Sable Puts a Dent in "Two-Face: Year One"

Next week sees the release of the first issue of the six-part miniseries "DC Special: Cyborg," written by rising star Mark Sable. The title marks the first time the classic Teen Titans character has enjoyed his own solo series, but that's not all Sable, a lawyer-turned-comics-writer, has cooking at DC Comics. On July 16, two days before the premiere of Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated "The Dark Knight," the first 48-page issue of "Two-Face: Year One" hits shelves across North America.

"I'm trying to corner the market on characters with half their face burned off," Sable told CBR News, adding he felt no added pressure with Harvey Dent (played by Aaron Eckhart) being a major player in the surefire summer blockbuster. "I see the movie as an opportunity to reach out to new readers more than anything else. No knock on the filmmakers, I think 'Batman Begins' is hands down the best superhero movie ever made, and I have high hopes for 'Dark Knight,' but I feel more pressure to live up to the 'Year One' legacy left by Frank Miller, David Mazuchelli, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale."

Illustrated by Jesus Saiz and Jeremy Haun, "Two-Face: Year One" is a two-issue Prestige Format miniseries that sees Two-Face himself run for District Attorney, as Harvey Dent's name was still on the ballot.

Sable characterizes "Two-Face: Year One" as neither a re-imagining nor a retelling of Harvey Dent's classic origin. "'Retelling' sounds too much like we're giving you what you've seen before," he said. "And 're-imagining' sounds like we're doing Ultimate Two-Face. I'd like to think that I'm telling a new story here, but at the same time, something that's as respectful as possible to continuity, and more importantly, to character. At the same time, we're getting a fresh perspective on Harvey, Two-Face and Gotham."

The first issue chronicles Dent's pursuit of mobster Salvatore Maroni, who fans know is ultimately responsible for scarring Harvey with acid. "The acid is just the tipping point, though," Sable explained. "Harvey's frustation with the corruption in Gotham leads him to become more and more isolated from his allies, Batman and Captain Jim Gordon, and further down a dark path he started long ago."

Some of that path will be depicted in the form of flashbacks drawn by Jeremy Haun. "Harvey was aware of his dark tendencies long ago, and sought help from a psychiatrist," Sable said. "But instead of trying to integrate what were emerging as multiple personalities, this shrink decides that he can instead get Harvey to channel his repressed rage into something positive. Of course, the shrink has his career as a prosecutor in mind, and has no idea the monster he's about to create. I liken it to the relationship Dexter has with his adoptive father in the Showtime series of that name, where he tries to make his serial killer son only kill people who deserve it."

The flashback sequences of "Two-Face: Year One" also establish the relationship between young Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne, Vernon Wells (from "Batman: The Long Halloween") and the miniseries main villain, Mort Weinstein. "Weinstein is a classmate of Harvey who gets passed over for the assistant district attorney's job that Harvey lands out of law school," Sable explained. "He winds up becoming a defense lawyer for the mob, and as many real life mob lawyers do, something of a consigliere to them. Eventually, he runs against Harvey for D.A."

The writer also revealed the villain Two-Face would appear in issue #1, but only briefly. "The first issue is very much a Harvey Dent story," Sable explained. "Harvey versus the corruption in Gotham, Harvey versus his friends and ultimately, Harvey versus himself. But we more than make up for the lack of Two-Face in issue #2, when Two-Face runs for Harvey's District Attorney seat in an insane election campaign. His argument is that you are more likely to get justice from a flip of a coin than a corrupt judicial system. And I'm not sure he's entirely wrong."

Issue #2 focuses on the aforementioned election, in which Two-Face is able to run because Harvey Dent's name is still on the ballot. "Who do you choose in an election between a corrupt mob lawyer and a psychotic freak?" Sable said. "That's a dilemma for Batman and now Commissioner Gordon, and kind of a timely one for the reader as well. The first issue is straight up, hard boiled crime fiction. The second adds a bit of non-partisan dark political satire to the mix."

Sable confirmed "Two-Face: Year One" series has no ties to "The Dark Knight" film. "It's set firmly in the DCU, and any connection between the book and the movie is a coincidence, since I haven't read the script for 'Dark Knight.' I actually wanted to bring [film character] Rachel Dawes into the book, but I wound up splitting what would have been her character into two: an underhanded political opponent for Harvey Dent and a familiar love interest for Bruce Wayne."

Sable believes there is still goodness in Dent after the infamous incident that left him hideously scarred but added, "Just as there was darkness in him before the accident."

However, Sable admitted the dark side is always more fun. "It's the same reason actors love to play the bad guy; it's a license to misbehave," the writer said. "Living vicariously through Two-Face, or Batman, for that matter, we get to act without regard for the rules of society without having to suffer the consequences they do. I also think we all have many facets to our personality, and if not a dark side, dark impulses. Maybe not as dark as Two-Face but sides of ourselves we don't show to everyone. Harvey and Two-Face are eminently identifiable characters, in my opinion."

Sable continued, "This isn't a new idea, but no one ever sees themselves as the villain in their life story, and Harvey is no exception. I see and wrote Harvey as an anti-hero. After the accident, he views himself less as a criminal and more as a vigilante, one who is willing to cross the lines that Batman can't."

Readers don't need previous knowledge of Harvey Dent to enjoy "Two-Face: Year One." "Whether it's a creator-owned project or work-for-hire, I always try to make my books accessible not only to people who aren't necessarily fans of the character, but non-comic fans in general," said Sable. "The most flattering compliments I've gotten about my work have been from retailers who told me 'Grounded' was a great gateway book for readers who'd never tried a superhero comic before.

"I was especially cognizant of the prospect of new readers who might be trying a Batman book for the first time after seeing 'Dark Knight.' That said, if you're a fan of 'Batman: Year One,' 'The Long Halloween'/'Dark Victory' and 'Gotham Central,' you'll be rewarded with a basket full of Easter eggs."

The writer added, "Without spoiling too much, Gordon and Dent assemble a group of the few honest cops in the GCPD, their version of 'The Untouchables.' They are the younger versions of the characters that eventually make up the cast of 'Gotham Central,' specifically Harvey Bullock, Maggie Sawyer, Eric Cohen and Cris Allen."

Primarily, Sable hopes to tell a good story with "Two-Face: Year One," but also wants to re-inject a bit of grit and dark humor into Batman's world. "And, I probably shouldn't talk about this, but I'm hoping to convince DC that there should be a 'Gotham: Year One' ongoing series. I have a ridiculously ambitious pitch in to them to do for Gotham what 'The Wire' did for Baltimore."

If you need more Mark Sable than you get from "DC Special: Cyborg" and "Two-Face: Year One," Image Comics recently released his graphic novel, "Hazed," a dark comedy about sororities and eating disorders. "Think 'Heathers' or 'Mean Girls' set in college," said Sable. "And I've got a two-part web-comic for NBC'S 'Heroes' coming up which I'm pretty exciting about, where I got to create a mother daughter team of agents for The Company that should provide some comic relief from the big plans the writing staff has for this summer's comics and Season Three of the series.

"I'm also in the process of starting another round of creator-owned projects, but it's too premature to announce them. And I'm hoping that if 'Two-Face: Year One' is well received by fans, DC will give me the opportunity to let me run with the cast and tone I've established in the series."

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