By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Mick Gray (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: Two-Face discovers, to his horror, that a coin has more than two sides.
The Review: In the spirit of the recent Olympics, I’ll describe Tomasi’s biggest obstacle to comic book greatness as a frequent failure to stick the landing. A character-focused writer at heart, Tomasi can usually manage to start somewhere interesting and deliver a tight, even gripping narrative along the way. But once you reach the conclusion, you sense he might have gotten caught up in the storytelling without thinking of what he wanted to get out of it.
In that regard, this arc is a typical sample of the Tomasi problem. While the creation of Erin and her history with Bruce and Harvey has deepened the Batman and Two-Face mythos, it doesn’t appear she has any other use than that. Her importance is thus primarily rooted in the past. In the present, she served her purpose by drawing Harvey out, but with that done, Tomasi’s at a loss of what to do with her. Nothing reveals that more than when he has Batman literally eject Erin from the story within the issue’s first few pages. Despite her defiant commitment to villainy later on, it’s quite apparent that her future use will be limited.
At any rate, her sidelining allows Harvey and Bruce to take center focus, free from distraction—which would be a good thing, if only Tomasi had something more to say about that loaded relationship than he has already. Instead, he has the characters state, in repetitive fashion, what has already been made very clear: Harvey’s fall from grace after the marring of his face and the murder of his wife. Batman even asks what all of us wonder about Harvey’s transformation: “Why couldn’t you steel yourself—channel the pain—turn it into something good?!”
Harvey doesn’t answer the question directly, perhaps because Tomasi realizes there is no good answer for why different people handle grief differently. But Harvey’s response is powerful enough, in its own way: “Like you did, Bruce?” It reveals that there is still good in Harvey, but entirely occupied with one task: “If you only knew the battles I’ve fought in my head to keep you alive these last few years.”
Again, however, Tomasi adds this dimension to the Batman and Two-Face relationship without seeming to know how to capitalize on it. The rest of their confrontation eventually devolves into an awkward argument about coin metaphors, with Batman declaring, in After School Special fashion, that the best side of the coin is the edge, “because it bonds opposites together—and you’ve got to find a way to embrace it!” His words are not only uncomfortably cheesy, they’re redundant once Two-Face flips his coin to decide whether Gordon lives or dies, and it lands on its edge and sticks in the mud.
There’s more to his anguish in that moment beyond crippling indecision; with no direction from the coin, Harvey is free—forced—to make his own decisions. Spinning his coin, instead of flipping it, allows him the opportunity to do perhaps what he wanted to do from the beginning, had his Two-Face persona not stopped him. Spoiler alert—in killing himself,* Harvey manages to perform one last noble act and end his troubled story on a dignified, poetic note. Sadly, I doubt the DC powers-that-be will let him rest in pace for very long, no matter how good an end he has come to. Knowing that can’t help diminishing the impact of the conclusion, no matter how well-rendered.
On that note, Gleason sure knows how to make the most of a death scene, doesn’t he? In a page stacked with panels of Harvey washing and dressing himself before he loads and cocks his pistol, Gleason captures the chilling deliberateness of suicide. Even though you know Harvey’s death isn’t permanent, you still feel the tragedy of it thanks to his expression of mingled hopefulness and hopelessness. Gleason’s pacing is what sets him apart from the common artist; Two-Face’s inability to kill Gordon after his coin sticks is made all the more poignant as you watch him cycle between impotent rage and helpless silence.
Conclusion: After all the efforts of the past few issues, Tomasi winds up with a less than stellar ending, though it has its outstanding moments.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Seemingly, of course. We don’t actually see Harvey shooting himself in the head and lying on the floor in rictus.
– I love that Penguin is taking this all in as entertainment: “Rollicking good show!”