bruce saying anything of the sort, and before he gets a chance to elaborate, Harvey makes a cheap shot to apparently imply--in a rather clumsy fashion--that Bruce's playboy lifestyle somehow casts aspersions on his purported concern for Gotham's well-being.

I get that Tomasi is probably trying to show why Harvey doesn’t take Bruce seriously, but between the models comment here and the “monopolizing the girls, as usual” comment earlier, it almost sounds more like Harvey is just sniping out of a sense of petty jealousy. Then again, maybe that’s a factor too, considering that at least part of Harvey’s draw to the job was to become cool and suave, just as Bruce himself plays at being. Is there a chance that he was driven by jealousy of Bruce Wayne, at least in part?

Even if envy isn’t a factor, that still doesn’t explain Harvey’s defensive attitude. While Bruce’s remark about technicalities is a cutting way to snipe back at Harvey’s insinuations, perhaps it isn’t the first time that he's criticized Harvey in such a manner. This could help explain why they may have grown apart to the point that Harvey thinks of themselves as enemies, or at least, that's what he thinks that Bruce thinks. Otherwise, then what we have here may just be a case of Harvey lashing out at Bruce out of his own sense of defensive insecurity, maybe even to the point of self-loathing.

While one could argue that Harvey's claim to "stand up for the rights of the accused" is typical sleazy-lawyer rationale, I strongly prefer to think that this ties back to Harvey's ideals of fairness for everyone, even the lowest crooks of Gotham. At least, until the McKillens came along and pushed Harvey's idealism to the breaking point, putting him in a position where he's not so much "between a rock and a hard place," but rather, he's being torn apart between ethics and morality.

Of course, this is just my read on things, and I fear that there is a compelling argument to be made that this Harvey Dent was an opportunistic bastard, especially given what we're about to learn in the scan after next. I like the idea that Harvey was an idealist in his own way even before he became a crime-fighting crusader, and that he was torn apart between the ideals of law and the ideals of justice. All that seems perfectly fitting in spirit for a Two-Face origin, more so than the possibility that Harvey really was a two-faced bastard. Really, if anyone's a bastard here, it's Bruce:

Ah, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Nice to see that Bruce has dusted off that old fascist nugget. Or if “fascist” isn’t accurate, then let’s go with “overly simplistic.”

It's rather telling that Harvey lives in a world of moral gray areas before Bruce came along and pushed him into black and white thinking along with the position of District Attorney. I wonder, did Bruce do this just to get his old friend on the same side, or did he just want to exploit Harvey's knowledge and experience in order to bring down the McKillens? Because clearly, the latter was a factor, and what's more, it means that he knowingly pushed Harvey into committing a major breach of ethics.

From the looks of this, it seems like everyone close to Harvey Dent—Gilda, Bruce Wayne, and Jim Gordon alike—were ALL complicit in pushing him to violate attorney/client privilege. Harvey himself is the only one who seems to have any qualms about this, whereas everyone else acts like it’s no big deal, something that couldn’t possibly lead to disbarment at best or violent reprisals at worst. To make matters worse, Harvey is the only one here who’d be on the hook if their little plots fell through.

Anyone else think that this is all super sketchy of our heroes? Or should this sort of legal hand-waving be expected from anyone willingly working with a vigilante? Maybe the real lesson to take away here is that real-life legal issues have little place in the realm of Batman comics, at least not in the modern era where they haven’t even finagled an excuse like having Batman be a fully deputized member of the police force. But of course, how can we ignore these legal issues while still accepting them as key plot points for this story? You can't have it both ways.

All in all, it certainly looks like the good and bad guys alike all used Harvey to their own ends, while he and Gilda would both end up paying for the consequences. Which would be an interesting motivation for Two-Face to have for hating Batman, Bruce, and Gordon, except that there’s absolutely no indication anywhere in the modern-day stuff that Harvey bears any of them ill will. Whether there's a reason for this or if it's all a major missed opportunity on Tomasi's part, you'll have to judge for yourselves when all's said and done.

