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‘Batman – One Bad Day: Two-Face #1’ (review)

Written by by Mariko Tamaki
Art by Javier Fernandez, Jordie Bellaire
Published by DC Comics

 

DC Comics continues its line of 64-page one-shots spotlighting Batman’s classic rogues with Batman: One Bad Day – Two-Face #1.  DC calls the series of standalone stories “definitive, ultimate tales” of the Dark Knight’s worst adversaries inspired by the classic 1988 story Batman: The Killing Joke, wherein The Joker observes that, “All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.”

The challenge faced by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Javier Fernandez, with support from Jordie Bellaire on colors and Ariana Maher on letters, is finding a fresh take on a character whose origin is already firmly rooted in that proverbial “one bad day.”

Unfortunately, Tamaki’s revisionist take on Two-Face falls short of being either definitive or ultimate.

The story begins with an establishing splash page of Two-Face’s iconic scarred coin and a quick review of Two-Face 101: District Attorney Harvey Dent, ally of Batman and police commissioner Gordon, transformed into the villainous Two-Face after being permanently scarred by a mobster’s acid attack, constantly wresting with his dual nature and split personality. “Two sides always at war beneath the surface,” as Batman explains, “Again. And again.”

A quick flashback to “years ago” provides a glimpse of Two-Face in action dangling a teenage boy over the edge of a rooftop as Batman races to prevent a tragedy before police snipers have an opportunity to take their shot. Notably, Two-Face offers to flip his iconic coin before drawing a gun and dropping the boy anyway. The moment telescopes where Tamaki is headed with the villain.

Shifting to “the present,” the storyline kicks into gear with Two-Face—his Harvey Dent persona in full control for reasons that are left unexplained—being reinstated as district attorney by Gotham’s mayor. Shortly after, Harvey reaches out to Batman for help in uncovering the sender of a death threat made against his father, who is about to celebrate his 88th birthday and impending retirement. Harvey describes Dent Sr. as “a modest man… a disciplined man… all the best parts of me are from my father.”

Batman enlists the aid of Batgirls Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain in solving the mystery. Tamaki embeds her revision of Two-Face in Stephanie’s skepticism about pursuing the case when she quips “Harvey Dent. Two-Face. Same difference, right?”

What plays out is not so much a definitive “one bad day” but rather just another bad day in a very bad life.

Tamaki’s goal seems to be to redefine Two-Face as a straightforward villain who maintains the persona of Harvey Dent when it’s convenient. “I hate it when villains aren’t just villains,” says Batgirl Stephanie echoing the sentiment. It is an idea that Frank Miller explored years ago in The Dark Knight Returns, and executed more clearly in 8 panels than One Bad Day: Two-Face does in 64 pages. As Tamaki’s Two-face eventually explains to Batman, “I am Harvey Dent. Harvey Dent is Two-Face. I am Two-Face always.” The idea that Two-Face is a villain to the core worked for Miller because he was telling an “ultimate” tale—the final confrontation between the Dark Knight and Two-Face. Here, it reduces Two-Face to one dimension.

One major issue with the effectiveness of executing this character pivot is that after dedicating the first 10 pages of story to establishing the classic, bifurcated characterization of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Tamaki depicts Batman’s investigation as a 7-page narrated montage that revisits the same beats. A full 25-percent of the book amounts to Two-Face 101. That narrative real estate would have been better spent on a deeper exploration of Dent Sr., upon whom Two-Face’s character pivot hinges.

After being described by Harvey as modest and disciplined, Dent Sr. appears somewhat less so in his few brief appearances. He is gruff and abrasive with his son, which could easily be due to his advanced age, and clings to a focus on legacy which in Two-Face’s view is less than modest. In the end, we are meant to see Dent Sr. as “two-faced”—a man more concerned with keeping up appearances. But rather than revealing this through exploration of the character and his relationship with his villainous son over time, Tamaki settles for an expository resolution that attempts to prop up Two-Face’s character revision after the fact.

Not only does this sloppy storytelling fail to produce a definitive Two-Face story, Tamaki does a disservice to this complex character and his place among Batman’s rogues. The multidimensional, unpredictable villain who could shift with the flip of a coin is now simply just a villain.

Two-Face. Clayface. Same difference, right?

 

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