Sunday, June 29, 2014

Batman and Two-Face by Peter J. Tomasi issue #24

Being a Tomasi fan for me is like being in a rather peculiar masochistic arrangement with a very unpredictable lover. You'd like to believe he wouldn't hurt you; and even if he does, the ache may or may not have pleasurable tremors to accompany it. My relationship with his Batman and Robin issues has been fairly irregular. His stories are equal parts of good and bad; most are mind-blowing and emotionally high-point pieces (the Born to Kill volume one; issue #18 REQUIEM, the first, fourth and last issues of his five stages of grief arc), while some are absolute trash(Terminus the incompetent cardboard box villain that wasted three issues of my precious reading time; two-issued zombie fillers) or missed opportunities (second and third issues of his five stages of grief arc, and WAR OF THE ROBINS, the could-have-been a stellar storyline if it wasn't pushed as a mere secondary arc to that Terminus cacophony of bullshit). SRSLY, FUCK TERMINUS.

When Villains Month rolled around, Tomasi had the wonderful opportunity to write a decent Two-Face story. Harvey Dent is one of the A-listers in Batman's rogues gallery--and Tomasi has certainly delivered. Issue #23.1 entitled A Tale of Two Faces was remarkably written and paced, with enough gore and lechery that balanced the entire piece beautifully. Now Tomasi is back to grace us with a five-issued Two-Face storyline called The Big Burn, and I was admittedly nervous as all hell. Tomasi created one decent villain so far, and that was NoBody at the beginning of the first eight issues of Batman and Robin. Can he handle writing something for a well-established A-lister Bat-villain?

The answer is nothing resounding for now, most especially when his focal point is to, well, re-create Two-Face's origin story. We were totally blindsighted about this because in Scott Snyder's ZERO YEAR, which I was also presently reading, we get a possible changed origin story for the Joker as well (which wasn't a big deal; the Joker is the kind of villain who is meant for multiple origin stories because that's just part of his pathology, being the embodiment of chaos and all). So Tomasi is now, shall we say, both gifted and burdened with the task to make a new origin story for Two-Face in this new continuity, which could only mean we are also erasing some traces of Jeph Loeb's The Long Halloween, a much deserved fan-favorite story that focused on Harvey Den'ts transformation as Two-Face. The inhumanity, right? But no work in comics continuity is untouchable, not if you're DC. I mean, what's the point of New 52 if we can't all embrace the changes it entails? 

With the first installment of this Two-Face story entitled First Strike, there is more potential here that one who is a stickler for the old continuity (srsly, better calm those balls) should not overlook or undermine. The introduction of the villainess Erin McKinell is astute in scope. I kinda like that we get an Irish mob presence in Gotham City and that it's a woman who is taking those reigns. One thing that's lacking in New 52 Batman is the mob families in Gotham City which is also an integral part of that mythos. Gotham is an infested nest of all kinds of vermin which is the reason Batman is badly needed by the average citizen. We don't only have the rogues gallery threatening the status quo, but also your organized crime. Here we finally get that mob presence, and, impressively enough, an actually competent series of actions from GCPD led by Commissioner Gordon. Honestly, this issue is such a promising premise as long as you're not hang-up on the origin story being changed. 

SPOILER ALERT: Instead of the gangster Sal Maroni who scarred Harvey Dent with acid on court, it's Erin McKinell who does this for personal reasons--right after she also stabbed his wife Gilda with what looked like a letter opener(?) It was as sick and twisted and intimate as it gets. So when this Erin returns to Gotham, Two-Face is the first in line for her blood. Meanwhile, Batman has to keep the situation contained. We get really amazing action sequences for anyone who enjoys standard bust-and-chase in comics setting. Gleason, Gray and Kalisz (colorist) produced very top-notch illustrations, especially the beginning scene with Two-Face in a dank apartment which was depicted with an unsettling grotesque dichotomy where one side of his apartment was clean while the other was a mess. It's visually striking to look at. And can I also say that I very much enjoyed the fact that the first thing Two-Face does in the morning is to play Russian roulette, relying only on a flip of a coin to decide whether he pulls the trigger or not? 

The quality of the first issue, like most of Tomasi's premises, is teeming with potential. I actually read all five issues in one sitting before I began reviewing so I may be more chatty in my next reviews while I compose my thoughts for every installment. And I can honestly say that Tomasi has hit the nail for his Two-Face arc, with a few misdirection here and there. 

Nonetheless, we're in for a thrilling ride!


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