about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

REVIEW: The Doubly-Shocking Finale of "The Big Burn" (2014)

Note: This is the second half of my latest review which I've had to split because it was too long, which I believe is a first for me. If you haven't read the first part, read it here now and follow the link at the bottom back here! And as with the last part, I'm adding a trigger warning for suicide, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm.

Looming over the unconscious Batman, Harvey tells his once and hopefully future ally that he'd made the mistake of getting involved in "a maelstrom of righteous vengeance... a place where you most definitely don't belong, old friend." Putting aside how that sentence could have easily been shortened by a word or three (Tomasi has a problem with word-salad dialogue, not that I'm one to talk), I like how both instances of Harvey and Batman together here involve him referring to Batman as "old friend." There's a certain sense of resigned world-weariness to their relationship rather than anything outright antagonistic. I would have liked to have seen more of that instead of Erin and Harvey going around in circles over who screwed over who first.

Y’know, this may seem like a random thought, but I’ve been playing Arkham Asylum and Arkham City a lot lately, so you know what occurs to me when reading all of Harvey and Erin’s scenes together? He never once calls her a “bitch.” Okay, he calls her a “witch” at one point, so maybe that’s just as bad, although considering that Erin and Vincent both referred to Harvey as a “son of a bitch," I think that they could have gone with “bitch” if they really wanted to.

My point is, considering how freely he and others threw that word around for Selina and Harley in both games, I think it’s interesting how Tomasi never resorts to that in a story where Harvey is dealing with a woman that he hates with every fiber of his being. Let this serve as a refreshing cup of “get stuffed” to serve to anyone who defends the use of misogynistic language in those games on the grounds that it’s “realistic” or whatever bullshit.

Harvey then flips to decide Erin's fate, and of course, both options are bad: a quick, merciful death, or a slow, burning death with the saved bottle of acid. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the coin comes up scarred side up, because the story can’t be over this quickly.

Aside from Gleason’s wonderfully detailed artwork here, this is another sadly uninspired moment with Harvey flipping between two evil options. For the most part, I think almost all of us dislike a Two-Face who flips to decide between two evils rather than good and evil, but could this flip really have gone any other way? I mean, there’s no way that Two-Face could’ve possibly allowed for something good to happen to Erin after what she's done, right? Well… maybe, actually. Maybe, against all expectations, he could have forgiven her if the coin landed heads.

Consider that for a second. Without going into spoilers just yet, we’ll learn that Harvey does blame himself to some degree for what he’s become, and while he does hate Erin, he’s not obsessed with revenge above everything else. That revenge is strictly a secondary motivation, as you’ll see. If this story could have shown that Harvey had it in him to forgive Erin if the coin came up heads, imagine how powerful that might have been.

Harvey would have ended the cycle of violence, and in doing so, would have not only shown himself to be the better person than Erin, but would also have seriously screwed with Erin. Forgiveness is a concept that Erin McKillen would never understand, and Harvey’s forgiveness would gall her to no end. For a woman who lives for that cycle of violent retribution, the idea that someone could say “no more” would shake her up more than any acid bath or bullet to the skull. Hell, she thrives on being contemptuous and defiant in the face of such adversity, as evinced by her demands to “JUST YOUR GOB AND DO IT, YOU UGLY BASTARD, AND DO IT!” Forgiveness would, ironically, have defeated Erin more readily than violence, but alas, that’s not the story we’re getting.

With the coin having come up scarred, Harvey moves onto the next part of living out his revenge fantasy, brandishing two little souvenirs from the night that Erin destroyed his life. The first is the handgun with which he "spilled first blood" by killing Erin's henchman right before she walloped him with a lamp, and the second is the bottle of acid we saw earlier. His intention is to make her "scream so loud it might wake the dead, which won't be a bad thing if Gilda gets to hear you." But before he has a chance to give her an acid bath, Erin is saved from a very unlikely source. No, seriously, it makes no sense when you stop to think about it.

Wait, why did the mob save Erin’s life if Harvey was just going to kill her anyway? Why couldn’t they wait three seconds for her to get doused, so that one of their two dangerous and crafty targets would be incapacitated by unimaginable pain? Thankfully for our heroes (plus Erin), it seems that it’s still fashionable for villains to monologue about their evil plans while the heroes regroup.