The next scene jumps ahead two years after Harvey was elected D.A., having since become the heroic, crusading, and popular Harvey Dent of yore. So yeah, Harvey doesn’t become Two-Face early on in Batman’s career, which is another big change. As the scarring doesn’t occur until another year later, this means that there are three years of potential stories to tell about Harvey working with Batman and Jim Gordon.

I wonder if any writer will take advantage of that long stretch and tell new D.A. Dent stories? Maybe not, because as far as this story is concerned, Harvey’s greatest triumph as D.A. was the one he set out to accomplish with Bats and Jimbo, and two years later, he randomly decided to gloat over his handiwork:

Okay, first off: a reference to Orange is the New Black? Seriously? So these flashbacks take place in 2013, or at the very least in 2011, when the original book came out? So does the modern-day DCU take place in the future or something? Well, I should give Tomasi this much credit: since this takes place several unspecified years in the past, this dated reference can potentially stay fresh for at least a decade!

Now, you may be wondering why Harvey suddenly seems to be an evil, duplicitous asshole who sold out his clients--possibly just to advance his career, based on what he was saying about "defense lawyers"--and then showed up to visit them at prison for no other reason than to piss them off even further. At least, that's what I was wondering when I first read this scene.

As these flashbacks were meant to hit the big important moments of Harvey and the McKillens' backstory, I originally thought that we were seeing THE betrayal happen right here, or at least, the immediate fallout. When I first read this in published order, I figured that Harvey's betrayal was still fresh, and that when Shannon said that she was expecting "our lawyer," she had meant Harvey, who obviously isn't theirs anymore. As such, I took Harvey's response about defense lawyers to be about himself, explaining the reasoning for why he sold them out.

To me, this was the confirmation of my worst fears about this story: that Harvey was a two-faced bastard who only went to the side of good for the worst, most selfish reasons. Reading it now, though, it's now clear to me--as I'm sure that it's already clear to you folks--that Shannon and Harvey are both actually talking about another lawyer and not Harvey himself. Thing is, I find it hard to overlook the implication that Harvey is speaking about defense lawyers from personal experience, and that money and one's reputation may still have been factors in his decisions, at least when it comes to joining the D.A.'s office.

For this last panel, the role of Harvey Dent will be played by Benedict Cumberbatch and/or an anthropomorphic cat.

Seriously, I like Patrick Gleason's art, partially because of how it's more slick, clean, and animated than the usual drab, gritty, pseudo-realistic, house style of DC Comics as presumably defined by Jim Lee. Gleason's art is refreshing compared to most others at DC, and I do love how he’s given Harvey some distinctive facial features rather than just drawing him as blandly handsome, major credit there. But sometimes, I have to admit, Gleason sure does give his characters some odd-lookin' faces. Seriously, compare the Harvey of the first panel to the one in the last: did his eyes get huge and stretched out when he smiled?

"Are you accusing me of doing something that would not only get me disbarred, but thrown in prison too, Shannon?" Actually, she's wasn't, since as Katie informed me, it isn't a crime to violate attorney/client privilege. So no, Harvey wouldn't go to prison, which is something that Harvey of all people should know.

But okay, let's assume that maybe it is a crime in Gotham City, sure, whatever. Even in that case, I'm not really sure what either Harvey or Tomasi was going for with this line here. Before the previous pages had been revealed, I'd wondered if maybe the McKillens were wrong and that Harvey actually hadn't committed a major violation in order to put them away. Of course, the previous pages indicate that he did exactly that, and with the full support of Bruce Wayne and the Commissioner, no less.

But here's where things get tricky: because there's this two-year gap between scenes, we don't actually know HOW the McKillens were convicted. How much did Harvey openly share his former clients' information with the police? Did he try using any of that information in court? Did he even try their case himself, or was it handled by another prosecutor? And if it was another prosecutor, was it possible that they and Harvey kept each other at arms-length to ensure that he wouldn't risk sabotaging such an important case?

