I’m still actively posting and writing about Harvey and the rogues over at Tumblr, at least until that site goes the way of LJ (as it seems determined to do) and I have to find yet another format. But no matter how comfortably I’ve adjusted to Tumblr over the years, neither it nor any other platform has ever been as great as LJ when it comes to being able to post long, image-heavy reviews and sharing epic discussions with commenters. I miss this format and I miss the people it attracted.
Well, it’s 2/22, and even if this place is only slightly less dead than MySpace, I wanted to give some quick looks at all of the big Harvey stories I’ve missed since I last updated. Someday, Grodd willing, I will be able to review some of these in full, but until then, I want to at least acknowledge the highs and lows of this current era of Harvey.
Because we ARE in a new era, folks. Thanks to Scott Snyder, we are now in what I am calling the Magenta Jacket era, as it’s been the only consistent detail of Harvey for the 2010’s.
“My Own Worst Enemy,” from All Star Batman #1-5, written by Scott Snyder, pencils by John Romita Jr, inks by Danny Miki.
Bruce and Harvey go on a road trip to cure the latter once and for all, only to run through a gauntlet of foes, greedy civilians, and even close allies. Along the way, writer Scott Snyder retcons Harvey’s backstory, his relationship with Bruce, and the nature of his mental illness.
This story was crap. It wasn’t an utter disaster like Jekyll and Hyde, but in terms of being a new origin for the post-52 era, it wasn’t as successfully executed as The Big Burn, and even THAT story had considerable flaws. If the point of these new origins is to revitalize these classic characters in ways to make them seem fresh, relevant, and comprehensible to modern audiences and readers, this story is a huge failure. All it did was over complicate and muddle Harvey, so it’s no wonder that subsequent stories have pretty much ignored the finer details of Snyder’s ideas.
The only thing that has stuck around is the magenta suit, although I personally prefer it being red, as it is sometimes colored. It puts him in better company with the current weird trend of dapper villains in bright red suits such as Ben Reilly as the Jackal, Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, and even Keith David in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys.
On the plus side, it established or reaffirmed some great aspects of Harvey’s backstory as canon: namely, Harvey’s abusive father and Bruce being his best friend since childhood! Yay! The actual details of these backstories are bad and annoying, but at least the general stuff is canon now, which is what’s important. Well, until the next retcon anyway.
“The Ballad of Olive Silverlock,” Gotham Academy: Second Semster #9-11, written by Karl Kerschel, Becky Cloonan, and Brendan Fletcher, art by MSASSYK, Adam Archer, and Sandra Hope.
In the finale arc of the cult favorite series, student Olive Silverlock gets possessed by an evil spirit bent on exacting revenge on the decedents of Gotham’s elder families. Her first target is Harvey, who gets spared once Olive discovers that no punishment he could suffer would be worse than the daily hell he lives in every day. So then Harvey befriends and teams up with a possessed schoolgirl to go after the Penguin! Fun times!
Sadly, this premise didn’t go anywhere. Harvey was taken out pretty quickly, and the story rightly focused on the main GA cast trying to save Olive. With only two issues left in the cancelled series and Harvey being a guest star, it was too much to hope that he’d stick around, or that his budding friendship with Olive would have gone anywhere, but it’s still sad to see this potential wasted.
Still, the story was great for Harvey as it provided a sympathetic tale that also added details to his mythos, namely that the Dents were an old family with roots in Gotham. After years of stories like Gates of Gotham which ignored the Dents in favor of establishing old families like the Cobblepots (yay) and the Elliots (boo), this was a welcome addition. Plus, it’s always great to see Harvey interact with someone outside the Bat Fam.
Batman: Arkham Knight, by Rocksteady Games.
I’m not gonna go into the full plot of the game, because that’s a whoooole other can o’ worms, so let’s just focus on Harvey’s role, such as it is.
Harvey robs banks. In the name of teaming up with all the rogues to finally take down Batman as part of some epic master plan, he... robs banks. Then he gets caught and thrown in a holding cell. That’s it.
AK is a pretty terrible game with a lot of good stuff in it. Harvey’s role in the game is a perfect example. It’s generally pointless, nonsensical, boring, and a waste of the character’s potential as a threat.
