Cripes on Infinite Earths Part 3: Two Faces

September 30th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Guest article by Fletcher “Syrg” Arnett.

Probably the biggest sin the Elseworlds line committed is that for every breakout hit or disaster the line produced, there were two or three bland piles of tripe released. Batman got the most Elseworlds, so he got the most dull stories- it’s simple probability. Today we’re going to start peering at those.

Batman: Two Faces
Written by: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by: Anthony Williams & Tom Palmer
Focuses on: Batman
Self-contained/Multiple books: Self-contained
Published in: 1998
Central premise: Stretches the “duality of criminals/vigilantes” metaphor to its limit via the use of Two-Face, while Batman is also the Joker (oh like you couldn’t guess that from the cover)
Martian Manhunter Out of Fucking Nowhere? No

To be honest, I think the framing device for this story is a bit clever: inside the Iceberg Lounge, a gentleman’s club in late Victorian Era Gotham, Peregrine White and James Gordon swap tales of the bizarre and exciting from their lines of work, sworn to secrecy within the club’s walls. This evening, it’s Gordon’s turn to tell the tale, and he fills in the details on a case that was “the talk of every broadsheet in America” at the time.

There’s a recurring theme in a lot of Elseworlds of putting Batman a) in a Victorian-ish time period (fun note: this story takes place three years before the similarly-timed Gotham by Gaslight, the ur-Elseworld), and b) making him some sort of psychologist or similar skillset. Here he’s a criminologist “and amateur sleuth” of some renown. It doesn’t really have much to do with this story aside from his wanting to help cure the schizophrenia of Harvey Dent, but I just thought I’d point it out, being that this is the first we’re getting to that touches on those themes.

My biggest complaint about this book is that it’s just a ham-handed Jekyll and Hyde story. (It even takes place the same year The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was first published, 1886.) Five pages in and they begin layering on the “Look! Duality! Two sides! Did we blow your mind yet?” crap that composes a lot of the story. I really don’t know why the book annoys me so much, especially since the artist was really good on details, if not anatomy in places. Look at this, for god’s sake:

It’s a showboating Two-Face in a fantastic fashion faux-pas swinging down from a zeppelin into a botanical exhibition. That’s the kind of thing I enjoy comics for. This shit never happens enough in the movies. On the detail front, though, notice that all of the crew have the rope wrapped around themselves (instead of just swinging in like some artists would draw). The large guy on the left is even double-looped while everyone else wears one.

To be honest, as I reread the story for this writeup, I come to realize my problem isn’t with Two-Face. This is probably one of my favorite incarnations of the character: he’s an incredible ham in places, and uses the coinflip gimmick well – rather than using it 100% of the time, it only comes up when someone calls him on it/challenges his control of a situation. It’s another part of the act, and how he justifies to himself his claims that he’s “fearfully beyond [being part of society]” (as he kicks Bruce Wayne in the balls to make an escape).

No, Harvey is a pretty strong villain. The problem is that right after this, his introduction to the tale… he’s effectively shelved for the most part. Bruce tells Alfred he wanted the Twilight Orchid because he hoped he might make a medicine from it to cure Harvey. When Pamela Isley was dropped from the zeppelin, she snatched the flower back, and thus Bruce can make his lone attempt. Unfortunately, rather than find some poor schmuck at an asylum he might test it on (you can’t tell me there wouldn’t be some other patient locked up in the area and a doctor willing to try THE CURE FOR SCHIZOPHRENIA on them), he quaffs the brew himself.

In what’s actually a nice change of pace, Bruce is decidedly not the pinnacle of humanity so many tales depict him as: he’s a bit of a dandy in this tale before taking the serum. Once he does, though, it somehow grants him “moral and physical power” (emphasis his diary’s) and soon he’s knocking punching bags off their chain with one blow. Another sign that he’s not the careful planner of most modern tales: at no point after realizing the serum does SOMETHING does he decide to try finding Harvey and curing the man. (We later see he knows exactly where the guy lives. There’s no damn excuse.) Instead he decides “You know what I should do? Totally fuck with Harvey for a bit!” and becomes a bat.

Harvey responds to this about as well as you’d think.

Notice how he doesn’t even look at the coin, but just starts butchering the henchman. Oh yeah. I think we can safely say the flipping is an act more than anything else to this Harvey. Also, this is the second time we see him, and the last until the story’s climax. They really underused the guy. Instead, we cut to a brothel called the Black Cat run by (who else) Selina Kyle. One of her girls heads off with a “fine gentleman”, who smiles a lot and proceeds to stab the life out of her. Ladies and gentlemen, the Joker has arrived. The next third of the book is a bunch of waffling around as Batman fails to catch the Joker repeatedly and Selina ends up paralyzed from the waist down after the Joker stabs her in the spine. This is basically the highlight of the whole thing:

I told you the anatomy slipped at times. Anyhow. Bruce’s response to “a close friend of mine is wounded by the monster I can’t stop” is to drink a whole hell of a lot more of that serum (how is he still making that? there was only one orchid and he’s been taking it nightly for weeks) and passes out to somehow have a crazy vision of himself as the Joker. In one final “Fuck you, reader” moment, he tells us the revelations he had “would strike a man in two“. I read through 50 pages of puns like this, dear lord.

Awakened to the truth, Bruce summons Harvey (see? I told you he had the guy’s address lying around) and Gordon to a rooftop with letters and sets them up on a blind date to stop their arguing and lead to a happy ending confesses his sins to them, gives Harvey a dose of the serum, and goes all Joker on the pair.

Bruce slips out briefly after taking himself and Harvey over the rooftop’s edge (Harvey catching himself on, what else, a stone gargoyle) and says he had planned on Harvey’s lack of morals allowing him to drop Bruce to his death, something he believed would kill the Joker where so many others had failed. One final showy coinflip later, and he drinks the serum, which cures this weird mirror-world’s version of schizophrenia (IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY GODDAMNIT). Weeks later a cowl-clad man runs across a roof after hog-tying some opium dealers, one eye wilder than the other beneath his mask.

It’s not a BAD story, just bland. If you’ve ever heard a single version of the Jekyll tale you know where this is going the instant the serum is brewed. On the other hand, though, it does get some points for at least changing up the tale in ways other Elseworlds don’t in their rush to make a weird status quo ending. I can honestly say that plenty of them don’t involve Bruce Wayne and the Joker being dead at the end. But enough of that, we’ll have more Bat-centric tales later. Next up, we hit on a larger-scale story, and the first Elseworld with sequels that I’m not parceling out…

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3 comments to “Cripes on Infinite Earths Part 3: Two Faces”

  1. Well, at least Two-Face becoming Batman is kind of cool.

  2. That’s the kind of thing I enjoy comics for. This shit never happens enough in the movies.

    For me, it’s also how that shit would look dumb as hell in the movies. Imagine that panel but all CGI blimp and glass with, I don’t know, Patrick Dempsey as Two-Face or some shit. That’s what you’d get.

    One reason why I’d never want to see a SHAZAM! movie, or at least one that wasn’t 2D-animated. Because it would just look terrible.

  3. I rather enjoyed the Liberty File. the sequel, not so much, but it had its moments.