While the mobsters open fire on the grave, blasting Gilda's angel headstone to pieces (I wonder if Bruce will buy a replacement?), Batman manages to distract the mobsters with flash grenades, allowing him to make a daring escape from the grave with Erin while saving Harvey at the same time. The downside of this plan is that he now needs to keep them from killing one another before the mob kills them all.

Oh good, Erin just gets a teeny tiny scar so that she can still be hot. Pshh, Harvey is missing half his face, and he’s still got fangirls. There was no reason why she couldn’t have gotten more scarred, even to the point of becoming Lady Two-Face. Hell, considering that she’s the more vile character and that has much better reasons to be obsessed with chance, that’s probably exactly what should have happened with this story: retire Harvey from his half-baked criminal career and let Erin become Two-Face. I would have been all for that!

Our trio hide themselves inside a tomb while the mobsters rain gunfire down upon them from outside, and while they fight for their lives, Batman reflects on his own internal struggle over the previous storyline in Batman and Robin, as he went through the five stages of grief with the help of his Bat-family as well as Frankenstein (but of course, no Carrie Kelley, who had appeared in that storyline).

I dunno about you folks, but I think this is a beautiful spread, one that utilizes the unique way that comics can tell a story. Too many times, two-page spreads in comics serve to pad out an issue’s length with empty art of a superhero doing something dynamic, and this story is certainly guilty of doing that once or twice, but here the spread is used to great effect, telling the current events while showing Batman’s internal thoughts without losing any of the action. The way it’s done here could only work in comics. This is good stuff, enough to make me forgive the clunky Two Wolves monologue. And keep Batman’s line about “waging war against ourselves,” as it will come up later.

Batman reveals that five of the burial plots in the crypt contains underground tunnels once used by bootleggers, which would be swell for escape purposes if only he weren’t stuck with Harvey.

I have to wonder what kind of backup plan Batman had in case the coin didn’t come up heads. It’d probably involve just walloping Harvey and carrying his unconscious body to safety. Then again, it may be worth keeping in mind for later that we don’t actually see the result of the coin toss, so there may be more going on there than meets the eye.

I like how Erin doesn’t understand why Batman is saving them, or at least she’s suspicious about his motives. God, she doesn’t even have the most basic understanding of how heroism and lawfulness work, does she? Again, this is what I mean about how she wouldn’t know what the hell to do with forgiveness from a hated enemy.

For a moment, it looks as though the cover for the final issue would come to pass, and that Batman, Harvey, and Erin would all become unlikely allies, battling against the mob and then turning against one another only once their common foes were vanquished. Instead, their alliance pretty much lasts over the extent of that single panel above, once the mobsters blow up the tunnel and separate Batman and Erin from Harvey, whom they kidnap to put on the aforementioned “show.” Oh dear.

With no choice but to carry on without Harvey, Batman and Erin take the bootlegger route to its very end, which happens to be a bar. That may not be terribly surprising, but what is a surprise—at least for fans of a certain mid-90’s cult favorite series—is the bar itself, as well as its bartender.

In case none of this means anything to you, this is one big reference to Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman. As a fan of the series myself, it warms my heart to see Hacken (whom editors at ComicVine didn’t recognize when editing the wiki of this issue, thus making me feel very old indeed) alive and well and still tending Noonan’s Bar over in the Cauldron. Did Ennis approve this cameo, as this is their first appearance since Hitman ended? Even if he didn’t, I’d hope that it’d have his blessings, as seeing that wall of photos was like seeing old friends and remembering better times, even if those times included Ennis-ness such as Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium.

Oh, right, and also Harvey is apparently at the mercy of mobsters, who plan to execute Harvey on live TV as the first of many planned executions of super-criminals. Harvey’s fate? To be burned alive with a flamethrower. There really are quite a few contenders for what the “Big Burn” really is, aren’t there? While the rest of Gotham—including familiar faces like Croc, Penguin, and even Man-Bat, whom DC has really been trying to push as a member of the rogues’ gallery, WTF—watches the show with rapt attention, Batman charges through the streets of Gotham in the Batmobile, desperately trying to find Harvey’s location with the “help” of Erin McKillen.