Regardless, the actual writing of Harvey is pretty damn wonderful. Though he rarely appears on screen, his voice(s) can be heard over speakers while Batman takes out his thugs, and it is through this dialogue that we hear some fantastically raw and tormented lines of dialogue that easily make up for how awfully-written he was in Arkham City. This is a rare take on Two-Face that successfully displays a Harvey Dent who feels betrayed by Batman without it coming off as an entirely crazy vendetta like in Batman Forever. His sense of betrayal actually sounds somewhat justified, even if his murderous reactions aren’t.
And then the game takes it even further if you play the Harvey missions after THE big reveal of the game, which I won’t spoil here just in case anyone still has yet to play this sloppy, overstuffed, often great mess of a game.
Harvey in this game is almost heartwrenching, and it made me wish the game writers had run with it further, if only to give Troy Baker more to work with. Baker is really fantastic when he gets a role to chew on as opposed to his usual stoic grim hero types, and I truly hope this isn’t the last time he voices Harvey.
I normally hate David Finch’s art, but credit where it’s due, this is a fantastic piece.
Tom King’s work in Batman
Writer Tom King is currently THE Batman architect, having taken the reigns from Scott Snyder. I have very mixed, very complicated feelings about King’s work which I honestly feel incapable of articulating at present. I think I’m going to need to wait until his epic is finished around Batman #100 to properly evaluate his run overall. For now, though, I can this much: he seems to understand Harvey Dent in theory but not in practice.
In practice, we see this scene early on when Bane breaks into Arkham and encounters Harvey, who floats the possibility of helping Bane go after Batman. As this was published on the heels of My Own Worst Enemy, it was frustrating to see Harvey considering to go after Batman instead of fighting his evil side for dominance. Especially since all it amounts to is Bane beating the shit out of Harvey.
So yeah, that was pointless and uninspired. Just a standard cameo of Harvey being duplicitous and opportunistic, and then getting taken out like a chump.
This wouldn’t be anything new or strange if it weren’t for a scene several issues later, when the Joker and Catwoman share a long conversation as both are gravely wounded and lying on the ground. The two talk like old friends, despite the fact that they had just tried to kill one other, and eventually, the subject goes to Harvey.
Now this? This is really interesting. Not only do I absolutely love these kinds of stories anyway, with mortal foes just talking like normal folks in a bottle-episode-style format, but it’s great to see both these characters (and implicitly King himself) note the importance of Harvey and his relationship to Bruce. But this is the kind of thing we should be SEEING IN ACTION, not just talked about. This sort of thing shouldn be EXPLORED in the actual stories, not just discussed from a distance like fans trading theories on Discord or Tumblr.
Unfortunately, while King has been using number of classic rogues like Hugo, Ventriloquist, Penguin, Riddler, and Poison Ivy, his Harvey has been nowhere to be seen, other than a background appearance in “The War of Jokes and Riddles” and, most recently, in a dream sequence where he just shows up to be knocked out. Again.
Maybe King will actually bring Harvey in and, you know, DO something with him that lives up the promise he displayed for the character in that Selina/Joker page. But I’m not holding my breath. King is focused on much bigger ideas right now, and I don’t see Harvey fitting into them one way or another. Probably for the best.
The Lego Batman Movie
Billy Dee Williams finally gets to play Harvey!!!!! Unfortunately, along with the rest of the non-Joker/Harley rogues, the big ones beautifully cast with the likes of Conan O’Brien and Jason Mantzoukas, he only gets one or two lines. The Lego Batman Movie was almost perfect in every way, but it really didn’t make the best use of its incredible cast of rogues, Harvey included. It makes me long for an animated series, or at least some shorts, assuming they can get the stars back to voice their characters.
Batman VS Two-Face, the animated film from DC Animation
In Adam West’s final role, he returns to Batman in the animated sequel to Return of the Caped Crusaders, where he has to deal with the one major villain who never made it onto the original show: Two-Face... voiced by WILLIAM MOTHERFUCKING SHATNER!!!
Despite the excitement implied by my crass abuse of caps just there, I must confess that I didn’t love this one as much as I wanted. It’s pretty great all around, filled with some fantastic moments and rooted in Bruce trying to save Harvey, and it’s so much of what I want from a Two-Face story that I really did like it a ton. But I think I just kinda overhyped myself by the time I saw it.
