about_faces

The Grace of Gilda, Part 5, cont’d: “Batman: The Long Halloween” (Part 2 of 2)

Read Part 1 here! For all previous installments of the complete Gilda retrospective, check out the tag!

For Gilda Dent, New Year’s Eve was the turning point. And for a brief time, things seem to be improving in her marriage to Harvey. 

Despite his ever-pressing work load, Harvey actually manages to come home for Valentine’s Day, surprising her with chocolates and romantic snugglebunnies. For a brief moment, despite all that’s happened before, finally everything’s comin’ up Gilda!

Meanwhile, the Holiday murders continue. Only this time, the victims aren’t the Roman’s men, but rather those of his gangland rival: Salvatore “The Boss” Maroni. This change in targets is interesting, given the fateful destiny of Harvey(’s face) and Maroni(’s bottle of acid). These murders aren’t up close and personal like the Roman’s men, but are now far more spectacular and explosive, with the killer mowing down nine men at once with the .22 as if it were a machine gun. The change in both targets and methodology would suggest a different Holiday than the first, which supports Gilda being the first and Harvey (or someone else) being the second. 

By Father’s Day, Maroni has lost everyone to Holiday, including his own father. He suspects that the Roman is behind the Holiday killings despite the first victims being the Roman’s own men, because mobsters… well, they generally ain’t deep thinkers. But then, many characters in this story become stupid for plot reasons. Take Harvey, for example. 

Over the course of these months, Harvey makes the incredibly foolish decision to target Bruce Wayne, whom he suspects of being mobbed up with the Roman. Yeah, Loeb decided against having them be friends, instead opting to have Harvey detest Bruce because of his wealth and status. When Harvey botches the case due to his sloppy work, he becomes embittered, believing that Wayne, “with all his money,” has escaped justice like so many others. The concept of the dogged civil servant persecuting the poor innocent billionaire is something which hasn’t aged too well. 

Then, in a moment that directly references Andrew Helfer’s “Eye of the Beholder” (1990), Harvey makes the horrible decision to go visit his abusive dad on Father’s Day. And he comes home with a souvenir along with, presumably, a whole lot of renewed trauma. And Gilda (who has been curiously absent for several issues by this point) is the one who has to deal with the fallout. 

This is a powerful moment, but only for people who’ve read EotB. Instead of doing his own spin on Helfer’s haunting depiction of abuse, Loeb leaves the details unsaid, opting to let the readers (the vast majority of whom haven’t read EotB) interpret Harvey’s relationship with his father from these scant lines and Gilda’s reaction. Harvey’s father could simply be mentally ill for all we get here, or “crazy” in a wacky-but-ultimately-benign 90’s sitcom dad kind of way. And even readers who infer abuse are only getting part of the picture. Hell, fans like Christopher Nolan didn’t even get that much, going by the blasé bit in The Dark Knight with “my father’s lucky coin.” People who’ve read EotB know it was so, so much worse than that. 

Regardless, Loeb almost certainly wrote this with the abuse backstory in mind, given that he mined EotB for other ideas such as Harvey’s duplicitous assistant and the iconic rooftop meeting with Batman and Gordon. Gilda’s horrified “oh god” supports this, because she knows what a monster Harvey’s father was. A wound has reopened in Harvey, and combined with his frustration in the Wayne fiasco, Gilda starts to see her husband change for the worse. Or at least, so we hear from Gilda second-hand in the next issue (Independence Day in July), when she goes to visit the Gordons’ home. 

Conspicuous baby bottle nipples on the windowsill! Which is a totally normal place to dry them instead of a drying rack or a countertop. If something is destined for your baby’s mouth, you gotta be sure it has the chance to get pooped on by passing pigeons first. If Gilda was really the killer, then I choose to imagine she’d snatch a few off the sill every time she visits, leaving Barbara to wonder where the fuck they keep going.

On the surface, this scene fits the classic arc of Harvey and Gilda’s relationship that we’ve seen elsewhere, particularly in the comic strip and the animated series. She’s watching his transformation happen before her eyes, powerless to stop it. But it’s complicated by what we’re supposed to accept by the end, when she reveals (or at least believes) that Harvey has been moonlighting as a serial killer since New Year’s Eve. “Will I ever get my Harvey back?” Gilda frets forlornly in this issue, only in the finale to do a total one-eighty. “Guess my husband is a ruthless murderer now. This is suddenly totally fine!”

