about_faces

The Grace of Gilda, Part 4: Grace Lamont of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES

Note: This is the fourth part of my retrospective of Gilda, a complete history of the oft-overlooked woman who loved and lost Harvey Dent. New installments will be posted weekly! Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

It’s hard to imagine that the comic strips by William Messner-Loebs didn’t influence the Harvey and Gilda of Batman: The Animated Series. There are numerous similarities, such as Harvey and Bruce being best friends, the Gilda-type being friendly with Bruce, and the final takedown of Two-Face. 

Before becoming Two-Face, a couple episodes featured Harvey Dent—without a Gilda by his side. Besides Bruce, his only other meaningful relationship was with Pamela Isley in “Pretty Poison,” and she tried to kill him! Between that and his appearance in the Game Boy BTAS game, his only role was to be the happy fool Bruce Wayne pretended to be, and a hostage in need of rescuing. For the sake of Batman’s drama, Harvey Dent had taken on Gilda’s occasional role as damsel in distress!

Then came his turn in the spotlight with “Two-Face: Part 1 & 2” (1992), where we finally meet our Gilda, Harvey’s girlfriend and soon-to-be fiance. This two-parter, serving as Two-Face’s origin in the animated universe, draws on both the comics and the oft-forgotten comic strips. The roots of these episodes trace right back to the Bill Finger trilogy, “Eye of the Beholder,” and Mark Verheiden’s story from Secret Origins Special. The last in particular, as Gilda’s animated counterpart is also named Grace.

Appearing only in these two episodes, Grace is handled almost as poorly as Paul Sloane’s nameless, tearful wife, as we know nothing about her other than she loves Harvey for some reason. But, there is a saving grace (pardon the pun): her character is expanded upon in the 1993 young-adult novelization of these episodes, Batman: Dual to the Death, by Geary Gravel. The book is an excellent retelling of “Two-Face 1 & 2” merged with the Batgirl origin, “Shadow of the Bat 1 & 2,” and it’s honestly kinda better than the episodes themselves. A big reason is how it fleshes out Grace in some small but key ways.

First: her last name is “Lamont,” which may have been an arbitrary choice or perhaps yet another nod to The Shadow (Lamont Cranston), the pulp hero that provided much “inspiration” to Batman over the decades. Or, there may be more to the name choice: “Lamont” derives from a name meaning “law man.”

It’s not just a cute joke-y reference to her future husband, either, but defines her character as well. The novelization reveals that Grace is a lawyer. Specifically, she works for the law firm of Price and Feinstein, which becomes Price, Feinstein, and Lamont after she makes partner. (She makes partner!)

It suggests not just a rationale for how Grace and Harvey met, but a potential history between them of bonding over their mutual profession. And there’s another tantalizing layer to the pairing as a result, especially if she’s a defense attorney. Imagine the arguments! The debates! The disagreements over everything from legal ethics to petty, trivial matters! 

There is a hint of an actual relationship here, an attachment between equals rather than a clearly drawn man and the blandly supportive, cardboard woman in his shadow, something thick with promise, even if that promise is ultimately unfulfilled. Grace has a job, and is good at it, something unseen since the golden age. She actually has a life outside of Harvey, one that also gives their fates a reason to intersect.  

Though none of this background information appears in the episodes, it does carry over into the animated tie-in comics, in a story written by none other than Paul Dini. It’s officially canon! Grace is a lawyer! A darn good one, to boot! Marry that to her origin as a sculptor and you’ve got a female character with a career, a complex relationship, and an outside interest. Now we’re cooking with gas!

Onscreen, Grace’s experience as a lawyer unfortunately never comes up, nor does it inform her behavior or relationship with Harvey. For all it matters to her as a character, she might as well be a taxidermist, which is a shame. This version of Grace is probably the second-best known of the classic Gilda models. She’s the adoring significant other of the District Attorney, a good man who has lately been given to violent outbursts.

In Two-Face Part 1, this sudden change alarms his best friend, Bruce Wayne, but Grace dismisses these concerns with, “I think the pressure of the campaign gets to him sometimes, that's all.” Red flag!

Clearly, she doesn’t understand what’s going on with Harvey until it’s too late. But in fairness to her, neither does Bruce, which speaks to how well Harvey’s managed to deal with his internal demons until recently. To borrow from Bojack Horseman, perhaps she’s got rose-colored glasses, so all the red flags just look like flags. 