The fact is that the McKillens probably do stand a very good chance of having their case open to appeal if Harvey's wrongdoing were proven. The fact that it hasn't panned out for two years suggests two possibilities:

1.) Harvey is innocent, and had somehow been able to ditch his clients, join the D.A.'s office, and take some involvement in their prosecution without ever technically violating attorney/client privilege.
2.) The McKillens are right, but can do nothing about it because our “heroes” have done a stellar job of covering their asses so that no one would know how they illegally put the McKillens away.

If the latter is true, then this just indicates that Batman and Gordon were as corrupt in their own way--perhaps even more so--than Harvey was as a defense attorney. At least he still operated within the law, whereas Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne took a more "by any means necessary" approach by pushing and welcoming Harvey onto their side. Thing is, if this case fell apart, then Harvey would have been the only one on the hook, as he is the one who would lose his job and be sent to prison. And that's not even to consider the fact that the McKillens would probably be back on the street too.

Not that Harvey seems to have any qualms about his actions nor worries about the McKillens' fate. Why the hell else would he randomly show up at prison to do nothing more than gloat and mock them? Geez, is he supposed to have been this much of a bastard? It's hard to tell how much of Harvey's sudden malevolence is mere misdirection on Tomasi and Gleason's parts, much like how Ray Palmer suddenly looked all eeeeevil in the second to last issue of Identity Crisis, not to mention all the times that Harvey himself looked all eeeeeevil in The Long Halloween.

Seems to me that the impression we're supposed to come away with here--at least, on the first read--is that Harvey is a sadistic, two-faced bastard who knowingly kicked the hornet's nest, even if that's not really what happened. Maybe if his smile here was the smile of knowing that he was finally doing the right thing and enjoying putting the criminals away, that would be okay. But as it is, he looks positively alien and evil.

If it's not mere misdirection, then how much is Harvey truly displaying a darker side of sadistic satisfaction at watching the McKillens suffer? Why in god's name did he think it was a good idea to actively antagonize the reckless (and for all he knows, still incredibly well-connected) mobsters who didn't think twice about trying to assassinate the police commissioner and his entire family? Was it just mere arrogance, or was he just made to act this way by the narrative so that we could then feel sympathy for the McKillens, especially considering what they do next?

What I find most interesting about this turn--and I'm not sure how intentional it was on Tomasi's part, as this never comes up again--was how chance seemingly played such an integral role in saving Erin's life while simultaneously taking Shannon's. Of course, it wasn't true chance but rather a bit of calculated self-sacrifice by Shannon, who rigged the draw much the same way that Harvey's father rigged the game in Eye of the Beholder, back in the old continuity.

Say, notice how there's still no mention of any coin, nor even a hint that Harvey's mentally ill, nor any indications that Harvey gives a fig about chance, luck, fate, and/or the number two? So far, there isn't really much here to foreshadow how Harvey could become Two-Face other than something happening to his face, is there? Just sayin’.

After Erin identified Shannon's body in the morgue, the guard (whose kid hopefully does get better, assuming that Erin pays all debts for good or ill) switched the McKillen sisters so that Shannon's corpse was carted back to Erin's cell, while Erin herself was placed in a body bag and carted out of prison. Which was a brilliant plan except, um, aren't body bags airtight?

As it is, the ambulance taking "Shannon McKillen's" body away was ambushed by mobsters led by the McKillen's cousin, Kieron. After killing the paramedics and capturing Batman's attention, they headed off in a high-speed chase that should have ended at the airport, except that Erin had one last bit of business that required attending. Oh hell, here we go.

Heh, Harvey and Gilda live on "Tulane Court." Cute.

What we have here is an early instance of Erin McKillen being a reckless badass, something which we'll be seeing more of in Part 2. She's so proficient and fearless that I can't shake the feeling that Tomasi is quite fond of his original character, despite the awfulness of what she's about to do.