The thing is, Holiday isn’t killing the Roman’s men, but instead targeting goons who work for Sal Maroni. This could be rationalized by supposing that Harvey wanted to start a gang war between the Roman and Maroni, except Holiday kills every last one of Maroni’s men, meaning no gang war is possible. All this only benefits the Roman, whom Harvey is determined to bring down. 

Granted, this causes Maroni (still covered in his father’s blood, clutching the tie left behind by Holiday) to appear in Dent’s office, ready to turn stoolie against the Roman in revenge for the Holiday killings. Could that have been Harvey’s plan all along?

The murders ultimately benefited Harvey, giving Harvey the key witness he needed to take down the target of his obsession! But Harvey would have had no way of knowing it would work out that way, given the mob’s hard-wired disdain for snitches. As a writer, Loeb isn’t above using such plot conveniences that look like 4D chess, so this doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility that Harvey’s plan was to manipulate Maroni into testifying against the Roman.

But then Holiday’s targets become more obscure. The Gunsmith of Chinatown is murdered on Mother’s Day, where it’s revealed that he was making custom .22 pistols for a mysterious customer. Obviously, the killer is covering their tracks, but we again come to the problem of trying to figure out who could possibly have an “in” with the Chinatown underworld. Chinatown never comes up once in either his subplot nor anywhere else in the story. It’s a detail entirely out of left field. Hell, there aren’t even any Chinese characters at all except for the one guy whom Sofia Falcone tortures and kills to learn about the Gunsmith’s existence. Again, something that hasn’t aged well.

Regardless, we can accept that Harvey could have knowledge about the Gunsmith from his work as DA. It would make sense that he’d kill the Gunsmith to cover his ass, as well as protect Gilda if she was also the Gunsmith’s client and he knew it. But then Holiday murders the Gotham City Coroner, a person whom Harvey would have absolutely no reason to kill.

The Coroner isn’t even given a name, as he’s just a human-shaped plot point. His only business in this story was to confirm Alberto Falcone’s death on New Year’s Eve. Naturally, you may either know or suspect that there was something sketchy going on there (and we’ll address that in due time), but Harvey would have no way of knowing that. Neither, for that matter, would Gilda. 

And yet, by this point, everyone suspects that Harvey is Holiday. While investigating the crime scene of the Coroner’s murder, Batman asks Gordon, “Can anyone account for Harvey Dent at the time of the killings?” Between his job and home life, Harvey should have tons of alibis, especially if he’s spending most of his time at the office. This would track if Harvey is Holiday, but this seems more like a plot contrivance to cast suspicion on Harvey, given how the rest makes less and less sense. Batman, master detective, should not suspect Harvey at this point with all these obvious loose ends hanging around--especially with such a sudden, suspiciously drastic change in MO and targets starting after New Year’s.

This brings up another possibility: that Gilda was wrong, and just made a false assumption based on the flimsy “wet hair” premise. What if Harvey was never Holiday, despite what Gilda concluded? 

Consider the story’s final scene of Harvey and Gilda together, in the August issue. Harvey is rushing off to the courthouse for his date with destiny, putting Maroni on the stand to testify against the Roman. Here we see the Harvey that Gilda was describing to Barbara: a scowling, glowering jerkass with neither time for his wife nor patience for her concerns. 

Gilda has chosen this moment to lightly skirt around the whole issue of him maybe being a serial killer, presenting him with a .22 pistol she found on the workbench and urging him to “please tell me the truth.” If Harvey and Gilda were both murderers and silently aware of each other’s activities, this would be the time they could finally talk about it in private. But they don’t. Instead of showing any indication of her/their involvement in the murders, Harvey’s just annoyed and wants to get to court. 

Knowing what we know, there are a few ways to read this scene. One is that they’re both killers, but they’ve gone all-in on the kind of denial and refusal to communicate that we saw from the Sabiches in Presumed Innocent. It’s a very old-fashioned kind of dysfunctional relationship, the kind of thing which was already outdated by the 90’s along with Gilda and Barbara still essentially being housewives with no other defining characteristics. 