At least, that’s how it played in the show. In the Gravel novelization, however, she’s depicted as saying that line with “a mixture of pride and concern,” indicating that she’s not so ready to dismiss what’s happening. Despite hoping for the best, she too has noticed the cracks. This slight difference in show vs. novelization changes the meaning of what happens next, when Harvey flips out again. 

After learning that mob boss Rupert Thorne’s men were released on a technicality, he suddenly turns furious to the point of ferality. Bruce tries calming him down, he lashes out and snarls, “Let go of me, you rich twit!” He pulls back a fist, ready to strike his friend, when Grace leaps in between them. She looks scared, shocked, willing to place herself in harm’s way in order to make Harvey stop.

The way this plays out, it seems like Grace is only now seeing a terrifying side of Harvey for the first time. Her body language seems to cry out “What the hell, why is this happening?!” as she instinctively intervenes on Bruce’s behalf, and perhaps Harvey’s as well. It can be read as the moment that she finally starts taking Harvey’s issues seriously, to the point that she fears for the safety of those around him. 

However, Geary Gravel’s novelization provides a slight difference. Instead of holding up her hands, she “suddenly interposed herself between the two men, grabbing Harvey’s hand in both her own.” The fact that she takes his hand in hers suggests a greater empathy and intimacy than the above version. 

Between this and the fact that she was already concerned, it’s possible that Grace--like her comics counterpart and Alice Dent alike--has been watching Harvey unravel for a while now. And like those other Gildas, she might intuitively understand that she alone can banish the anger and bring Harvey back to his senses. If Harvey Dent is the Hulk (and this Harvey is rather more Hulk-like, in terms of rage unleashing his inner self), then Grace is Betty Ross. 

There is a major problem when it comes to accepting this implied level of intimacy. Namely, we don’t know how long Grace and Harvey have been dating. That wouldn’t be an issue if we took Two-Face, Part 1 on its own merits, where we could accept that they’ve been together for a while. Remember, Harvey was last seen with Poison Ivy, whom he intended to marry after dating for just a few days! 

There’s nothing to suggest that Ivy used pheromones or mind-control lipstick or anything else to brainwash Harvey into falling in love with her. In that episode, she used only poison, mutant plants, and her own general hotness to sucker Harvey. Hell, there’s no implication that Ivy even suggested marriage and he just went along with it! That was his own bad idea!

I mention this, because Harvey actually does propose to Grace. Or rather, he tells her his intentions to announce their engagement in his acceptance speech, after winning reelection as District Attorney. Just writing it out like that, it seems rather callous and oblivious. “Hey, FYI, we’re getting married, I’m gonna go up there and tell everyone, ok bye.” It’s not really akin to getting down on one knee, opening up your heart and risking rejection. 

But to Grace, it’s enough to move her to tears of joy. “Harvey! Do you really mean it?”

This reinforces the sense that they’ve been together for a while, with Harvey--who has certain issues with indecision--possibly waffling on commitment. Now he’s all in, and Grace is so moved that she cries, indicating the extent of her deep love for him. 

Which is interesting given how Gravel’s novelization downplays her reaction. There, she “stares at him with surprise and delight,” no tears mentioned. The emotional stakes aren’t as high as in the animated version, which also changes how one might suppose the nature of their relationship to this point. Supposition is really all we have, given the scraps we’re cobbling together here. 

From Harvey’s perspective, this could indicate a man who Leeroy-Jenkinses into romance, perhaps hoping that marriage could provide him with some much-needed stability in his life. If so, then maybe he and Grace haven’t been dating for much longer than he was dating Pamela Isley. That brief courtship raises further questions when it comes to Grace, whether she’s tearfully happy at the prospect of marriage with him, or merely delighted. Either way, Grace is 100% on board with marrying Harvey, a man she either doesn’t really know or someone with whom she’s quickly developed a deep intimacy. 

In all likelihood, the BTAS writers room didn’t put too much thought into it. Story writers Alan Burnett and Kevin Alteri were possibly inspired by Messner-Loebs’ comic strip, given numerous similarities, but they didn’t make Harvey’s arc an overriding priority. As such, Grace just appears as if she’s kinda always been there, and we’re not to think too hard about it. 

What matters is that she loves a good-but-troubled man who gets horrifically scarred and becomes a monster, their happy life dashed forever. Or is it? Yes. Maybe, or then again… maybe not. But yes. 

