Classic Batman Analysis: "Faces" from BATMAN ANNUAL #13 (1989)

1989, from what I can tell, was a weird year of transition for DC Comics. Post-Crisis, Post-Watchmen, Post-Dark Knight Returns/Batman: Year One... they had entered a new era, but it seems like they weren't exactly sure what the hell that MEANT. Batman especially seemed to be affected, and we'll get to that in a moment, but he wasn't the only one. 

Take Green Lantern, for instance. After the main series Green Lantern Corps was canceled, the adventures of Hal Jordan were moved over to Action Comics Weekly (itself a misbegotten attempt at an anthology series filled with such fascinatingly flawed and oddball stories such as Wild Dog and the Secret Six team that nobody remembers, alongside more standard heroes like Deadman and Nightwing), and Hal's new adventures were immediately off to a rocky start. This is truly the most ignominious and forgotten period of Green Lantern history, featuring such career lows for Hal such as Star Sapphire deciding to just up and slaughter Katma Tui for no good fucking reason, the revelation that Hal is fearless because he was LOBOTOMIZED by the power ring, and lowest of all, a story which can only be described best as "Hal Jordan Has No Friends," in which everyone--from Green Arrow to Clark Kent to frickin' ALFRED--pretty much just tell Hal to fuck off.

The the first and third instances were written by James Owsley (later to become Christopher Priest), who, in 1989, wrote a story in Batman Annual #13 which inadvertently served as a companion piece to "Hal Jordan Has No Friends." Think of this story, Faces, best described as, "Batman, I Don't Even KNOW You Anymore." It's set in the period where Batman just began his transition into becoming an aggressive jerkwad and everyone is disappointed in him, especially Jim Gordon and even Harvey Dent.

Oh, and another thing about 1989? The quality of printing and coloring for DC Comics seemed to be at an all-time low. The scanner actually does these pages some favors, but by and large, be prepared for subpar quality throughout. I'd love to see this one remastered down the line, even if it's less of a brilliant story and more of an interesting character study for a Batman in transition...
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Gilda Dent last appeared in... the Marvel Universe?

I imagine that most comic fans would assume that Gilda Dent's most recent appearance in comics was in Batman: The Long Halloween, and that's technically true. While she's been in comics since Two-Face's first appearance way back in 1942, the character was defined (for good or ill) for most comic readers in B:TLH, after which she completely dropped off the map. However, I wonder how many fans of B:TLH took note of the mysterious woman who appeared in Loeb and Sale's Marvel Comics miniseries, Daredevil: Yellow?

As if all the hints about her husband weren't enough, she's named Grace, which Gilda was mistakenly renamed in Secret Origins Special, which is incidentally the best Gilda story of all time, and which she was renamed for Batman: The Animated Series. To top it off, that's "You don't understand" panel is a pure recreation of the page in TLH which is used in her profile page. So yeah, that's Gilda, all right. Considering what's happening in comics this week, I'm guessing that a certain writer/artist noticed that too. 

Cosmic Comics Cerfuffle (misspelled to protect the innocent)

My loyal Henchgirl and I are working on a side project involving Kyle Rayner, which will result in that character's equivalent of the Hal Jordan head injury project. Unfortunately, this means tracking down as many Kyle issues of Green Lantern we can find. Every dollar I spend makes the fifteen-year-old H.E.A.T. member* I was scream in agony. I try to actually be fair and READ the issues. God knows how I try! But I can't get three pages into any story without wanting to find some way to graft a throat onto the comics so that I may strangle them. Yeah, that was awkwardly phrased, but Kyle GL comics from this era infuriate me beyond all sense of actual wit. Even when good stuff actually happens, I'm too blinded by my deep-seated nostalgic rage. Can one have nostalgic rage? Because I think that's what this is. 

In other cosmic comic news, I finally read The Life and Death of Captain Marvel, which felt like the equivalent of suffering through three seasons of an incredibly tedious show, only to find that the series finale is one of the greatest things you've ever seen on TV. I love Jim Starlin's later work with Thanos, but good lord was I ever bored by the original Thanos storyline. Maybe that just served to make the already-great Death of Captain Marvel all the more powerful. I was doing that thing where you make little "oh" sounds out loud every few pages, which got rather embarrassing with Henchgirl in the room.

Amazing to think that this kind of story is still incredibly rare in comics today. Actually, do we ever see superheroes dying slow deaths, deteriorating and coming to terms with their mortality while they make peace with those around them? The only other instance I can recall is Silver Surfer: Requiem, and say what you want about JMS, but that story was stunningly moving for much the same reasons.

I'm tempted to say that The Death of Captain Marvel might well be the greatest treatment of death in all of superhero comics. Any disagreements on this count?

* Don't judge me too harshly: I was young, DC was spitting on Hal fans, and H.E.A.T. wasn't at all the kind of psycho-club that Wizard made us out to be
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Classic Doc Ock returns with a "Vengeance"? (ha ha)

Ladies and gentlemen, the Doctor is IN.