At first, I was wondering if this would be the true fragile alliance, if Batman would somehow talk Erin into saving Harvey, if only for her own personal revenge reasons. Nope, Batman’s capable of many amazing things, but getting Erin McKillen to cooperate to save Harvey Dent is beyond his powers. After she puts him on a wild goose chase, purposely keeping him distracted from the real location of “the show,” Batman realizes that she’s hopeless and then hit the seat eject button, launching her out of the Batmobile and into the waiting arms of GCPD officers.

And just like that, Erin has suddenly been removed from the story, save for a brief epilogue. In a story where it so often seemed like she was the true star, she’s removed as a player in the final chapter.

Considering how much time and energy we’d invested in her as a character, it’s anticlimactic that her entire purpose in this story was to get a tiny little scar and then get arrested so she could be set up as a villain to return later, as her epilogue will portend. If that’s all that she was going to be, I would have rather they fleshed her out more in the story where she’s actually the star so that Batman and Robin Two-Face could actually focus on Batman and frellin’ Two-Face, especially once Tomasi drops his bombshell in the rescue scene.

In a massive two-page spread which accomplishes nothing but wasting precious space that could’ve been better spent on story content (unless you really, really like Patrick Gleason’s take on the Caped Crusader looking dramatic, which is fair enough, I suppose), Batman bursts onto the fake courthouse movie set where Harvey is about to be roasted on live TV. From here on out, some of the dialogue transitions strike me as very awkward, as if we’re seeing a badly-edited scene in a movie, but while I’d like to point them out for discussion to see if you folks are confused too, we’re all going to be too distracted by what’s being said rather than how it’s said.

I don’t understand why Batman is suddenly bringing up their time together and asking why Harvey couldn’t have channelled his feelings more productively. You’d think that they both have bigger things to worry about than hashing out old issues like wait what.





Okay, putting aside the fact that, um, isn’t the camera still rolling and broadcasting this whole thing right into the Penguin’s living room, OH MY GOD THIS MOMENT.

Harvey’s revelation is powerful, but Bruce’s silent reaction just squeezes my heart. I’m not sure that I can quite describe the sheer gut-punched, jaw-dropping heartsickness I felt when I first read this, although I’m sure that I was extra vulnerable at the time, given that I woke up at six in the morning to blearily buy the issue on Comixology so I should just see what the hell was going to happen in an issue where I honestly wasn’t expecting much at all.

In a story that’s spent most of its time keeping Harvey on the sidelines while Erin has the spotlight until the graveyard scene, which wasn’t a particularly great take on the character, I assumed that this story had no surprises in store. I expected pretty much the following to play out: we learn about where the coin comes from, our trio kills the mobsters, Harvey kills Erin despite Batman pleading not to, everyone goes off to their respective holes to sulk about the tragedy of it all, yadda yadda yadda, “Next issue: Aquaman!” No, really.

Instead, I got one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever seen in a Two-Face story, one which I’ve long suspected could or should be the case for Harvey, but it’s something I truly never thought I’d see because… well, by and large, I didn’t think anybody at DC really gave a crap about Harvey. Not at this level, anyway, especially given how no writers seemed to think that Bruce and Harvey’s friendship was an important factor worth mentioning, much less exploring.

As such, the idea that Harvey could discover that Bruce is Batman—or that he’s known all this time—isn’t something I ever expected to see. If they’re not friends, then Harvey would have had no reason not to storm into Wayne Manor and try to kill Batman in his own home, just like he did (off-panel) with Bane in Kingdom Come after Bruce’s identity was made public. I’ve always been annoyed that we never saw that scene.

For too many writers, it seems, the friendship of Harvey and Bruce and/or Batman is a negligent detail left over from their backstories which has no bearing on whatever shenanigans Two-Face is up to this week. But while I had feared that Tomasi may be no different, it turns out that he was well aware of that friendship’s vital importance.

