Friday, August 1, 2008

Groovin' Back in Time: Summer, 1973, One More for the Road

I don't know why I didn't think of this comic when I was compiling my (short) list of the great comics of the summer of 1973! I mean, this is the Summer of the Bat isn't it? The Dark Knight is blowing everyone away on the big screen (and yeah, Heath Ledger as the Joker is especially awesome), and the origin of Two-Face (marvelously portrayed by Aaron Eckhart) plays a major part of that mega-flick. So it's only fitting that we turn the Waybac machine back 35 years one more time for a look at this particular gem...

DC 100 Page Super Spectacular #20 starring Batman was one of those nifty 100 page reprint comics DC was putting out for a measly fifty cents (the price of two-and-a-half comics at the time). The "Super Specs" as we called them were always a special treat, and this one was extra good, as Nick Cardy's beautifully creepy cover promised. The majority of the back-up strips, Black Canary, Dr. Mid-Nite, the Spectre, Starman (don't let the red and green costume fool you; Starman worked at night against some very creepy villains), and Wildcat were perfect for a moody, mysterious super-hero comic, and complemented the lead Batman stories magnificently. The only square peg was a Blackhawk strip, but it was such a great story (it introduced a nifty femme fatale in the Will Eisner tradition called Fear) that I was glad it was in there.

The main event, though, was the re-presentation of the first three Batman vs. Two-Face strips from the 1940s. The only time I'd ever read a Two-Face story was a nifty Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams collaboration (Batman #234) that had come out a couple years earlier. I thought Two-Face was creepy-cool, but after reading the stories in this Super-Spec, I saw that Two-Face was really a great, memorable, and very sympathetic villain. He leapfrogged from "a cool villain" to ranking with the Joker and Ra's al Gul as a member of Batman's top tier of villains.

The first story is actually the two-part debut of Two-Face. In about three-dozen pages, we're shown how heroic the up-and-coming D.A. Harvey Kent (later changed to the more familiar "Dent"--wonder why, Clark?) was, as well as his vanity over his "Apollo" appearance. After having acid dashed in his face by a baddie on the witness stand (partially deflected by Batman so that it only ate away half his face), Harvey goes off the deep end, smashing half of anything of beauty he can get his hands on, hiding from his friends and loved ones (mainly his fiance) for fear of their reaction to his half-destroyed face, and finally, thanks to a decision made by tossing a two-headed coin, embarking on a life of crime. Batman catches up with him and Two-Face actually gets the better of the Dark Knight. With Batman at his mercy, Two-Face plans to let his coin decide if our hero lives or dies. He tosses the coin--and we pick up the action in part two. As the second story starts out, the fateful coin lands on its edge, forcing Two-Face to decide how to handle Batman on his own. Batman takes advantage of his enemy's indecision and gets away. More fighting ensues, but of course Batman always wins in the end. He captures Two-Face, but rather than leaving the former crusading D.A. to rot in prison, the courts have mercy on him. Bruce Wayne pays for Dent to have plastic surgery, and thanks to its success, his sanity is restored. Harvey agrees to pay for his crimes as Two-Face, his fiance promises to wait for him, and we fade out to a happy ending. The third Batman/Two-Face story shows us that Dent goes back to his crusade against crime after he's released from prison, but once more, tragedy strikes. An explosion destroys the plastic surgery, driving Dent even more deeply into insanity than before. This time when he's captured by Batman, there is no hope for Harvey Dent to return to his old self. We're left with an angry Two-Face behind bars, swearing vengeance on the Caped Crusader.

The scene that really stands out to me is in the first two-parter. Trying to reclaim his sanity, Dent uses make-up to cover the scarred side of his face and then meets with his fiance. Things seem to be going well, when the heat from a candle (darn those "romantic" candlelight dinners) causes the make-up to melt away. With his scarred side revealed, Dent's worst fears come true as his fiance can't bear to look at him. While these strips (written by Bill Finger with art by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson) were charmingly crude and simplistic by today's standards, they captured a real feeling of pathos. These stories are nigh-unto unbeatable when it comes to touching the reader's heart.


  1. Yep. I read that one that summer until it came apart, taped it together, and read it some more. Good times.


  2. I bought this off the rack on the second day of Summer vacation at a little cottage on the beach in Connecticut. I was 11 years old and had brought a Superboy 100 page Super Spectacular and a Sgt Fury rerprint of the Captain America crossover with me.. I re-read this all week long and on the weekend picked up the first part of the Justice League / Freedom Fighters crossover. 1973 for me will always be the summer I fell in love with Golden Age comics.



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As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!