That image by Gabrielle Del'Otto, released along with several other portraits for Marvel's upcoming Vengeance miniseries, has to be the most badass that Otto Octavius has looked in comics for, what, ten years? Fifteen? His whole attitude here is reminiscent of the best version of the character: the white-suit-wearing magnificent bastard of David Micheline and Erik Larsen. I don't know why that version has been ignored by comics and fandom since his death in the mid-90's, and every subsequent attempt to update the character (Mullettastic Matrix!Ock... *shudder*) fell flat of... well, this character in the image above. From the sounds of it, this Otto may appear only in flashback. I hope not, as this is exactly what the character's needed to be ever since he came back to life. I appreciate what's going on with the character right now in comics, but look at that image. Look at that smooth, evil motherfucker. That's the goddamn Doctor Octopus.

Why Two-Face should be a hero half the time (he originally was!)

I feel like writers never used the character of Harvey Dent to his full potential. He’s generally depicted as a mob boss, or a career criminal with a gimmicky obsession with the number 2. Even in his best appearances, he’s ultimately still a good person who became corrupted. It’s a tragic downfall that went straight to Villainsville, Population 2.

But in his very first appearance, Two-Face didn’t entirely give up his good side when he went from being the District Attorney to criminal mastermind. In fact, whenever the coin landed “good” heads up, he actually donated to charity and performed good deeds!

Does anyone else think that there’s real potential being lost here by not drawing on this aspect from the original Two-Face? Just think, instead of Harvey being yet another criminal freak in Gotham, he could also be an occasional hero, a wild card character who wouldn’t neatly fit alongside the heroes OR the villains.

Granted, this Two-Face was given to charity with ill-gotten gains, but he’s also putting criminal money to much better use. Thus, he’s still exacting a certain sense of “justice” (which was so central to his character as the noble D.A.,) rather than arbitrarily abandoning it entirely to become evil just because he was uglified.

Now sure, in the Golden Age, being turned hideous was kinda sorta acceptable motivation to become a villain, but even today--in the Post- Crisis era where Harvey was given deeper complexity with Eye of the Beholder on through to The Dark Knight--there’s little reason for such a heroic figure to become a full-on mob boss once he got scarred. Going after mobsters? Sure. Trying to kill Batman? Maybe. But a mobster? A full-on criminal to robs and murders innocents without a second thought? There’s no real reason for him to instantly become everything he ever hated.

But to take the idea of justice into his own hands... to keep helping people in his own lawless way while simultaneously executing criminals and/or feeding his own hunger for committing grand criminal schemes? THAT would instantly makes Two-Face a far richer character than simply being another villain.

What do you think? Should Two-Face be half-hero as well as half-villain?

Batman writers/editor had different plans in '98, before NML

 While I was recently spelunking through the world's most awesome hellhole of a comic shop, I found a copy of Wizard Magazine's all-villain issue, The Dark Book. Specifically, Dark Book '98, their follow-up issue.

I used to be an avid Wizard reader, but gave up due to a combination of the internet and the fact that they were doing shit like this all the time. But I had fond memories of the first Dark Book, since it was a celebration of all things evil and criminal, with little in the way of Wizard's mean-spirited snark. So at $1, I figured why now pick up the sequel?

I found a lot of neat stuff, but most interesting to me are the Batman villain character profiles, complete with "future plans": hints about upcoming events from writers and editors. Some, like Poison Ivy and Scarecrow, accurately described what was happening next with those characters. Others, however, not so much.

Check out what was originally planned for the Joker around 1998:

The Joker... prominent man about Gotham, respected by high society? Now that's a story I would have DIED to have seen, especially as written by Chuck Dixon! For my money, Dixon's one of the best Joker writers ever. Just look at Devil's Advocate, The Demon Laughs, and that Az-Bat story where the Joker has a ponytail and is making a film. All great stories! Just ignore Last Laugh entirely, and Dixon's track re cord with Joker is excellent!

But that never happened. Why? Because No Man's Land happened instead. And from these "future plans" snippets, it seems like NML was never meant to happen at all! Just like the similarly-disaster-themed Contagion, Gotham was apparently just going to bounce back after Cataclysm! Instead, it got stretched out through Aftershock, before they went on the Road to No Man's Land.

And what about Detective Comics #726, the issue forecast to be the start of "prominent Gotham City citizen" Joker? Instead, we got a great one-shot story with the Joker and Batsy playing Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, which is a fine trade-off consider that it's another example of why Chuck Dixon's one of the best Joker writers ever.

At the same time, he's also one of the worst Two-Face writers. At least, if you're like me and you don't like Harvey written as a raving, evil thug. So I'm relieved that No Man's Land happened, even though I'd love to know what Dixon and Scott Peterson had originally planned:

So Harvey would have fled Gotham for Blüdhaven (still the silliest name for a comic book city), resulting in D ick vs. Harvey, Round 3! It would have been an excellent story for Dick fans, but it's clear even from Peterson's description that Harvey would have continued to be depicted shallowly. Still, I have to wonder if maybe some remnants of Dixon's Two-Face story didn't carry through that next year's stories.

