Monday, November 11, 2019

BATMAN #328 & #329

Writer: Marv Wolfman | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

Look up top for a second, will you? No, not at the writing credit, which tells us that Marv Wolfman is now aboard as BATMAN's regular writer (for eight issues, anyway). Check out those story titles: "Double Jeopardy!" "Twice Dies the Batman!" Yep, you guessed it -- not only is Marv here, but Two-Face came with him! And on top of that, Wolfman is using these stories for a bit of a deep-dive into Batman's lore, which is always nice to see.

We begin in the Batcave, as Batman is taunted by a video message from Carl Ternion, who was recently tried and found not guilty of murder, but who -- in his message -- now brags to Batman that he did commit the crime. Protected by "double jeopardy" laws, he can never be tried for that crime again, but Batman nonetheless sets out to get to the bottom of Ternion's confession. As he investigates, the Darknight Detective finds that Ternion is dating Gilda Stevens, the ex-wife of Two-Face, who was recently widowed when her second husband, David, was murdered.

So here's the thing: Wolfman plays this as a mystery, but it really isn't one. Besides big clue in the title above, Ternion is depicted several times throughout part one with half his face obscured, or split down the middle through some means such as the divider between window panes as he looks outside. Combined with the fact that he's dating Harvey Dent's ex and has killed the man who murdered her husband (who was Harvey's former assistant when he was district attorney), it's quite obvious that Ternion is Two-Face in disguise.

But knowing that fact doesn't hurt the story at all! In fact, it kind of makes it more suspenseful in a way. We know what's going on, but Batman and Gilda haven't figured it out yet, leaving the reader to puzzle over Two-Face's motives even as we're aware that it's him. Eventually Batman figures things out, of course, and Two-Face gives us a monologue or two explaining his whole scheme: he was glad that Gilda had moved on and found happiness with David, but when he heard David was killed, he set out to avenge him. After adopting the Ternion identity and murdering David's killer, Two-Face set out to court Gilda and try to bring her happiness once more. But his plastic surgery gives out as the story reaches its climax, and he becomes Two-Face once more.

There's a twist here too, involving Two-Face's origin story, which turns out to be the real surprise in this saga, so I won't spoil it. But suffice to say, Wolfman is well-versed in Batman's history, and it's fun to see him play with it.

Which bring us to my next point. This two-part is miles upon miles better than anything Len Wein did during his preceding run. I haven't spoken too highly of Marv Wolfman around here in the past -- his work on the post-CRISIS Superman titles left me exceedingly cold, and on NEW TEEN TITANS, I felt that George Pérez was the true creative draw. But this story is great -- it's well-plotted, tense and mysterious, and in my own opinion, Wolfman's scripting is way better than Wein's. And Irv Novick seems inspired by Wolfman's script as well, turning in some of his best and most detailed work since he returned to BATMAN at the beginning of Wein's run!

(Oh, by the way -- you may be wondering why, if he had gotten away with his crime, Two-Face let Batman in on it from the story's start. Well... I'm kinda wondering about that too. It's the only hiccup in an otherwise sterling effort. He rambles about how he needs to kill Batman in order to be happy with Gilda, so it seems he wanted to get the Caped Crusader on his trail in order to get him into position to off him. But why he wants Batman dead remains a mystery, unless it's just sort of a "haunted by his past and wants to expunge it" sort of thing.)

Honestly, I think the best compliment I can pay this issue is that it feels like something that could've been published in the early seventies; something from the Julie Schwartz BATMAN office that might've hit stands alongside material from O'Neil, Adams, and Robbins. If Wolfman can keep up this level of quality for the next six issues, we're going to close out our "Batman in the Seventies" retrospective (which, yes, is almost into 1981 at this point) on a higher note than Wein's run had led me to anticipate.


  1. I remember being a fan of Wolfman's return to the Batman comic later in the 1980s.
    It was before Alan Grant took over the book.
    That period is probably at the top of my favourite period of Batman, although the 1970s/Schwartz/O'Neil/Englehart period would be pretty close also.

    1. I know little of Wolfman's second BATMAN run in the 80s, though for some reason I owned one random issue, with the Joker, when I was a child. Someday I may read it, because DC is set to collect all his Bat-material in a TALES OF THE BATMAN: MARV WOLFMAN collection next year, but if I ever do get to it, it'll be pretty far down the line.