But as someone who actually cares about relationships in fiction, as well as Gilda being a formidable partner like she was in the 80’s, this possibility is deeply frustrating. It’s a contrivance on Loeb’s part to milk tension and miscommunication in order to further the mystery. If Gilda truly thinks Harvey knew that she was Holiday and took up the mantle himself, then why is she being so coy? Why is she skittish instead of speaking to him outright, from one “Holiday” to another? Why is she saying, “Talk to me” if she’s not talking to him about what she’s done either? Why isn’t she saying, even subtextually, “Harvey, just admit it, already! You’re Holiday! I’m Holiday! Why are you pretending otherwise?”

Why? Because then the twist wouldn’t be a twist. And Loeb needed scenes like this to throw off readers, making them focused on Harvey rather than her. It’s far more important for readers to be surprised than for the plot to hold water. Loeb’s mystery-building skills are the writer’s equivalent of that Onion headline, “Zing! I Just Got You With Another One Of My Trademark ‘Complete Lies!’”

Another possibility is that Gilda’s “all the time…?” could suggest that she’s doubting herself, that maybe Harvey wasn’t moonlighting as a serial killer after all as she’d believed. She’d concocted a whole theory out of slim evidence, a fantasy that plays into her dreams of Harvey murdering people for her sake, so they could have time together for a family. That’d mean Harvey’s innocent of murder, even as he’s becoming harder and meaner in his obsession with the Roman. Where does that leave Gilda, then, if she’s realizing that she might be the only murderer in the basement? 

At this point, I really, really wish we could have had more scenes of them together as a married couple. We have no idea what their relationship would be like under normal circumstances. We don’t have a baseline for what their typical communication skills are like, nor how they approach problems as a team, nor even why they love each other. Their roles are just to be “old-fashioned husband and wife ciphers” in order to serve the plot when one goes crazy and the other is revealed to be a murderer. 

This is frustrating because the entire twist hinges on their relationship. We need to know what kind of relationship they have in order to accept that one or both of them could be murderers, and to understand how they could either know or be oblivious to their partner’s dark activities. 

It’s bad enough that TLH’s Harvey is a pale sketch of the fleshed-out character he was in “Eye of the Beholder,” where you got a real sense of his personality, psychological history, and personal motivations. But TLH’s Gilda is even less than a sketch. She’s already a character who has historically been given little in terms of depth, but this version brings nothing new to the table other than the crudest subversion of the “good little housewife” tropes she’s been fighting against for decades. She’s a good little housewife, but also she kills people on the side!...so she can be a good little housewife ~uwu~

There is just so much we don’t know which makes trying to analyze this story, and its Gilda in particular, a maddening task. But we have to try, because this story is the most famous, celebrated, and beloved Two-Face story for most people, and it’s the definitive take on Gilda. So let’s press onward. 

Harvey goes to court, unaware that the Roman has gotten to Maroni, convincing him that the D.A. is the real enemy here. Maroni, being a fickle goon, agrees to put Harvey down once and for all. In another detail taken from EotB, Maroni smuggles acid in a bottle of antacid, which he claims he needs for his stomach problems. He flings it into Harvey’s face, and the rest is history.

Next we see Gilda, she’s pale and sobbing in the hospital, waiting for news on Harvey’s condition after the acid attack. And to make matters worse, Gotham seems to have hired the doctor from Arrested Development.

As a friend of mine pointed out, we should give that doctor some credit. It takes some serious dedication to stumble out and inform the wife in a deeply upsetting way instead of seeking medical treatment for the stab wound! Did no one in the hallway between the…

(*squints*) Wait, does the sign next to the doors read “stupid?” It’s the “stupid room”? Am I reading that right?? Seriously??? What the fuck is…? Okay, never mind, my point is, did no one between OR and the… stupid… room notice the profusely bleeding, slightly stabbed doctor?

That same night, Holiday strikes again. The victim is Carla Viti: sister of the Roman, mother of victim #1 Johnny Viti (dude in the bathtub), and aunt of Alberto Falcone. You can see her in the page where Alberto is “shot” on New Year’s Eve. Frustrated with her brother’s approach in searching for the Holiday killer, she decides to take matters in her own hands. She breaks into the dead Coroner’s office to search through his files on Holiday’s victims, only to join their roster herself.

