With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.
R.L. Stevenson, from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Hello, Harvey. Are we alone?
Batman: Jekyll & Hyde is ambitious. Encompassing origins for both Two-Face and Batman, this brutal, psychological story of Gotham’s former District Attorney seeks to explain Harvey Dent’s fall from grace by examining where he came from. Along the way, writer Paul Jenkins gives insight into the torment of living at war with oneself, and crafts what is perhaps the most touching treatment of Bruce Wayne’s loss that I’ve ever read.
I’m reading a 2008 paperback edition that I checked out from my local library. It includes all six issues of the Batman: Jekyll & Hyde limited, originally published in single-issue form in 2005.
Someone else was here
Investigating a series of barbaric murders, Batman and Commissioner Gordon struggle to find motive. Killers with no history of violence wipe out their entire families and then cannibalize their bodies post-mortem. The case leads the Dark Knight to Arkham, where Two-Face’s men stage an explosive distraction and a jailbreak. Over the days that follow, Batman tracks down his former friend, who forces him to confront his darkest thoughts, and tempts him with a possible escape from his own torment.
A genuine silver dollar
There is much to commend in this book. Jenkins takes an idea from earlier Batman lore—that Harvey Dent was always split—and pulls that thread until we’re left with a sad, sympathetic picture. You can read something like The Long Halloween and feel sorry for Harv, but this feeling is tempered by his behavior prior to the acid in the face. He isn’t pushed over the line by Maroni; rather, he has already put one foot over it and the acid simply propels him the rest of the way. By contrast, Jekyll & Hyde presents a fully-formed, fully-murderous Two-Face, but one for whom you nonetheless feel great sympathy and sorrow. The story lets us in on the life that fractured the man in two.
But Jenkins doesn’t stop there. While most of us are familiar with the event that split Batman down the middle, I’ve never read such a moving analysis of Bruce’s grief. There are several pages of flashback about the grieving process, and the description of how one copes with such a loss is the sort of stuff that makes instant sense, even if I never would have thought of it myself.
Jae Lee’s shadow-shrouded pencils carry so much emotional weight in this story. Facial expressions, hand gestures, and posture often tell the story with greater skill than Jenkins’ words. If your first experience with Lee’s work was—like mine—in recent examples (such as the New 52 Batman/Superman book), you’ll find the art here far less stylized. I do not mean that it lacks artistry; rather, his figures and faces bear a stronger resemblance to reality. For me, this is a very good thing, as I’m not overly fond of the “pinched” aesthetic for which I had previously known him.
Laughing on the other side of your face
It’s not all successes here, though. Like Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne, Jekyll & Hyde is split down the middle. The same script that distinguishes itself in its narrative psychoanalysis just as often trips over its own dialogue. Where at its highest heights this book makes you feel the pain of its two stars, in its low moments Jenkins bludgeons you over the head with conclusions he has no faith you’ll reach on your own.
To make matters, worse, the strongest emotional beats all occur in the first half, where Jenkins has Lee’s talents to fall back on. Sean Phillips takes over art duties for the final three installments, and while he does a serviceable job, there’s a distracting drop in facial quality, and an equally distracting increase in awkward poses. There’s also this, which is simultaneously humorous, terrifying, and disruptive:
They say Batman doesn’t kill, but there is a fate worse than death. Jokes aside, a moment like this simply doesn’t belong here. As cringe-inducing as it is, I could see there being a Batman story that we remember as “the one where Two-Face’s goon blew his man-parts off with his own weapon”, but Jekyll & Hyde should not be that book. Given the rest of the story’s tone, this comes off as a strange, loose attempt at levity, coming late when things should be tightening up for the endgame.
Not a thing.
Value: Dirt Cheap
You can find this pretty cheap on Amazon. I’d only consider about 50-60% of this book to be worth your time, so it wouldn’t make much sense to pay over $10 for it.
Batman: Jekyll & Hyde, like so many comics, fails to live up to an intriguing premise. Jae Lee’s art is outstanding in the first half, and Jenkins has a number of shiny moments–particularly when depicting young Bruce Wayne’s grieving process–but unnatural dialogue and Jenkins’ demonstrated lack of faith in his readers’ intelligence bring this one way down.