As with the comics, Harvey becomes horribly scarred, suffers a total psychological breakdown, and then ditches Grace, going off on a crime spree of revenge against mobster Rupert Thorne. Grace is left on the hospital floor, her fainting serving as validation for Harvey that now he’s beyond all love or hope. Geez, dude, at least lug her into a chair or something before you go off into your angst-storm! 

However, just like in Bill Finger’s version, this Harvey still pines for Grace, but cannot bring himself to see her. Possibly he knows it would get in the way of his revenge, or perhaps he’s simply too ashamed to see her now that his looks are ruined and/or the dark side within him has been exposed. Regardless, he still stares longingly at mannequins in wedding boutiques, and keeps a photo of him with Grace in his wallet alongside a new credit card he somehow got issued to Two-Face.  

The pining is reciprocated, as Grace is shown alone at her apartment, weeping over Harvey’s picture in classic Gilda fashion. Rupert Thorne decides she’s the perfect mark for his counterattack on Dent, and sends his moll Candace to manipulate her into setting a trap. Pretending to be “Detective Leopold” of the police, Candace gives Grace a homing beacon for when (not if) Harvey approaches her, so he can be arrested and get the treatment he needs. 

Sure enough, Harvey reaches out to her, and Grace--with love and the best of intentions--snitches on his ass. After being escorted to his hideout, she is reunited with Harvey, who wears a half-cloth mask in an attempt to present his best self. The Phantom of the Opera-ness of the Harvey/Gilda relationship has become more explicit than ever. 

She approaches him without fear, reminding him that he’s a good man who needs to take “control” of his life, not give in to chance and luck. Oh, that’s right, I forgot to mention that he’s now obsessed with flipping his coin because… reasons? Look, this is a great episode, but it’s not without his sloppiness when it comes to constructing their Two-Face. No wonder Grace gets to be such a rough sketch of a character.

Still, one could wring out a few drops of poignancy from her fearless delivery of “You don’t ever need to hide from me.” It's a line which really defines a main appeal of the Harvey/Gilda dynamic. It’s rooted in acceptance for who you are, scars and all, and the redemptive power of love. It’s the stuff of everything from poetry to gothic romance to even mythology about werewolves, and few Gilda-types have ever captured it quite so pointedly and beautifully as it was with Grace in this moment. 

It ties back to Bill Finger’s Gilda, who was upset at Harvey for resorting to deceit (with the wax makeup fiasco) when she would have accepted him regardless. If we accept the idea that Grace had already understood Harvey’s darker nature, then this moment is a catharsis for their whole relationship at this point. 

For the first time, Harvey is finally allowing her to see who he really is, a side of himself she might have already glimpsed and loved anyway. 

Whether they’ve been together for days or months, it’s a powerful moment of trust and vulnerability, where he shows her a side he’s never even shown to his best friend (who, notably, has his own dark secrets to keep). Of course, it’s all ruined because of the homing beacon in Grace’s handbag, bringing Thorne (alongside his goons and Candace) right to them. 

Grace is horrified, realizing she’s been manipulated to betray Harvey, but he doesn’t seem to blame her. His response of “So much for ‘control,’ huh, Grace?” is just a bitter validation of his current beliefs. He has no reason to hate her, to see her as being against him all along. He knows who’s really to blame. 

Batman arrives and fights Thorne’s goons alongside both Harvey and Grace, who gets to trounce Candice in an amusingly undignified manner, yanking her hair and booting her ass over teakettle. Even in its own catfight-ish way, it’s nice that she actually gets involved and dishes out some payback for the manipulation, rather than just watching from the sidelines. Apologies for the rough quality of the gifs, but this moment really needs to be seen in action. 

Finally, Thorne is defeated and at their mercy… but Harvey has none. Picking up Thorne’s own Tommy gun, Two-Face takes direct aim at the helpless crook who ruined his life and manipulated the woman he loved. 

Other Gildas in the past might have been able to stop Harvey, to talk sense and make him drop the gun. But just as with Alice, Grace is powerless at this moment. Harvey here shrugs off Grace’s alarm, saying that he’s “taking control” of his life. She really did get through to him on a level, but he’s too far gone, too deep into his rage and obsession. All that’s left is to toss the coin, “the great equalizer,” and see if he can finally eliminate Thorne once and for all. 