In an interview which I will link to later because OMG SPOILERS DON’T READ IT YET, Tomasi said that his “main goal” with TBB was to strengthen the connection between Bruce and Harvey, saying “I feel that intertwining Bruce and Harvey's history so closely — and more importantly from an even younger age — makes their battle against each other resonate even more.” My god, for the first time since Ty Templeton’s work in the DCAU Batman comics, somebody finally gets it! And understanding this is what informed Tomasi’s decisions to have Harvey know Bruce’s secret identity:

“It boiled down to playing off the fact that I felt it deepened the relationship and illustrated Dent's duality in a very specific way, which was spotlighting the battle he waged with himself over knowing Bruce is Batman, day in and day out. I felt it really would give us, and Bruce, a different perspective of Dent, to discover that this internal struggle was going on for so long between the better angels of Dent's nature and his demons.”

Tomasi then added, “And knowing Bruce so long and also working with him as Batman, it only felt right that Dent would have figured it out, just as I feel Gordon knows that Bruce is Batman, but it always goes unspoken between them. Playing these particular characters smart and ‘in the know’ ups the drama, in my opinion, because of the knowledge they have but don't act on.”

I must say, I support all of Tomasi’s reasoning here (as well as his thoughts on Jim Gordon). I think that he’s dead-on with why this is such a major and important change for the Bruce/Harvey dynamic. As some of you may recall, I’ve already had the wishful-headcanon that TAS Harvey knows that Bruce is Batman, which would have added far more weight to his great scene in The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne:

Source: wouldyouliketoseemymask

This scene is amusing when taken on face value, but if we see it as Harvey covering for Bruce, it becomes so much better. The idea that Harvey has been protecting Bruce all these years—from himself as much as from anyone else—is so powerful because it shows that Harvey’s struggle is still ongoing and that he’s constantly battling the worst of himself inside even if it looks like he’s only committing evil from the outside.

This awesome revelation nonetheless raises some bothersome questions. First off, how long has Harvey known that Bruce was Batman? It’s never explained, nor it is explored beyond this point, which is incredibly frustrating because I want MORE, damn it! Did Harvey just sorta figure it out over the years of Two-Face and Batman clashing, or did it happen earlier, back when they were working together as D.A. and vigilante? The latter seems to be the implication from Tomasi, but who’s to say that Harvey didn’t figure it out when he was still a defense attorney? If so, then his attitude towards Bruce raises all sorts of new implications upon which we can only speculate.

Consider that Harvey was working entirely within the law, while Batman operated outside of it while collaborating with law enforcement. Thanks of Batman’s illegal activities, Harvey was able to represent and secure the release of criminals who would otherwise have been prosecuted. What must it have been like for Harvey in this situation if he knew that Batman was Bruce Wayne all along? Based on all we’ve seen of this Harvey Dent thus far, I would have to guess that Harvey understood Bruce too much to have him brought down but resented him nonetheless for making a mockery of the system that actually impeded true justice.

Remember, Harvey believed that “everyone deserves a fair trial,” and since Batman’s meddling created a legal loophole for criminals to go free, Harvey could only balance the scales by defending his clients with the law on his side. Harvey may have been putting criminals back on the streets due to “technicalities,” as Bruce snidely put it, but Batman himself was just as responsible for their release as if he were a cop who gained evidence without a warrant or coerced a confession out of a suspect through torture or intimidation.

I can easily imagine—and this is pure speculation, but what else do I have?—that Harvey was already torn between knowing that these clients were probably guilty and deserves prosecution, but that he was bound by his ethics and idealism to defend them, otherwise the law would mean nothing. If all this were true, then it would add even more layers of internal conflict for Harvey, giving a greater sense of duality than he had before. He resented Batman, but was bound by their friendship to protect Bruce. He resented criminals, but he was bound by his oath to see that they were treated fairly by the system.

As such, when Bruce came to him with an offer to work with them on the D.A.’s side, Harvey’s decision meant more than simply advancing his career and/or ensuring that the McKillens would remain behind bars. It would have allowed him to reconcile these conflicts, to be on the same side with Bruce again and to go after the criminals, but there would still be that deep-seated internal conflict from how he had to compromise those ethics to violate his oath. In his heart, he knew he sinned, and as such, he accepted his scars and his ruined life as punishment for his crimes.