I guess the biggest bummer is that DC’s animation department... sucks. It just sucks. Most of the animated films are so drab and boring to look at. The animation is stiff, the designs are boring, the colors are blah, and none of that is a good fit for the pop culture explosion of color and mood that Batman 66 embodies. If it had been done in the style of The Brave and the Bold, that would have been a great improvement.
Again, it really was excellent, and Shatner really brought his A-game to playing both sides of Harvey. It was definitely a vast improvement over the disappointment that was Len Wein’s adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s Lost Episode, which I also need to review sometime. Something about it was just missing for me, and I’m not sure if that’s just because I was expecting too much.
Two-Face: A Celebration of 75 Years, by Various
I’m shocked and delighted that Harvey got a whole 400-page collection for his 75th Anniversary, since it hadn’t even been two years since they already did a complication of his stories for the Arkham series of trades. That collection was largely dreadful, with a whole third of the entire book inexplicably dedicated to the Moench story with Circe. What the fuck, guys?!
This collection is much, much better. Most importantly: IT HAS EYE OF THE BEHOLDER! EYE OF THE BEHOLDER HAS FINALLY BEEN REPRINTED FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1995! The individual issue still isn’t available on Amazon/Comixology for some bizarre reason, so it’s only available through this expensive collection, but STILL! I have been asking for this for years!
That said, the rest of the the collection is a mixed bag, but a better mixed bag than the Arkham one. The good: the Harvey Kent trilogy, the Brave and the Bold issue with Green Arrow, and the Secret Origins Special story with Grace/Gilda! The rest varies from meh to bad. The Jason Todd two-parter by Max Allan Collins has one of the funniest Two-Face bits ever, but it’s still not a great story for Harvey overall. Greg Rucka’s two-part finale for Harvey’s arc in No Man’s Land, with the trial of Jim Gordon, is an odd choice, one that doesn’t make much sense out of context with everything that led to that point, and the novelization version was better anyway. Same for including the final chapter of “Half a Life,” ugh. And of course, Joker’s Asylum and the Forever Evil issue are there, both of which are just awful, awful, awful.
There are so many other stories I would have rather seen, like The Beautiful Ugly or the story from The Judas Coin. I know they weren’t capital-i Important stories, but that’s what liner notes are for, to explain the important events that happened to this character in stories that are either too long or too lousy to waste pages. I mean, only big old nerds are gonna pick up an expense collection like this, so you might as well fill it with the best gems you can find!
Ah well. The important thing is, EYE OF THE BEHOLDER YAY YAY HUZZAH YAY
Batgirl (2017) #24,
Harvey made a strange non-appearance in an early issue of the relaunched Batgirl series in the form of a hologram for an escape room, a situation that raised several question from me.
It wasn’t until issue #24 that Babs finally encountered the real Two-Face, and the results were disappointing and forgettable. He was written as just a flat menace with a boringly evil plan to blow up half of Gotham for no real reason other than “Gotham should feel my pain because reasons!”
Yawn, swipe left, thank u, next. (This is how you know this is a new post in 2019, because I am hip with The Kids.)
Oh well, at least the art by Scott Godlewski was great, and the cover by Dan Mora was fantastic. That was WAY too great a cover for such a middling appearanace.
“Deface the Face,” Detective Comics #988-993, written by James Robinson, art by Carmine Di Giandomenico and Stephen Segovia
James Robinson’s spiritual sequel to Face the Face (a story which somehow keeps getting reprinted despite being overall awful and one of the worst Two-Face stories ever written), Deface The Face has Batman teaming up with Harvey to thwart the plans of Kobra, a terrorist cult who like to do terrcoristicly cultish things. Seriously, do they even have a motivation? I don’t think they do.
This six-part, ready-for-the-trade arc was painfully boring and forgettable for the most part. But man oh man, the fourth issue... out of nowhere, the fourth issue came along and knocked my socks off. For almost a whole issue, Batman, Harvey, and Jim Gordon hang out on a rooftop like in the old days and they just... talk. And it’s fantastic. It provides a startlingly fresh look at the shifting dynamics between Harvey’s two sides, doing in one issue what Scott Snyder tried and failed to do in his whole damn story. And the art by Carmine Di Giandomenico is absolutely stellar, letting Harvey be so expressive and humane as he goes through his existential crisis in front of his oldest friends.
