Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Batman '89 #2 Review

Two-Face Begins... Sorta

Written By: Sam Hamm
Art By: Joe Quinones, Leonardo Ito, and Clayton Cowles
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: September 14, 2021

Batman '89 #2 continues the Burtonverse's version of the Two-Face origin story by focusing on the systemic racism of Gotham City and what it means to be a black D.A. in a city grappling with police injustice and masked vigilantes. When Harvey Dent's star begins to climb even higher, he's confronted with the split between his professional career and doing what's best for the oppressed in Gotham. Meanwhile, another vigilante who stops thugs from robbin' (get it! Hah!) a store begins to earn his own reputation.

Was It Good?
It was heavy. Too heavy for my taste, but your mileage may vary.

Hamm goes full-on current year in what's supposed to be a throwback to the 1989, Tim Burton version of Batman. In what's turning out to be a Two-Face origin story (with a little Robin origin thrown in for good measure), Harvey Dent continues to say the right words and be seen with the right people in his growing bid for political power in the hallowed halls of Gotham City. On one level, the story completely works, but there's a second level (get it! Hah!), where the character work for a "traditional" Two-Face does not.

What works is the complex and nuanced sociopolitical conflicts going on in this issue.  Harvey Dent (and to a much lesser extent, Bruce Wayne) wants to do the right thing for Gotham's lower class and oppressed citizens while simultaneously making moves to further his career. The meetings with community leaders, the speeches after a police shooting, and reactions to bad actors acting badly all feel very real and authentic to what's going on in our world today. Hamm does a great job capturing the complexity of racial and economic problems in Gotham. It's authentic enough that Hamm practically shows Black Lives Matter protests without calling it a Black Lives Matter protest.
Where the greater Gotham conflicts succeed, the personal character development falls a little flat in terms of building Harvey Dent into a person headed for a psychotic break. Granted, this is a unique version of Harvey Dent, but if he's destined to become one of Batman's most dangerous adversaries, he has to have a mental split. There's nothing in this story that remotely indicates a hint of instability or fragility about Harvey's personality. When Harvey's fall arrives (Cliffhanger here. We'll see it in the next issue), you won't get to anything resembling a Two-Face unless a whole lot of shenanigans happen AFTER the accident. That may happen or it may not, but the setup makes a Two-Face you can believe seem implausible.

As mentioned above, this issue is where we get a good look at Burton and Hamm's proto-Robin. The pun about the name Robin coming from someone saying "he's robbin' the store" is, sadly and seriously, in this issue. As a source for the name, it's the most eye-rolling choice Hamm could have gone with, but there it is.

The art is generally good. At the risk of sounding too picky, the issue we noted in the last review persists. The look and feel of Gotham lack the gothic architecture of the film which is such a trademark component of Burton's aesthetic. The cityscape here is generic to the point of bland. While the character designs, particularly for Batman, are spot on, the design for the rest of the book is forgettable.

Bits and Pieces: 
Batman '89 #2 leans into the real-life sociopolitical issues to craft a Harvey Dent that feels like a character ripped from the pages of today's headlines. However, where the urban life drama succeeds, Hamm does little to build up a character you believe could become Two-Face. On top of the push for realism at the expense of a known character's origin, the light introduction to Robin is eye-rolling, and the overall aesthetic of Gotham lacks any of the gothic hallmarks of a Burton film.


1 comment:

  1. The character I'm most disappointed in is Barbara Gordon. She's portrayed as nothing more than Harvey's girlfriend. She's supposed to be a cop but she's treated like the helpless damsel while Harvey gets to act heroic. Happens twice, with the purse snatcher in the first issue and then with the fire in the second issue where she's being held back while Harvey rushes inside. There's nothing here that could indicate that she could become Batgirl.