And just like in the comic strip, it ends with multiple coins, a complete psychological meltdown, and a crying woman holding her broken man. In the show, Batman--too weak from his injuries to stop Harvey physically--tosses a crate of identical coins which were conveniently lying around in Harvey’s abandoned-casino hideout. In Gravel’s novelization, it’s Grace who chucks the coin crate, making her the one who finally, agonizingly defeats Two-Face. 

It’s a deeply bittersweet ending, one that has more emotional impact than the comic strip version because Harvey never turns against his Gilda. As Two-Face, he has nothing left, but Harvey still has Grace and she still has him. 

Sadly, as with the comics, Grace vanished in order to allow Harvey to become Two-Face full-time. They only revisited the question of recovery once, and even there, it was about Bruce’s feelings, with Grace not even warranting a mention to explain her absence. One second she was “here,” and the next she was gone forever.

But that almost wasn’t the case.

When the BTAS team was considering producing a theatrical animated Batman film, writer Paul Dini came up with a concept for an entire Two-Face movie which would have brought back Grace. In a different universe, this could have been the very first big-screen debut of a Gilda-type, something which we still haven’t really gotten to this day. If that had happened, it could have forever changed the course of her character in comics, as BTAS had done for others like Mr. Freeze and Clayface. But of course, it wasn’t meant to be, as they went with Mask of the Phantasm instead. And rightly so, as it’s still a masterpiece.

Not one to let a good storyline go, Dini repurposed his Grace story for the BTAS tie-in comic books, debuting in the first two issues of The Batman & Robin Adventures (1995). Accompanied by incredible art by Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett, “Two-Timer” was a story that asked the question, “What if we retold the beautiful ending of the comic strip, but instead we made it a crushing downer?”

We learn that Grace and Bruce have been visiting Harvey in Arkham, supporting his rehabilitation with love, encouragement, and money. Unlike the comic strip or the actual comics, this Harvey isn’t pushing them away, and instead thanks them and asks Grace if she can wait just a little bit longer. It gives one flashbacks to Alice Dent, when faced with the prospect of supporting her husband’s run for mayor. What else can she say but yes? 

But privately, she’s a very tired woman at the end of her rope. As with Alice, Grace has no one to confide in but Bruce Wayne, with whom she can honestly talk about how exhausted she really is behind the chipper facade. Bruce, in turn, tries to cheer her up by showing her a building he made. Look, no one said Bruce Wayne knew how to act like people. 

Grace’s feelings are entirely relatable and sympathetic, while also serving as the plot’s emotional Chekov’s Gun. It makes sense given her unenviable position. A vulnerable Harvey is begging her to wait for him, despite his poor track record of being unable (or unwilling) to overcome his nebulously-defined psychological disorder. 

Other Gildas have made the active choice to try getting Harvey back, but Grace is trapped in a situation with a bomb that may or may not be defused. Her love and empathy can only go so far, and at this point, it’s easy to imagine they’d have eventually divorced even if Harvey hadn’t snapped again.

Which, of course, he does. The Joker decides that the situation is too precarious not to exploit, so he calls up Harley Quinn to crash Bruce and Grace’s platonic night on the town. Or perhaps it’s not so platonic, on Grace’s end. 

Dini establishes that Harvey and Grace used to go out on double-dates with Bruce and whichever piece of interchangeable arm-candy he was with that night. It serves to retroactively insert Grace in their lives in a way the show didn’t, while also drifting close to the polyamorus thruple of the strips. From episodes like Second Chance (which “the Half-Moon Club” references), we already know that Bruce and Harvey were close, but it seems that Grace was attracted to both men as well. Or perhaps she, like Harvey, is just now in a vulnerable position herself. 

In a reverse of the strips, Bruce doesn’t reciprocate and has to lay down boundaries. He has no interest in exploiting Grace’s vulnerability and betraying Harvey’s trust. He just wants to cheer up a friend with parties and cool buildings, like any pal would. Grace backs off, but not without giving him a friendly kiss on the cheek… just in time for Harley Quinn to snap a damning photo, which she slips to Gotham’s biggest gossip columnist.

As you’ll recall, I praised Messner-Loebs for resisting the cheap drama of a love triangle. Paul Dini had no such qualms, turning the easily-manipulated Harvey into a ragingly jealous psychopath. 

He breaks out, kidnaps Grace, Bruce, and also Dick Grayson just for kicks, planning to blow up the men in the building (not the building!) while he and Grace watch. Despite his initial rage at her own “two-faced” behavior, he claims to have forgiven her for being “seduced” by Bruce. The fact that Grace had feelings for Bruce lends a cruel kernel of truth to the situation, which Harvey has blown up to unforgivable proportions.