God, how tragic and powerful is that? It would also have added further credence to the idea that Harvey could forgive Erin if the coin came up heads, as in his heart, he blames himself just as much as her, if not more so. Of course, this’ll all be moot if Harvey didn’t know that Bruce was Batman until later, but I like to think that he did, if only to make Tomasi’s new origin all the richer, second only to the Batman comic strips in terms of all the layers within the relationships of Bruce and Harvey, Batman and Two-Face. I don’t say that lightly.

ALL THAT SAID, this origin still falls short of Two-Face origins in Eye of the Beholder, Batman: The Animated Series, and even the Golden Age Harvey Kent trilogy in terms of being a compelling look at Harvey’s crumbling psychological state. Above, Harvey talks about “the battles I’ve fought in my head to keep you alive these last few years,” and while that’s an incredibly powerful, poignant, and tragic idea to consider, it comes out of nowhere in this story’s context. It works for those other Two-Faces, yes, it works so beautifully that it makes my heart swell to bursting… but it doesn’t work for this Harvey Dent.

What exactly has Harvey been “battling?” What are these “demons” that Tomasi is talking about? Is this Two-Face mentally ill like his previous versions, and if so, then how is he mentally ill, and what the hell brought the illness about? Did it just magically, spontaneously pop up once his face was burnt off? No, bullshit, such specific insanity doesn’t just take over like a demon possessing a body. I don’t wanna say it, but the Harvey Dent of The Dark Knight had better reason to go on an insane rampage of revenge than this Harvey had to become Two-Face. And I HATE how shoddily TDK handled his transformation.

For everything else great that Tomasi did, he failed to address why Harvey would give his will over to the flip of a coin, why he would subscribe to the gospel of chance, why he would want to rob banks, why he’d ever terrorize the city, and finally, why it should have been such a struggle for Harvey to keep Bruce alive all of these years, right up to his threat to kill Batman alongside Erin in the tomb if the coin came up tails (and for all we know, maybe it did).

It’s all the more vital that we understand Harvey’s adherence to the coin—give or take the times he lied to overrule the coin in favor of saving Bruce—given what Batman says next and how it changes the path for Harvey Dent forever.

Man, I absolutely love this idea of Tomasi’s part. What a powerfully poetic way to refute Harvey’s two-dimensional way of thinking, to give him a true way out of his psychological trap of two choices. Of course, Bruce could be severely underestimating the extent of Harvey’s illness (which he apparently has, okay, whatever, let’s just go with it), which could result in another case of Bruce’s meddling resulting in an even worse situation for his old friend.

Despite Batman’s rousing words, Harvey handles the battle in his usual fashion, grabbing a flamethrower and setting fire to the mobsters. There’s no telling whether or not “Vincent” was among the burned or killed, so Maybe-Moroni could have survived for another day. I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t come back and reveal himself to be Moroni, especially since we live in a DCU where Boss Zucco is alive and well, last I checked.

Batman douses the flames by blasting a hole through a water tower on the roof, and as Harvey remarks how Batman is always putting out fires even when “some things are meant to burn,” he bursts out through the studio door on a tide that slams right into Commissioner Gordon outside. Thinking fast, Harvey grabs Jim’s gun and puts a bullet in his old pal’s shoulder, and while Gordon slumps in the corner, Tomasi offers another blatant callback to The Dark Knight.

I’m not really sure why the hell Gordon would ever have considered this Harvey Dent to be “the best of us.” This also seems like a moment that’s out of the blue, or at least, out of this continuity. This Harvey wasn’t the “Apollo” of Earths past, nor the White Knight of TDK. Was he the best because of the D.A. he became in a career which we never really saw? Or is Gordon just saying this because Tomasi momentarily forgot which universe he was writing in, just as he seemed to do with the “battles” in Harvey’s head and with Harvey’s dependence on the coin.

