Dennis O’Neil, Consulting Editor
Neal Pozner, Editor
By John A. Butz
“Excellent…the prisoner is in custody. Motion for bail denied. And trial is set…for one hour from now.”
Comic books are filled with flat heroes, characters with little personality and no nuance or depth. When confronted by villains, they have a slugfest, save the girl, and head back to their mild mannered life until the next issue. Every decision they make is the right one, and every action they take is heroic. There is only the bright divide between right and wrong. They exist in a black and white world.
In this world of pure good and vile evil, villains become little more than window dressing. Their motives are so simple as to be unbelievable, and the audience looks on them less as credible threats, and more as the obstacle that the hero must overcome this issue. The sad part is that when confronted with such villains, heroes are diminished.
Heroism in the face of simple situations is as flat and shallow as mustache-twirling villainy. In a world where the choice between right and wrong is so very clear-cut and obvious all the time, where there is never a need to question your actions, and where the obvious choice is always the right one, what value does the hero have?
Don’t misunderstand me – any superhero can have this problem. Because of the nature of the comic book as serialized media, many authors will touch a character over a publishing history. The best will shine a bright light on their hero and draw the story out of the shadows and the edges. The average will build on the good work of others. And the mediocre will write flat, boring characters.
To create a great hero, I believe you need a great villain. The best comic book villains are those that challenge a hero in a manner other than the merely physical. Look at Magneto’s objections towards Charles Xavier’s methods. When Professor X has to make hard choices, we as the reader can see that sometimes Magneto is right and Xavier wrong, and sometimes the wrong choice is the one our hero makes. Daredevil does unceasing battle with the Kingpin, knowing that there is no way he can manage to dislodge the crimelord – and the Kingpin knows it, often presenting the Man Without Fear with a solution to an issue that puts someone behind bars yet leaves the Kingpin free to plot another day. We can feel Daredevil’s struggle to make the best choice he can when no choice is good. Superman, for all his amazing power, can’t defeat Lex Luthor in a fistfight, because Luthor’s power is that of corporations and stock offerings, public relations and media spin. The Man of Steel might defeat him, but he can never completely stop him.
Over the years, a rogue’s gallery that is unmatched for its depth and complexity has grown around Batman, making the Dark Knight a vehicle through which amazing stories can be told. All of the best Batman villains take an aspect of the Caped Crusader and exaggerate it, sometimes to the point of caricature, so that the reader can see that same trait in Batman and question how sane this man who dresses up as a bat and fights crime really is. The Riddler with his brilliant mind and obsession with puzzles, the Joker with his manic devotion to crime and humor, the Mad Hatter with his retreat into a childhood fantasy, the Scarecrow with his unending quest to spread fear – these characters and their compatriots are the mirrors that reflect the nature of the World’s Greatest Detective.
Ever since Frank Miller worked the character of Harvey Dent into the origin of Batman in the pages of his seminal work Batman: Year One, Two-Face has become an increasingly common foe in the pages of Batman comics. The two men have so much in common – a strong belief in the law, a desire to bring criminals to justice, charisma, guts. Dent was Gotham’s White Knight to the Batman’s Dark Knight.
And like Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent became someone else in a single moment of tragedy.
Two-Face makes a fascinating antagonist for Batman. Two-Face has the mark of who he was and who is now is etched forever on his face, while Batman hides behind a mask – but yet, half of each man’s true face is open to the world. Two-Face makes life and death decisions based on fate and chance, while Batman defies fate, forces the world to conform to his own terrible will. Both men are two men at the same time. Both seek their own version of justice. Both were formed by different reactions to their own terrible moments of transformation.
And to top it all off, Harvey Dent was a good man and Batman wants to save him, to bring him back from the darkness.
The point of all this is that if you have a good writer, you can tell some truly amazing stories when you use Two-Face as a foil. Everyone from Paul Dini to Frank Miller to Christopher Nolan has used the former District Attorney to maximum advantage as a tragic opponent for Batman.
Two Face: Bad Judgment is a fine example of the best style of Two-Face story. You have action, adventure, a mock trial with a jury of criminals. You have imagery – Blind Justice, balanced scales, a courthouse being demolished so that the building itself resembles the ruin of Harvey Dent’s face. Addresses like 2 Janus Street. Coin flips a plenty. Hard choices on all sides.
This story is part of a tradition that contains such works as The Dark Knight Returns, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, the Batman films of Christopher Nolan, and the animated works of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. It is a quintessential Two-Face story, the essence of which has reappeared over and over in the Batman mythos.
Doug Moench continues to impress. I have said before that Moench is at his best when he is writing fast-paced action, and that statement holds true with this book. Moench keeps the story moving, and along the way he keeps the intelligent analysis and deconstruction from bogging anything down. This sequel is so engaging that you don’t realize it is part of a flashback till the very end, when you find yourself rudely jerked back to the present timeline.
Klaus Janson’s art is as wonderful as ever. I love the raw elemental style of Janson’s work, the sophistication hidden in his roughness. He has a real talent for drawing Two-Face, a style that would heavily influence all those who came after him.
The ending is a little too saccharine for my tastes, full of feel-good imagery involving Robin, but despite that I consider both parts of this story to be exemplary works in and of themselves, and a wonderful part of KnightFall.
“The accused is hereby judged and found…GUILTY. A bad man does not do good things…and a Bat man can only do bad things…and you are BAD! The sentence has been passed! Let it be executed!”