Again, there are logistical issues when trying to consider Harvey being the killer. Stabbing a surgeon is one thing, but getting his hands on all the murder equipment and clothes is another. Of course, there’s also the fact that he should be too impaired from his injuries to have the wherewithal to track and murder someone. But let’s be honest, no Two-Face story ever takes into account that he should be in too much agony to do anything other than flop around and scream like the world’s most tragic Magikarp.

Why he would kill Carla of all people is another question. True, she’s the Roman’s sister, but Holiday has stopped going after members of the Falcone crime family, so we can only conclude she was killed for snooping around. She was targeted for poking through the Coroner’s files, not because she was connected to the Roman. Given that Harvey would have no reason to kill the Coroner, it’s just as unlikely he’d want to kill Carla Viti for getting too close to some very pertinent information regarding one particular victim. 

It’s far more likely that Harvey ran to the only place he could hide out and brood, which turns out to be the sewers where he can pal around with Solomon Grundy. Not exactly the most sanitary place for a guy with lots of raw, exposed, infection-prone flesh. Meanwhile, Gilda has been left alone at home, praying for Harvey’s return like many a Gilda before her. When she hears something rustling around in her basement, she approaches the stairwell, calling out, “Harvey, is that you? Harvey, you’ve come back...” 

But it’s neither Harvey nor a wayward racoon rooting around in the basement. It’s Batman, looming meaningfully in front of the furnace, and growling, “Where is your husband, Mrs. Dent?” Dude, her words already conveyed that she was looking for him, that he hadn’t come home and she was looking for him! She clearly doesn’t know where he is! World’s greatest friggin’ detective over here.

Of course, for readers who don’t yet know the twist about Gilda, this is meant to further the red herring theory of Harvey having been Holiday all along. For the rest of us, this is the closest Batman ever gets to learning that Gilda was Holiday. When Batman mentions “gun metal,” she has a deer-in-the-headlights reaction as if she’s going “Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap.” 

On the surface, it’s damning confirmation that Holiday--be it Harvey and/or Gilda--was indeed operating out of the Dents’ basement. After all, it’s “gun metal!” A metal only used for guns, right? Well, no, not really. Gunmetal is just another name for red brass, “which casts and works well and is immune to vapor and salt water corrosion, is used to make steam and hydraulic castings, pipes, gears, statues and numerous small items such as buttons.” These days, gunmetal has been replaced in firearms with steel, which--needless to say--is even more commonly used in many non-gun applications. 

Now (I say, hitching up my suspenders), I’m no fancy big-city forensic ballistician, but it seems to me that there’s no way Batman can establish that those metal filings came from a gun. Harvey could just as likely been working on some plumbing or any other home-improvement project involving red brass or steel. He had to have that workshop for a reason. It couldn’t just have been a lazy reference to Presumed Innocent, right? 

Maroni becomes the next (and arguably final) victim of Holiday, getting shot in the head as he’s escorted from his holding cell by Jim Gordon. If Harvey was Holiday, this would be the perfect time to reveal him as Two-Face, murdering the man who threw acid in his face and setting up his big reveal. Loeb presumably knew that would be playing to expectations, so here he threw in his first big twist, revealing that Maroni’s killer was none other than Alberto Falcone: alive and well.

With this reveal, so many mysteries fell into place. Killing his father’s enemies in the Maroni crime family, murdering the Gunsmith (whom he could know through his criminal underworld connections), and especially the deaths of the Coroner and his Aunt Carla, who could have exposed his survival. That’s because the Coroner was complicit, as he was the one who “confirmed” Alberto’s death in the first place. 

Alberto was the sickly, undervalued “good son” of the Falcone crime family, always wanting to be involved in the family business but sidelined by his protective father, the Roman. As a character, he was modeled after a combination of two Godfather characters: the pathetic Fredo Corleone (John Cazale) and “good son” Michael Corleone who becomes a ruthless killer. With those two major characters as his pedigree, and combined with his penchant for menacing stares through those purple-tinted glasses, Alberto was set up as a big, mysterious deal from the very first issue. He was the first red herring, which is why Loeb “killed” him off in an obvious fake-out. It’s a lazy trope Loeb will revisit (and revisit… and revisit yet again) across his later work. 