Yep, they fridged Gilda. While there have been a couple instances in the past where her absence from Harvey's life has been hand-waved away with a quick mention or allusion that she died at some point from unspecified reasons, this is the first time that she's ever been outright killed, and frankly, I'm just surprised that no writer has tried pulling this one sooner.

Thing is, upset as I am by this trite, unimaginative, and off-putting turn in storytelling, I’m also cynical enough to know that it could have been way worse. On one hand, I’m very upset that the most important supporting character that Harvey Dent has—one of the only characters who can elevate him beyond just being a tormented villain—has been fridged in order to give the male character angst and a motivation for revenge. Which we’ve all seen a million times by now.

On the other hand (and I can’t believe that there’s an other hand), she was already kinda ruined TLH because Loeb wanted to use her in order to rip off Presumed Innocent. On top of that, I’ve lived in fear of the day that some writer would try to be edgy and show that Harvey was an abusive husband or worse when his bad side was in control. In a world where a book featuring the Joker as a rapist can be a #2 New York Times bestseller, I feared the worst for Harvey Dent’s most important and under-appreciated character.

As such, and as sick as this is to say, I honestly think that getting fridged isn’t the worst that could easily have happened to Gilda in the New 52. In a way, she’s safe now, at least until the next continuity reboot happens in a year or two. Maybe by then, some writer will actually understand how great a character she is. Or at least, how great she should be.

But of course, we're only halfway into Harvey's actual transformation into Two-Face, now that Tomasi has given Harvey his motivation in The Dark Knight. I mean, that's what he's gotta be doing here, right? Just as with Nightwing: The Great Leap, Tomasi draws from the well of Rachel Dawes, this time to give Harvey a motivation for vengeance. Really, you'd think that would be enough to satisfy Erin McKillen's eye-for-an-eye mentality, but no, she just has to rub it in even worse.

Hey, there's that Connect Four set again! Hmm.

See, here's where I wonder if we're seeing remnants of the original plans for The Big Burn. Erin describes Harvey as if he'd already been District Attorney for a while, enjoying a prosperous career of "putting away evildoers" (which doesn't fit his past as a defense attorney) before he made the decision to target the McKillens. It certainly fits with the flashbacks in Harvey's Forever Evil one-shot better, with Harvey looking like a well-established D.A. whose conviction of "that McKillen gal" (back when there was just one) was just his latest victory.

If this were written to fit all we'd just seen, then Erin's speech should have gone more along the lines of, "You had the world on a string, Harvey... a lucrative career as one of the best defense attorneys in Gotham City, a life of security and prosperity for you and your wife, and all you had to do was to look the other way and do your job to defend my family. But you simply couldn't let it be."

Something like that would jive more with the rest of the backstory that we've already seen, although this page was, of course, written and drawn before any of that. Hell, Erin doesn't seem to have any problem with the fact that Harvey became District Attorney, even though the main reason he became D.A. in the first place was to sell them out! See? It doesn't fit.

Can we extrapolate what the original story may have entailed from this? Considering how Erin describes Harvey's "new status in our wonderful city," maybe the McKillens—not Bruce—were the ones who originally pushed him to become D.A. in the first place, advancing his career with the stipulation that he turn a blind eye to their activities and protect them when they got into trouble. It might have been interesting to have seen a corrupt D.A. Harvey Dent who tries to balance the scales by "putting away more evildoers than the Batman" before deciding to do the right thing and to betray his mobster backers.

Of course, this is all pure supposition based on a single piece of dialogue, so feel free to disagree or to think I'm reading too much into it or whatever. I just think that it would certainly add weight to Erin's beliefs that Harvey was motivated solely to advance his career if that's why she helped him become D.A. in the first place. Then again, this is the same woman who accused Jim Gordon of going after the McKillens to make a name for himself, so her worldview is suspect and skewed.