ALSO! In case anyone was wondering, yes indeed, there's proof: The Long Halloween was not canon. Nor should it be, but I suppose, since Devin Grayson made Prey canon (in a great story which I'll finally be posting soon), I guess now all Legends of the Dark Knight stories are fair game for people to consider canon or otherwise, as they see fit. But even still, Jeph Loeb and Tony Daniel be damned, TLH is not now, nor shall it ever be, in actual continuity as far as I'm concerned. So there! *nods*

Finally, not all of the scrapped-plans for post- Cataclysm sounded especially, um, Earth-shattering, if Pengers is any indication:

Oswald Cobblepot: LANDOWNER! Sounds like they were going to turn him from a low-rent Kingpin into an evil landlord out of a 1920's serial. Hell, he already has the top hat! *sings* "You muuuust pay the rent! Waugh waugh waugh!"

EDITED TO ADD: Sorry for the messed-up HTML, folks. Still getting used to the fact that blog posts here don't *use* HTML!
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Why Batman will never use guns (or at least, wouldn't circa 1993)

A couple months back, I got into yet another debate with someone about why I hated Batman using a gun in Final Crisis. At the time, I meant to post the following as a canonical response, but got distracted with IRL stuff and general geekery (we've got a li'l fanboy/girl on the way) at my Two-Face fanblog. Besides, I figured this might be controversial, since it's a controversial real-life topic combined with a controversial comic topic, taken from a comic that was deeply controversial at the time it was released: Batman: Seduction of the Gun.

B:SotG was an anti-gun one-shot published as a benefit issue for the John Reisenbach Foundation for gun-control education activities, a fact which wasn't revealed to readers until the end. DC was flooded with angry letters from gun owners and Second Amendment advocates, many of which were published in the early Knightfall issues. Many letters were along the lines of "My heart goes out to the Reisenbach family, what a tragedy, BUT STILL GUN CONTROL IS BAD I FEEL BETRAYED FOR ACCIDENTALLY DONATING MONEY TO THIS CAUSE." I could do a whole post about that comic and the response it got.

So it might be a bit unfair to use these pages as my reasoning why Batman would never use a gun, and would always find another way to save the day because he's frickin' Batman. It's a very biased perspective. But in this case, I believe it also entirely fits with Batman as a character, and how he's always reacted to guns and gun violence.

WARNING: this is the single most graphic description of exactly how the Waynes died.

First, some context: Hudson, a teenage friend of Tim's, decided to show off his father's gun to the guys. In classic After-School Special fashion, he started horsing around and it went off in the friend's living room. 

I think it's the first two panels on the last page that really make this, in that it shows how much Bruce elevates Thomas Wayne in memory. Never mind that Thomas was human, and could easily have been killed another way. The point is, that's just how ingrained this ideal is into Bruce's character.

That said, I'm sure there's a point to be made about how Final Crisis was so powerful because he managed to overcome his feelings to do the right thing, yadda yadda yadda. If the story worked for you, well, there's nothing I can say. But for me--and I suspect for many Batman readers--this is why we can never imagine Bruce pulling the trigger on anybody. I could sooner see him shoving the god-bullet into Darkseid by hand. Because he's the goddamn Batman, after all.

Introductory n00b post

Apparently, a couple people are actually checking out this blog, which means I should probably actually write something here. Full disclosure: I'm something of a newbie, still learning the ropes. I'm a passionate comic fan--mainly for Two-Face, Batman, and Green Lantern--but am finding less and less outlets for my geekery. To make it worse, it's damn near impossible to find a good comics community out there. I'm hoping to find both of those right here. 
If I had to pick a main fandom, it would be the Batman Rogues. Especially Two-Face, but I also love the greats (Joker, Scarecrow, Bane, Ra's), the neglected (Penguin, Riddler, Croc), the mismanaged (pre-skull-face Black Mask), and particularly Hugo Strange. Besides Harvey, Hugo's the other character I care most to exhaustively research and analyze. I'm weird like that.
As such, most of my reviews at present are going to focus on those two characters, but occasionally I'll branch out from there. I very much encourage comments, because I love actually talking about these characters and stories with others. I'm mainly going to focus on stories I love (usually stories that not many people know about, with the hope that might change), but I will eventually write the odd negative review. Chances are, it may be a bad review of a story loved by many. I don't look forward to that fallout, but we'll cross that bidge when we come to it. 
Anyway, that's about all I can muster by way of an introduction. I don't know how often I'll update here. Depends on what kind of following I get. For now, I'll stick to reviews here, and actual blog entries at my Two-Face fanblog, Again, in either case, comments are encouraged.

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