Ah, the coin-landing-on-its-side bit: a classic Two-Face breakdown cause, one that goes right back to his very first appearance! Good times, good times. I can’t read this scene without remembering the commentary by cornflakepizza on Tumblr: I’M LAUGHING SO HARD HE’S LIKE A REALLY UPSET PUPPY, ALL HE DOES IS MAKE NOISES FOR 7 PANELS STRAIGHT It’s the cut-off one at the end which especially kills me.

Harvey commandeers a police motorcycle and makes his getaway despite Gordon’s hobbled attempts to shoot him down. Batman lets Harvey escape in favor of tending to Gordon’s bleeding, and like that, the climax of The Big Burn is over, and all that’s left is to show the epilogues for our story’s three stars. What, that’s it? But what about the final confrontation with Erin McKillen, whose return kicked off this story in the first place?!

Nope, as I said, there is no confrontation beyond what we already saw, and Erin gets no comeuppance whatsoever. Oh sure, she’s sent back to Blackgate, surrounded by some of the hired-killer inmates, but that’s no punishment for her. If anything, it seems like she’ll thrive.

With that, Erin McKillen has been set up as a major villain, one who now has a bonus criminal gimmick borrowed from Le Chiffre in the 2006 movie version of Casino Royale. She also apparently has a monogramed handkerchief from Harvey Dent, which I don’t recall ever seeing anywhere else in this story. Did I miss something, or have we never seen it before? Is this another little lost detail from the original Big Burn plans, or just a random detail that Tomasi threw in along with the coin collection and Harvey’s mental illness?

It’s kinda cute how Tomasi’s awkward use of the Two Wolves bullshit was made just to set up this finale, showing Erin knowingly and gleefully embracing evil. While it’s nice to see how unrepentant and awful she truly is, it’s all the more frustrating that she never got that comeuppance, especially since there’s no telling whether she’ll ever come back. If she does, I wouldn’t trust anybody but Tomasi to write her.

He created a wonderfully loathsome villain with Erin McKillen, and he deserves to be the one to give her arc some true closure instead of another writer who might botch the job by writing her badly, kill her off as canon fodder, and/or try to pump her up into being an A-list recurring villain. Erin’s a great villain for a very specific story arc, and no one should try to make her be more than that. She needs to face true justice, and Tomasi has to be the one to give it to her. He may drop the ball on whatever story he might tell, but as far as I’m concerned, she’s his ball to drop, no one else’s.

But will Harvey Dent be a part of that final comeuppance? Surely he’d have to be, as their little meeting in the graveyard was woefully interrupted. Despite this, it seems that my previous suspicions were correct, and that revenge against Erin is only the secondary priority in Harvey’s mind. At the end of all things, it just goes back to one person and one person only. And I think that’s a perfect way to treat Harvey, despite how you feel about his own epilogue.

And my jaw dropped a second time.

This isn’t the first time that Harvey’s tried suicide in a story, but it’s certainly one of the most powerful and effective. That smile on his face is heartbreaking, as is the fact that he stripped off the split suit to wear a solid white shirt. For the first time in years, and perhaps the last time in his life, Harvey Dent was free, and that moment of freedom, he only choice was to finally be reunited with Gilda.

If Harvey’s story had to have an ending, I think that I could honestly accept this one, especially in this continuity where Gilda’s already dead. It would just seal the tragedy of Harvey Dent’s story with bittersweet, almost Shakespearian finality. Yes, damn it, I’m invoking Shakespeare here, wanna fight about it?

Also, WAY TO GO, BRUCE. Your well-intentioned advice not only turned a second childhood friend into a supervillain (well, moreso), but you gave your first friend-turned-supervillain a method that could allow himself to commit suicide! Man, maybe it’s better for everyone close to Bruce that he remain a distant, emotionally-unavailable jerk, because look what happens to the people he actually opens himself up to!

Also also, did anyone else notice that the fly landed on Harvey’s shoulder right about where he’d been shot? Was that intentional on Tomasi and/or Gleason’s part, and if so, what did it mean?

So after this shocking gut-punch of an ending, one would assume that the comics blogosphere and media took notice of this storyline which they’d been ignoring despite the disappearance of Carrie Kelley. I mean, surely they would have found it remarkable that Harvey not only revealed knowledge of Batman’s secret identity, but that one of Batman’s greatest and most iconic villains apparently committed suicide? That HAD to be front page news, right?