To Erin McKillen, the only reason why anybody who go after her and her family would be out of jealousy, revenge, or ambition. Law and order, crime and punishment, these concepts mean absolutely nothing to her, and as such, she sees even Lawful Good figures like Jim Gordon as greedy bastards who are out to advance themselves at her expense. Credit where it's due: as far as villains go, she's pretty wonderfully loathsome. It's not often that I see a character who I can truly love to hate, but Erin sure will certainly deserve that distinction in Part 2 if she hasn’t already right here.

Man, Erin has one epic facial expression there, doesn't she? >:C Heh heh, good times. But seriously, this is very upsetting.

So just as with The Dark Knight, this origin does away with the classic courtroom-scarring in favor of a scenario where Harvey is tied up by a mobster and gets to witness the love of his life's death before having half his face burned off. Oh, and he also gets to scream out the name of said love in a somewhat overwrought fashion, although first he has to free himself in a manner which doesn't quite make sense.


Okay, ignore the coins for a second, we'll get to that bit of WTF-ery in a second. How the hell did he manage to get a shard of glass by kicking the frame with his shoe from so far away? I mean, yeah, that was an impressive aim and all, but I don't think that even a single piece of glass could have flown back to him.

Isn't it more likely that the shattered glass would have just fallen to the ground? And for that matter, why the hell did he grab the bottle of acid? Was it for dramatic effect? Do asking these questions make me an overthinking loser, or is it all right to want to hold this story up to some manner of narrative sense like any decent editor should have done in the first place? As with the Tootsie Pops question, the world may never know.

The more pressing question we should be asking here is “what the hell is up with the framed coin collection, which apparently is not a framed Connect Four set, as Hefner so cunningly led me to believe?” This was one of those things that I figured would surely be explained in earlier flashbacks, like maybe they were a gift from Gilda or maybe they were his father's collection or something else entirely, ANYTHING that would explain what they mean to Harvey. After all, one of these coins is going to end up becoming the single most important thing in his life, and its own origin story is key to every origin of Two-Face.

If they were going to have this gross scene, I think it’s a missed opportunity that Harvey’s acidic, bloody facial drippings didn’t end up scarring that coin’s one side. If you’re going to do this, do it all the way, man!

But again, we’re never given any reason why Harvey should bother to take notice of the coin collection, much less its sole two-headed member, when you’d think that he has far more pressing matters on his mind such as his dead wife on the floor or that fact that his face is burning off. “Nope,” Harvey thinks, “I’m going to ignore all that and take a quick look at the coin collection which I inexplicably own and, oop, got blood on one. Wait a minute, it has two heads? The hell is THAT doing there? Huh, weird. Looks like I’m gonna have to base my whole life around it now. Welp, back to my dead wife.”

I'm guessing that the coins must have been another dangling thread from the original Big Burn plans, only this was one that Tomasi never bothered to address, and don't think you'll be getting any answers in the modern-day stuff in the next post. This plot hole (or maybe it would be better to call it a character hole, as it affects Harvey's arc more than the plot itself) is perhaps the biggest flaw in the new origin, along with the general lack of mental illness or psychological insight that could in any way set the foundation for a convincing transformation into Two-Face.

That’s really the biggest problem, here: as interesting a backstory as this is for Harvey Dent, it utterly fails as an origin for Two-Face. Or at least, a Two-Face who becomes a bank-robbing, city-terrorizing gangster whose whole life philosophy is ruled by chance, all of which is how Two-Face is explicitly described and depicted in the modern-day plot of The Big Burn. How in gods name could we have gotten THAT character from THIS origin?

From everything we’ve seen here, Two-Face should have no motivation whatsoever than to crave revenge on Erin McKillen. Heck, as I’ve already pointed out, he could have a decent motivation for hating Gordon, Batman, and even Bruce Wayne, but none of those ever come up in TBB. Harvey seems neutral on Gordon, and his feelings towards Bruce and Batman are both rather complicated in some fascinating ways that we will examine next time.