Alberto reveals his motives in the final issue, after he’s defeated by Batman and arrested. He embraces his role as being one of a new breed of criminal, the kind who have effectively replaced the organized crime in Gotham City. He resented being sidelined by his father and wanted to prove that he was more deadly and capable than anyone ever suspected. He wanted fame and recognition, to both prove himself to his father and repudiate the old man at the same time. 

The Roman’s involvement in his son’s activities is left ambiguous. Alberto probably couldn’t have covered up his own death with the Coroner without his powerful daddy’s influence. But the Roman also sent his own daughter, Sofia Falcone, out searching for Holiday, although this may have been done to cast attention away from him and Alberto. One way or another, Alberto being Holiday makes a lot more sense than Harvey.

However, Alberto couldn’t have been Holiday from the start. Gilda confessed to those murders, so it couldn’t have been him. Therefore, Gilda was the killer for the first three Holidays, and Alberto took over after faking his death while Gilda wrongly assumed that it was Harvey doing the killings. 

Except that doesn’t make sense either! We come back to the same problems we had if Harvey had been Holiday. First, we have to accept the idea that Gilda just stopped being Holiday, randomly and inexplicably. Then, Alberto would have needed to somehow know that Gilda!Holiday had retired when he faked his death, otherwise there would have been two killings on the same holiday. If this were a planned conspiracy by Gilda and Alberto, then boom, it works. But fizzle, it wasn’t! They didn’t even know each other! 

But okay. Okay okay okay okay okay, let’s go with Gilda being the first Holiday and Alberto being the second, with taking credit for all the killings because he wants to be a big man. It’s shoddy plotting, but we can suspend our disbelief. Except there’s one last wrench thrown in at the end, even before Gilda’s confession blows the machinery to pieces. 

After Alberto’s arrest, everyone starts going, “Oh, maybe Harvey wasn’t the murderer, our bad, hope he turns up sometime.” It’s Halloween again, a full year having passed, and we meet up with Gilda  for the penultimate time. She’s in the familiar position of miserably moping around the house, waiting for Harvey to come home. 

I don’t what unsettles me worse: Barbara breaking the fourth wall to stare into our souls, or the fact that they have jumping jacks for a baby. Those are a choking hazard! 

This is the final scene of Gilda, playing what appears to be a typically Gilda-esque role of crying and worrying to set up the shock of the final twist. The problem is, her behavior at this point doesn’t mesh with either Bill Finger’s original vision nor the killer that Loeb is trying to sell us. 

This isn’t the behavior of a woman who was capable of hunting down hardened killers and murdering them for the sake of her family. Even that, in its way, works as a dark update of Finger’s Gilda, who tracked down Harvey right to his hideout! No, this is Mike W. Barr’s Gilda, but with arguably less substance. She’s purposely designed as a flat, passive, outdated take on “the poor little housewife” in order to make the twist more surprising. 

That night, Harvey appears fully-formed as Two-Face, having somehow found a tailor during his months in hiding. He shows up with a cadre of classic rogues in the Roman’s mansion, and finally murders the crime lord with a .22 identical to Holiday’s weapon of choice, sans nipple silencer. He then murders his duplicitous assistant (another callback to EotB) and turns himself in to Batman and Gordon, whereupon he makes a startling proclamation: “You both know, don’t you? There were two Holiday killers.” 

I have to emphasize that he said this completely out of nowhere. There was no transition, no setup, he just abruptly said this as they slapped on the cuffs. It reads like Loeb is going, “Oh crap, I forgot to find a place to throw in this detail! Better do it at the last minute!” Our heroes are thus left to ponder this revelation. 

Again, world’s greatest friggin’ detective, over here! First there’s the random detail that Harvey’s obsessed with the number two for some reason. Loeb never fleshes it out, as he only barely scratched the surface of Harvey’s underlying psychological issues across this whole story. It’s a shallow take on Two-Face’s origin, one that relies on readers’ preexisting notions of Two-Face instead of actually developing him from the ground up. What’s more, it’s a frustrating omission given that he and Gilda are the backbone of this whole arc. 

Then there’s the fact that this is some majorly spurious reasoning, given what Harvey said. Batman has to bend over backwards to justify Harvey being the “other” Holiday based on the Roman’s murder. He’s quick to dismiss Harvey’s words as the ravings of a crazy man, coming up with some kind of bullshit poetic interpretation rather than dig any deeper or even, like, ask Harvey to elaborate! 