Nope. There was nothing. Oh sure, there was an article on one infamous comics gossip site, but the Harvey stuff was treated as an afterthought next to the site’s feud with a certain controversial Spider-Man writer. While there would eventually be an interview with Tomasi at Newsarama about two weeks later (the one I quoted earlier), that’s far too long for a news story to still be fresh, and nobody has been talking about it anywhere else. What the fuck, everybody? Why the hell did NOBODY care other than a handful of fans like us? I can only imagine two possible answers:

1.) This is an unspoken confirmation—and thus a tacit understanding by us jaded comic fans—that it’s all a fake-out and Harvey’s alive, because otherwise, DC would have surely announced that they were killing off a major Bat-villain, right? Unless...

2.) No one really gives a damn about Two-Face either way. At least, not in a book that isn’t written by one of DC’s headlining writers, Scott Snyder or Geoff Johns, and especially not in a book that’s not part of any major event. I remember how it made headlines last year when the Joker revealed that he knew Batman’s secret identity, but for any of a number of reasons, Harvey’s reveal (which I found far more emotionally affecting than the Joker’s in Death of the Family, which was an essentially meaningless twist because there’s nothing lasting that he could really do to the Bat-Family with that knowledge) is met with radio silence.

And again, that’s even before the (possible) suicide, which was a powerful and shocking scene even if we later learn that he didn’t succeed in killing himself. It’s depressing and discouraging to consider that even this apparently isn’t enough to garner a slight passing interest from comic news sites. As Good Ol’ Mothy put it so depressingly well, “This is how jaded constant retcons have made people. Death bears no sting; the status quo is never threatened by permanent upheaval.”

Now, lest you think that Harvey didn’t actually shoot himself at all and instead just hit a nearby ketchup bottle or something, Tomasi himself confirmed in the Newsarama interview that this scene isn’t a fake-out. “Nope, no red herrings, no dream scenario. It was absolutely Harvey Dent putting that gun against his head. No clone. No twin. No imposter with a mask. The trigger was pulled and the deed was done. That was Dent's blood that spattered against Gilda's picture.”

Now, just because it’s true that Harvey DID shoot himself and DID shed his own blood, there’s still no confirmation that he’s dead. Remember, if there’s no body, there’s no death, and even then, that’s iffy. And let’s also consider the fact that—and forgive me for getting rather morbid here—shooting oneself in the temple isn’t an effective method of suicide. I can’t say for sure, and while I tried to actually research this, it all became too depressing to continue, so forgive me for not getting my facts straight here. As I understand it, the bone there is incredibly hard, and bullets have been known to get lodged in the skull with the person surviving.

Now, if Tomasi is aware of this fact, then this could potentially lead to Harvey truly becoming Two-Face more than he was before. As my Henchgirl pointed out, Harvey might have sustained brain damage, which could thus open the door to a Big Bad Harv personality getting unleashed or some other manner of Two-Face-related mental illness. In effect, perhaps it’s only now, with this scene, that Two-Face’s new origin has finally completed! Assuming, of course, that he has survived.

Some other people on message boards have been quick to point out that Harvey must have survived because he’s appeared in Forever Evil, the current DC mega-event which supposedly takes place AFTER the storylines currently running in the regular books. To which I say, “that’s a load of horse poo.” Oh sure, we’ve seen Two-Face show up in Forever Evil #1, plus his FE tie-in issue as well as in cameo panels from the Arkham War mini-series, both of which were by Tomasi. But do you seriously expect me to believe that Harvey went from the above page straight to this with absolutely no sign nor mention of everything he just went through?

Try reconciling The Big Burn to Harvey’s Forever Evil stuff. Hell, the fact that Harvey was incarcerated in Arkham at the start of Forever Evil #1 instantly negates any pretense that the two stories are related. Now, maybe the gap between this and Forever Evil is greater than I thought, and perhaps Tomasi still has more story to tell that will reconcile the events of TBB to FE, but personally, I strongly doubt that’ll happen based on over two decades of seeing DC pull this kind of crap.