This Harvey isn’t mentally ill, aside from the trauma and anguish he’s suffered. And yet, he somehow becomes utterly dependent on the flip of a coin which meant nothing to him, all while waxing rhapsodic about the nature of chance. Hell, if anyone could have become Two-Face here, it’s Erin McKillen! She has far more tied up in ideas of chance since it was chance that both saved her life and took Shannon’s, whether or not she ever knows that the draw was rigged. Maybe the story should have changed to Harvey scarring her after she killed Gilda, but alas, we’ve already seen Harvey as Two-Face in the New 52 continuity, so that wouldn’t fly.

Maybe the original Big Burn plot would have better served as a Two-Face origin, but I suppose we’ll never know unless someone managed to ask Tomasi himself, if he’s even allowed to talk about it given DC’s strict nondisclosure agreements. As it is, this story fails as an origin for Two-Face.

Where it does succeed, however, is as a twist on Harvey Dent’s backstory. Now don’t get me wrong, I still strongly prefer the classic Golden Age and Eye of the Beholder origins, and I’m annoyed by some of the responses I’ve read which seem to suggest that this story gives Harvey new depth and nuance by doing away with the “Apollo” golden boy stuff and making him more shady. Sure, it’s more complex than Harvey from The Long Halloween, but that’s not much of an accomplishment.

But I must concede that, as far as Harvey Dent fall-from-grace stories go, this one is one of the most interesting, with much to chew on and consider, even despite the plot holes that force us to bullshit some explanation. I mean, those moments could be examples of skillful ambiguity, the narrative blind spots wherein the reader’s imagination can run wild. But no, I think it’s likelier that they’re just plot holes. Regardless of these flaws, this is still possibly the strongest Two-Face origin in comics since EotB, because when all’s said and done, it’s all rooted in Gilda and Harvey, who gets the last word here.

No lie, I got choked up.

This right here is the difference between the usual fridgings and similar character deaths in comics. Most of the surviving characters would respond by swearing vengeance and spewing rage much like Erin McKillen does, but we so very rarely see them deal with the pain of that loss. In another comic, we’d have Harvey glance sadly at Gilda’s body before glaring with righteous hateful “Oh, you’re gonna GET IT” rage like in the final frames of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (I’m hip with the kids).

Refreshingly, beautifully, that’s not what happens here. Neither vengeance nor Erin is foremost on Harvey’s mind. All that matters to him is Gilda. While Harvey does spend the modern-era plot going after Erin McKillen, that anger is secondary to the pain he still feels from having lost Gilda, and he’s defined throughout by anguish, loss, and sorrow.

Essentially, he’s been given Mister Freeze’s deal, which is just fine by me because, hey, it’s not like Freeze himself is using it anymore! What’s more, if the way this post of mine has taken off on Tumblr is any indication, it may have done wonders for making fans finally care about Harvey and Gilda as a tragic OTP. I mean, sure, it’s only gotten a hundred-something notes, but trust me, that’s way, way more than most Harvey posts ever get, sad to say.

This concludes the first half of my Big Burn review, and the look at Harvey’s new origin. Keep in mind that there are one or two important wrinkles to this which we won’t learn until the modern-day plot, but I’ll save that for the second half. For now, I think we already have enough to make an assessment about whether or not this new backstory works.

Personally, I think it all serves as more evidence that Tomasi is greatly influenced by The Dark Knight. Just as with Christopher Nolan’s film, The Big Burn’s origin is a lousy story for Two-Face while also being a rather powerful one for Harvey Dent.

Next time: Part 2 of my Big Burn review, wherein Harvey confronts Erin, Erin confronts Bruce Wayne, everyone confronts the mob, and it all ends with a stunning one-two punch that I can’t even begin to describe here but just trust me on this OMG holy crap.
Tags: dcnu, gilda dent, jae lee, jim gordon, new comic reviews, origins, patrick gleason, peter tomasi

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