Grace calls him “a monster,” which causes him to look first shocked, hurt, then furious, screaming “DON’T EVER SAY THAT!” This story makes it absolutely clear that Harvey is capital-g Gone, with Grace--and even Bruce--abandoning all hope for his recovery. Through Robin’s dialogue, it further implies that maybe there never was any hope, and perhaps they were just deluding themselves by putting so much time and effort into “a monster.” 

All that’s left is a mad dog to be put down, in which Grace--in a moment reminiscent of Alice’s scene with the Penguin--takes an active part.

Thanks to her using Harvey’s coin as a weapon (which is conveniently now sharp and jagged, with absolutely no explanation on Dini’s part), Grace manages to get one back at Harvey and allow Batman to deliver the knockout blow. By the end, Grace turns from a (remorseful? It’s hard to tell) Harvey, walking away with tears on her steely face. 

It’s a finale which crushes the romantic sentiment of “You don’t ever need to hide from me.”  It suggests that Grace was wrong, and Harvey was right to run from her, to hide his inner self, to protect her from the wolf within. And of course, those stories need telling too. Sometimes, acceptance isn’t enough, and love can’t always defeat the monster. 

It’s an incredibly depressing story for anyone who cares about Two-Face, especially in terms of his relationships. But given what little we know about Grace in BTAS continuity, it’s perhaps the happiest ending she could have, given the cards she’s dealt. 

It’s likely that theirs wasn’t the kind of close relationship that Gildas have had in the comics, where she can reach through to his better nature and pull him back to redemption. Grace fell in love with a repressed man she barely knew, possibly because they’d been dating for only a short time. And if she really did understand him intimately, and could approach him with trust and without fear, that just makes Dini’s story all the worse. 

If the story works, then it does so on a level sadder than any Two-Face story to date. And if it doesn’t work, it’s because Dini threw something special under the bus in order to keep Two-Face evil. You make the call. 

That said, there was a sliver of hope to be seen in the following comics, after artist Ty Templeton took over as the main writer. Over the course of his runs, Templeton fleshed out Harvey better than the show itself ever did. Templeton gave Harvey a proper backstory to explain his psychological state, had Bruce regain hope for Harvey’s redemption, and even brought back Grace for a brief but powerful moment. 

In TB&RA #22, a group of crooks coerce Two-Face into helping them plan crimes, threatening to kill Grace if he doesn’t comply. He manages to escape just long enough to reach a pay phone, flip a coin, and express visible relief at the result allowing him to call and warn Grace. 

Notice that the coin he’s using here isn’t his real coin, which he lost during his abduction by the crooks. No, he has to make do with a scuffed quarter, relying on it just as much as if it were the real coin. And yet when it comes to Grace, he’s willing to give up his own crutch in order to keep her safe. Granted, he does beat the crap out of the phone afterward so he can get the coin back, but still! That’s huge!

When we see her next, she’s scared, confused, and calling up Bruce, who lets her crash at Wayne Manor until this all blows over. This is the last we ever see of her, so it’s unknown if she even knows (or cares, or even should care about) the extent to which Harvey managed to work with--if not overcome--his mental illness to save her. Could they perhaps be friends again at some point? Probably not, but weirder things have happened in Gotham.

This was the last we saw of her in the DCAU, although there’s still hope. The BTAS continuity is back courtesy of the current comics run of Batman: The Adventures Continue, so there’s still a chance for more Grace. Given that Harvey hasn’t even appeared yet, chances of any meaningful Grace return are pretty slim. Then again, given that these comics are bringing in new ideas, perhaps now would be the time to introduce Gilda Gold? She could work either as a new love interest or as Harvey’s old flame from before Pamela Isley and Grace Lamont. 

But even if they did bring in Gilda, this would still present new problems. Because these days, Gilda is no longer the character she once was. Grace Lamont was the final appearance of a classic Gilda-type before she was changed forever in the mid-90’s. Which finally brings us to The Big One, the story that defined and redefined Gilda Dent more than any other, completely overshadowing her entire history up to this point. 

So enough preamble. Let’s take a break here, collect our thoughts, and then finally tackle the elephant in the room. 

Next time: Gilda Dent in Batman: The Long Halloween. 

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