Saturday, January 09, 2010

Batman: Year One- Two Face and Scarecrow by Bruce Jones, Marc Sable, Sean Murphy and Jesus Saiz

This book collects the origin stories of two of Batman's greatest Rogues Gallery inmates- Jonathan Crane, known as the Scarecrow, and Harvey Dent, better known as Two-Face.

Batman and Robin have been tracking a strange, masked killer, but all he ever seems to leave behind is bits of straw. However, when Batman comes to help Robin out, he is able to find a ticket for a costume shop. Batman and Robin track down the shop and find that the man paid cash. But he did sign a waiver... as "John Jones", an obvious pseudonym.

Meanwhile, as Batman and Robin are tracking him down, Jonathan Crane is taking his revenge on those in his life he feels wronged him, starting with his mentor, psychologist and Professor Pigeon. As he gets ready to take his revenge on the Professor, he shares his childhood with the older man, revealing how he was born to a woman on drugs and raised by his great Grandmother. His grandmother had advised her to kill the boy when he was born, but Great-Grandmother had a strong streak of Sadism in her, and she raised him as her toy, to use and abuse at will and whim.

But instead of the lessons she thought she was teaching him, he was absorbing lessons on how effective fear was, and how to use it against those who wronged him. Even as Batman tracks down Crane's childhood home, learning what Crane did to the woman who raised him, Crane decides to take on the rest of his family as well. His grandmother, who told his Great-Grandmother to destroy him when he was born, his father, who used and abandoned his mother, and then his mother herself. But can Batman halt this murderous progression, and even find a way to use Crane's own mixtures and gas against him? Or will the caped crusader and his partner succumb to the fiendish hallucinations brought on by the Scarecrow?

In the next story, Gotham has a problem. Too many of the cops on the force are crooked, and two people are interested in cleaning it up- Detective Jim Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent. Working together, they put together a team of cops who are free- or mostly, of corruption.

But as Harvey Dent tries to wipe out the corruption in Gotham, and take on the Marroni Crime family, as well as the other Crime families, he's having more and more episodes of anger, fierce anger that he doesn't seem to be able to control. Most of it is directed at Mort Weisman, who does his best to protect the crime families, seeing as he is in all of their pockets.

About the time that Harvey starts seeing a psychologist for his anger issues, people start turning up dead in town, murdered by the so-called "Holiday Killer". Mort Weinstein implies that Harvey is the killer, and he begins to run for Dent's seat as D.A., going out of his way to keep the pressure on his opponent.

Dent shows signs of strain, even becoming angry at his friend Bruce Wayne, who doesn't seem to be defending him strongly enough, in Harvey's eyes. But when the mob blackmails someone to throw acid in Harvey's face, he finally snaps and begins dealing out the justice he knows they deserve. But can Harvey Dent be saved from his savage Alter-Ego, Two Face? Or is Harvey already too far gone to know or care that the people formerly his friends are trying to save him and bring him back to his old self? Or is Harvey forever gone, leaving only Two Face in his place?

Both of these stories were not only horrifying, but highly effective at leaving a creepy feeling behind. Scarecrow's past is horrifying, but he crossed the line when he chose to strike out at his tormentors and take his revenge on them- by using their own worst fears against them.

Harvey, on the other hand, let rage and pride color his life, and he didn't even try to get help for his temper until it was already way too late. Admittedly, the mobs helped him stay insane when they caused his psychiatrist, the only man who could help him, to commit suicide, but readers have to wonder how much it would have helped Harvey Dent.

These stories are haunting. I could sympathize with both characters, up to a point, but it was quite obvious that madness had taken its toll on them both, and once they viewed killing as a solution to their problems, they were too far gone to save. For evoking pathos and empathy with the characters, I give these stories high marks. Highly recommended.

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