Short version: anybody who tells you that Forever Evil is proof that Harvey survived is a deluded tool who doesn’t know how DC operates and who accepts all of DC’s PR at face value. If nothing else, they certainly haven’t actually read all these issues in question and thought of them in any critical manner.

Besides, I think it’s especially telling that Harvey was present in cameos for the first half of Arkham War before vanishing in the last couple of issues, right around the same time that The Big Burn was wrapping up. The last thing we saw was a wordless panel of Two-Face getting his ass kicked by Black Mask, which is NOT the Harvey/Roman crossover I’ve been wanting to see all these years, let me tell you.

My own jadedness leads me to believe that the likliest case scenario will be that Harvey will pop up in some book in the near future, alive and well, and there will be no mention of the events of The Big Burn anymore than we’ll ever hear from Carrie Kelley again. As for Tomasi himself, he’s made it clear that he has some very big plans for his upcoming storyline involving Ra’s al Ghul, but whether those big plan will eventually come back to Harvey and/or Erin is anyone’s guess.

If Tomasi does bring back Harvey and does go the “brain damage” route, I can only hope with all my heart that Harvey doesn’t get amnesia along with the potentially heightened mental illness. There’s a lot of potential to expand upon the idea of a Two-Face who struggles with his demons—whatever they may be—to keep Bruce alive. After all, Tomasi himself already proved himself adept at this sort of thing with Nightwing: The Great Leap, where Harvey had to outthink and out-maneuver Two-Face in order to save the life of a woman (who totally wasn’t a stand-in for Rachel Dawes) whom he’d been contracted to kill.

It would be so much better to see more stories like that rather than more of the standard, recycled Two-Face fare we’d get if he lost all memory of Batman’s secret identity.

Such a cheap undo wouldn’t be beyond DC, especially considering that’s just what they did with the Riddler after Infinite Crisis, thereby undoing one of the only interesting bits to come out of Hush alongside Harvey Dent getting fixed up and rehabilitated. Of course, that too was wasted and undone in the abysmal Batman: Face the Face, which was overseen by… wait, who was the editor on Face the Face?

Oh balls.

As much as I hate the way Face the Face wasted Harvey Dent, what’s just as bad is how all of that story’s dangling plot threads—Batman’s promise to tell Harvey that his life was ruined by the Great White Shark, for instance—were subsequently ignored and forgotten almost immediately. Harvey went right back to being Two-Face as if nothing had ever changed, and nothing that happened in FTF actually mattered. All that mattered was what they undid, and the status quo that was returned.

I don’t want that to happen all over again with The Big Burn, but I’m so afraid that it will. DC has let me down too many times by now, especially when it comes to Two-Face, and nothing seems set in stone anymore ever since Carrie Kelley magically vanished from existence with no one at DC even allowed to even talk about her, or so it sure as hell seems to me.

As such, if Tomasi has a story to tell, I can only hope that he’ll waste no time getting there before DC meddles with another story at the last minute. Take note, present and future DC writers: if you have a story you want to tell, tell it ASAP and don’t waste time with long-game plans, because they could be sabotaged—and/or you could be fired—at any moment! Just ask the Batwoman writers.

With such an open ending that may or may not see its two big plot threads resolved, I find difficult to offer a summary judgment on The Big Burn. In the end, for all its flaws and maddeningly unanswered questions, this story has enough powerful moments and great ideas that I’d highly recommend it alongside Nightwing: The Great Leap as a Two-Face story that’s good and even potentially fantastic, depending on what you choose to read into the narrative yourself.

If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend picking up these issues, which you can purchase digitally at Comixology. For my part, I will continue to follow Batman and Robin to see what Tomasi has in store, and even if he never does follow up on Erin or Harvey’s stories, I’m sure whatever comes next will at least be more interesting than almost any other Batman book coming out today.

Seriously, though, he’d damn well better have a sequel planned. You can’t leave us hanging like this.
Tags: alex ross, alfred pennyworth, dcnu, don kramer, erin mckillen, garth ennis, gifspam, gilda dent, jim gordon, mark waid, new comic reviews, patrick gleason, penguin, peter tomasi

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