It’s possible that Batman’s conclusion is exactly what Harvey wanted them to think. If he knew that Gilda was Holiday (when/how did he find out? How long had he known?), then he could have been saying that to protect her. There’s something appealing about that notion, that he still loves her so much that he’s willing to take the fall and keep her safe. But it seems really unnecessary, given that Batman and Gordon had already fully accepted that Alberto was the sole killer. 

If anything, this last tidbit just raises further questions and complications that could have led them to Gilda! If he really wanted to play up his unaccountable obsession with “twos,” he could have played it up and said something like “You thought there was just one Holiday killer, but now with me killing the Roman, there’s two! TWO! Ha ha! Boy I sure am crazy, no need to dig for any deeper meanings!” I’m just saying, he could have been a bit more direct about it. Then again, so could everyone in this story. 

The problem is, we truly have no idea if Harvey ever knew that Gilda was the killer. In a better story, this would have been a perfect explanation for why Harvey gradually becomes more cold and distant towards Gilda, rather than throwing himself into his work load. Hell, it could even drive that obsession with the Roman, trying to put away the man who so upset his wife that it drove her to murder! 

But that’s not what Loeb has done. Instead, he complicates things even further with Gilda’s confession.

So here we are, back at the end where we started. She describes how she committed the first Holiday murders, and then how she suspected Harvey of shooting Alberto on New Year’s Eve. “I found the gun in the basement. You told me it was evidence. But I knew. You had the same idea as me. You picked up where I left off. So we could have time together. A child. A secret. Let them think it was Alberto.” 

To summarize, Gilda is saying that it was never Alberto. He’s just taking credit to pump himself up. So the “two Holiday killers” were Gilda and Harvey. Except Alberto was Holiday, the only one confirmed to have ever been a Holiday killer because we saw him murder Maroni. So that means that the two killers were Gilda and Alberto. Except Gilda just said they weren’t. Is she telling the truth or is she mistaken? This is the point in any mystery where everything is supposed to be laid out, the truth finally revealed, but now it’s more convoluted than ever!

And yet, for all my criticisms, that may just be the key to TLH’s enduring appeal. These plot holes lend the story an air of ambiguity, leaving the readers with questions to ponder, debate, and theorize about for years to come. As you’ve probably noticed, I can weave a whole narrative of supposition, bending over backwards to create a version of TLH that fills in the gaps. I can bullshit a personal interpretation of TLH that works better for me than the actual canonical text. I guess that’s what fanfiction is for. 

The problem is, that won’t change the fact that Gilda has been forever redefined by this story. She was the one known by the fewest number of readers, the one whose history has been consigned to obscure back issues that rarely see reprint, much less accolades. In a sense, Gilda Dent was the true final victim of Holiday. 

All the women in this story are reduced to being motivated by (and/or reacting to) the men in their lives. Barbara Gordon is reduced to being the eternally-understanding wife, always indulgent of her overworked, cheating husband. Catwoman is entirely driven by daddy issues. Poison Ivy is just a standard seductress-for-hire in the Roman’s employ. Sofia Falcone craves her father’s love and approval, and uses her sexual wiles to seduce Maroni into betraying Harvey. And Gilda is a cynical attempt at subverting her classic role in the comics while also discarding all of the growth she got over the previous sixteen years. This is how she would be remembered from here on out.

And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Comic characters are reworked all the time by necessity, or else they become stagnant. This could have been the launching pad for the next big phase of Gilda, with subsequent writers fleshing out who she is and what she could be for Batman in the 90’s and beyond. This high-profile appearance in a best-selling, fan-favorite comic could have ushered in a new era where Gilda could finally become a major player in Batman’s world, and in Harvey Dent’s life. 

Instead, she vanished again. She wouldn’t make another mainstream DC appearance for fourteen years. And so she stagnated anyway. But as we’ll see next time, the ghost of her memory still lingers from time to time, setting the stage for her eventual return. And what a strange, muddled, shambling mess of a return it will be. 


Next time: Gilda the ghost, plus a surprising detour into Marvel Comics! 

Error

Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

default userpic

Your IP address will be recorded