26 October 2011

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Faces"

Trade Paperback Cover Art
Legends of the Dark Knight #28-30
"Faces"
Matt Wagner - story & art
Willie Schubert - letters
Steve Oliff - color
Bill Kaplan - assistant editor
Archie Goodwin - editor
March-May 1992
Cover Price: $1.75/each
Trade Paperback published 29 July 2008
Trade Paperback Cover Price: $12.99

Sometimes in life, you come across things at just the right time.  Such was the case with "Faces," a 19 year old 3-part LOTDK story by Matt Wagner.  I missed this arc when it was originally published (I can't say now why that is), but managed to find all three issues sometime in the last year and I finally got around to reading it last night.  Harvey Dent (Two-Face) escapes from Arkham Asylum, and resurfaces two years later at the same time that Bruce Wayne is trying to broker a deal to purchase a small island off French Guiana.  Someone else is determined to lay claim to that island, though, and while the Batman hunts Two-Face, Bruce Wayne has to find out who his competitor is.

I rarely discuss spoilers but in this instance I find it difficult to properly explore the reason why this story resonated with me without delving into some of the important material so if you've not read "Faces" you can stop reading now.  Otherwise, I'll assume you're on board.

As it turns out, Two-Face himself is Bruce's competition for the island; he intends to repatriate several "freaks" there to live away from the superficial mainstream society.  His intention is actually quite admirable; this is not a Two-Face trying to punish Gotham City.  Rather, it is Harvey Dent trying to start fresh somewhere else...in the company of people around whom he feels comfortable.  (Never mind that he abducted all of the other people he planned to take with him; that's as incidental to me as it was to Harvey.)

I found it curious that Harvey did not feel comfortable at Arkham in the company of other members of Batman's Rogues Gallery.  One would imagine a sort of fraternity of supervillains might inevitably develop but instead, Harvey wishes to hole up on an island surrounded only by people as disfigured as he is.  I had a much better time of connecting with other patients during my recent hospitalization, but of course I was there voluntarily and not because I had committed major crimes that demanded the attention of the Dark Knight.  In any event, I found myself empathizing with Harvey in a way I wouldn't have been able to a few weeks ago.

Sure, I've always found the character tragic but throughout this specific story, I shared Harvey's desire to just retreat from society and be around only others similar to himself.  Having Crohn's disease, and valuing my online network of other Crohnies, I can appreciate this longing of his.  I wouldn't want to live on an island with just other Crohnies, but I understand why it meant so much to him to be around similar people.  He zigs where I zag, though, in that I was able to connect with other patients and emerged from my treatment desiring to engage society.

Matt Wagner's story is terrific, laden with myriad nuances.  A subplot involving the seduction of the real estate broker and the blackmailing of the island owner isn't much of a mystery but it's well done and there are some surprises in the third act.  Wagner's art is particularly impressive and while I could cite numerous examples (including a costume ball beginning on page 4 full of familiar faces), the one page that stands out most to me is page 15 of issue #28.  Bruce jogs around a track negotiating with the seller and Realtor, and Wagner presents nine panels of conversation within the track.  It's a particularly inspired layout, and one of the cleverer pages I've seen in a very long time.

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