*Warning Spoilers Ahoy*
At the back of the class there are two students who keep their heads down and quietly keep on working, amongst the braggadocios and chicanery around them. They pay little attention and concern but continue to pursue their art. They appear to go unnoticed but in reality their work is of the highest calibre and always has been. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are no strangers to this blog because I have always exalted their art, particularly with Batman. In the beginning they portrayed a young Damien rebelling against a father he struggled to emulate. Then the Joker took his reign of terror to the family and this book had arguably the best arc to the Death of the Family. When Damien was unashamedly murdered, Tomasi and Gleason were the only people that allowed Bruce the time to grieve. They work as one functional unit providing a deep emotional core to their work with stunning visuals from an action and empathy perspective. They do not appear to be part of the grand plan for Batman, but as a billed B book they could be quite easily providing the best caped crusader stories of all. Not one for current crossovers, they took their hand to a story about the origin of Two-Face and they unsurprisingly, do not disappoint.
Tomasi has brought in a new gangster component to the history of Two-Face: the McKillen sisters. Erin was responsible for the disfigurement of Harvey’s face and the murder of his beloved, slowly opening the gates to the downward spiral to villainy. This is a good solid basic story of vengeance and power, with a focus on the self imposed luck based moral ambiguity of Dent. The plot has a wonderfully woven interplay of bereavement and despair between Bruce’s loss of Damien, the suicide of McKillen’s sister and the murder of Harvey’s wife. Throughout the issues of the arc, the creators pay homage to those taken from our central characters. Whilst we had a beautiful montage to the Batman in his grievance pages, this issue has a delicate and moving portrayal to the first romantic encounter of Harvey and his wife to be, Gilda. Gleason creates such striking images of his characters poignant features; in this case it is the bright gorgeous eyes of Mrs Dent and the chiselled jawline of her lover to be. The colouring is of pinks and reds but mildly shaded to give the impression of days gone by. The importance of devastating events in life and the overcoming of heartache is the fundamental feature of this story. Especially considering the cruel dialogue as a youthful Harvey looks onwards at the McKillen sisters, and says to Bruce, “Erin’s bark is worse then her bite”.
Our unlikely trio are thrown together in an attempt to escape the current McKillen clan, who are not so enthralled at the return of their own. Whilst Erin escapes with Bruce, Harvey is not so lucky and is at the mercy of the thugs he once used to incarcerate so proudly at the side of Batman and Gordon. The issue captivates as not only has our hero got to save Harvey but prevent him from wreaking vengeance on all those around him. There are some tragic pieces of futile dialogue as Two-Face responded to Bruce’s requests of turning his pain into something good. Clearly he wants Harvey to follow his path and try to be an agent of justice again. The pictures are astounding, as Gleason adores drawing the unblinking mutilated eye of Harvey’s. He has the ability to bring out compassion and empathy from a face so disfigured it initially only looks like a monster. As Two-Face confronts Gordon we witness a wonderful colouring parallel of red and blue, symbolising the torment of his simplistic outlook on justice. As he once again tosses his coin, the words of Bruce run through his mind. There is a middle ground between good and evil, a balance of two forces, the third side of the coin. He tosses it and it falls from his grasp, landing balanced on its edge between heads and tails.
Before I come to the end of my review it is important to note that speculating on the outcome is not my intention. The story Tomasi and Gleason tell culminates in a spectacular fashion and ties together all the themes of the book. It is a truly stunning piece of superhero writing and human catharsis. They may be the hardworking kids at the back of the class, but they are free. Their stories are their own and they are not at the mercy of those around them. This is why their stories are always exceptional and why I will lay claim that this is the best Bat book out there. Now let us return to the tragic end.
At the very beginning of this arc we see Dent dressed in a suit sitting in front of a picture of Gilda. He places a bullet into his six-shooter and tosses his coin. As it lands heads and he proceeds to pull the trigger but survives saying, “Better luck next time”. The final issue of this arc sees a repeat of these events but Harvey is no longer the same man. In his escape he postulated Bruce’s proposal of finding another side, a way of bonding these diametric positions. Instead of allowing fate to decide the outcome, Harvey takes his future into his own hands. No more torturing himself for his failings and pursuit of power, he will no longer be crippled by the hands of justice. He takes control of his destiny by making his own choice, liberation from determination. He sits there dressed in a smart shirt, loads his gun with a single bullet and instead of tossing his coin, he spins it on his dresser. He places the gun to his head, looks to his beloved and before the coin stops spinning, he fires the weapon. Blood splatters on the twirling coin and drips on the photo of his lost love. The coin drops and we cannot see how it lands.
“Feels like my lucky day”