Sadly, after that, the story gets boring and silly, despite a couple fun moments with Harvey and Batman battling faceless Kobra goons. And while the story ends with Harvey and Batman going at each other again, it’s oddly sweet to see it depicted as two men who care for each other, even when they’re beating each other up. It almost casts their relationship along the lines of the one Batman had with Catwoman, where the chase was just how they bonded.
Sure, it’s fodder for the Bruce/Harvey shippers, but hey, works for me!
“Arkham,” Deathstroke #36-40, written by Priest, art by Carlo Pagulayan, Fernando Pasarin, and Ed Benes
I can’t believe this one might be my favorite of the whole lot. Seriously, I still can’t believe it. I am SO bored by Slade Wilson and the way DC keeps trying to make him a THING, and in a story alongside classic Batman villains, I was SO sure that Harvey would come off as boring and pointless as he was in the Batgirl story.
The story: Slade Wilson wakes up in Arkham Asylum and finds himself part of a group therapy experiment alongside several rogues, including patients like Harvey Dent and Hugo Strange. At this point, I’m assuming this is just another all-villain jam where my two favorite rogues would be sidelined, get to say a couple rote lines of dialogue, and then get knocked out by the hero.
And that’s how it seemed to be going, best as I could tell. The majority of the arc was dedicated to five issues of mindfucks where reality is uncertain to the point that the story is REALLY fucking hard to follow, until it’s revealed that the whole thing is a plot by Hugo (!), who’s secretly been in charge the whole time (!!!), and HARVEY is his partner in the whole scheme (!!ASDFSAGASAS!!!SDADSAAK!)
While Hugo is peeling away Slade’s psyche, Harvey (who is supposed to be in Arkham) tries to kill Joey Wilson and Wintergreen, and then kidnaps Rose, taking her to Vietnam to... well, I haven’t been reading the series, so I don’t understand the specifics of what Harvey wanted to do to Rose in regards to her own character arc, BUT THE POINT IS!... Harvey and Rose Wilson spend three issues of subplot sparring, talking, and bonding, and it is one of the coolest, freshest, most unusual and insightful uses of Harvey I have EVER seen.
Of all the stories listed here so far, this is the one I want most to dissect, and it’s also the one that scares me the most. Christopher Priest is a veteran writer who is often brilliant, but also someone who is a fan on nonlinear storytelling with scenes and dialogue that don’t always feel natural or easy to understand on first read. For me, reading Priest takes WORK, and boy howdy did this pay off.
This story had so many things I love. Hugo being a brilliant, crazy mastermind who wants to peel back the layers of his prey! Hugo and Harvey being partners of equal importance! Harvey paired with someone outside of the Bat-Fam, letting him play different roles than usual! A Harvey who is tormented but not depressing, sympathetic but also dangerous, forging a relationship with someone who actually engages with him rather than fighting him! And there’s even an IMPOSTOR TWO-FACE TO BOOT!
The only bad thing I can say about this story is the art. It’s so terribly, terribly bland, so very House Style boring. But all credit to the artist, he gave us one of the best full-page drawings of Harvey I’ve ever seen, a moment so inexplicable and so pointless a use of an entire page of issue that I will love its existence forever:
I look forward to rereading this story once I actually read Priest’s whole Deathstroke run. Yes, this story was so good, it made me care about reading 40-something issues of Deathstroke. Well done, Priest.
Whew! Man, I missed writing about Harvey on here. So many stories I’d love today examine in depth, and hopefully I will someday!
But first, if I ever get back to anything, it will finally, FINALLY have to be The Long Halloween, because—Maker preserve us—it’s finally going to be adapted as two animated films. And if Jensen Ackles is indeed voicing Harvey, as has been speculated, then I’m going to have to prepare for the possibility of a whole new influx of fans both for TLH and Harvey, not to mention Loeb’s version of Gilda. Maybe.
Until then, find me on Tumblr, and I’ll hopefully see you back here sometime before the next 2/22!