Of No Two Minds About Two-Face
Few would argue the point that in the halls of storied comic book rogues galleries none compare to the compelling psychological and murderous wonder of Batman’s crew of villainous foes. The Caped Crusader’s homicidal and maniacal opponents have proven time and again that if anyone can keep the worlds smartest, richest, most formidable man on his toes, they can. They are so malevolent, and often so contemptuous of human life, society, and law that they are in fact rarely put into regular inmate circulation at Blackgate Prison, or any other of DC’s fictional “regular” prisons but are instead admitted to the infamous and appropriately gothic Arkham Asylum.
Arkham is a mental hospital for the criminally insane that is located just outside of Gotham City and it houses the lion’s share of Batman’s foes. Of the foes committed within there is one who I wish to expound upon in this article—a villain, so called, that in another life actually helped to incarcerate many of his fellow in-mates; none other than former Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent aka Two-Face.
Two-Face has always had incredible potential to be a complicated, complex, and thoroughly enjoyable character. Before being scarred by acid in a dramatic mob-related court room assassination attempt, Dent was a promising young district attorney aligned with both Police Commissioner Jim Gordon and The Batman in a trinity force that—at least in Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween—was committed to taking down the mob in Gotham (and the costumed loonies as well). A brave and bold force of justice with a brilliance in him Dent was then emotionally and mentally unhinged when he was disfigured on half of his face (and body, presumably).
At this point Two-Face’s depiction becomes somewhat befuddled. Classically, Two-Face’s modus operandi has been an obsession with the number two—supposedly having to do with the dual visage he bears as his disfigurement. This is where the characterization starts to fall apart. A brilliant lawyer who was charismatic enough to be elected to the position of district attorney in a city as large as Gotham would most likely not have a breakdown of this sort. While this specific and most recognizable flair fits into Golden Age sensibilities of comic book villains, and characters in general a modern approach (as I will provide) will show a direction that in my formidable estimation would be best suited for the DCnU.
The Golden and Silver Age (and to some extend the so-called Modern Age) deal heavily with the idea that Two-Face’s schemes revolve around this plot point of his obsession with the number two. He might use a .22 caliber pistol, or rob the Twin Pines Mall, or steal 22 million dollars as 22:22 military time from the 2nd national bank in Timbuktu. I recall in the story arc A Lonely Place of Dying by Wolfman and Perez (the story arc that introduces Tim Drake) there is a scene where Batman is scheming to lure Two-Face to a prize and Two-Face is scheming to lure Batman to is doom. The scene is overtly aware of the over-use of the silly Two-Face gimmick as Batman is trying to come up with different traps involving two while Dent is trying to come up with inventive new ones. Eventually Bruce Wayne puts a 22 million prize up while Two-Face kidnaps twins in two ploys that have them both going in opposite directions. The damn thing acknowledges itself.
There is even some support of this in his usage of a two-faced (or double-sided) coin with one side scarred in his decision making process but I don’t feel that this is the kind of obsession a man with the history and intellect of Harvey Dent would have—even when heeding the awesome transformative might of insanity and breakdown.
What I would propose, and indeed what I would write myself, would be the character of Harvey Dent becoming morally polarized. Instead of obsessing over duos and plurals I would see the character perseverate upon duality and plurality. A talented man well versed in law now jaded with an easily manipulated system Harvey Dent, Two-Face, would lose the ability to see moral ambiguity forsaking any shades of grey and becoming a force of his own brand of justice. I see Two-Face not as a lawman turned bank robber but rather as the deputized establishment gone renegade. Two-Face the Vigilante, Two-Face the Punisher; not Two-Face the coin flipping pun, not Two-Face the plot gag.
Close examination of television and movie depictions of the character reveal this potential as well. My first encounters with the character come from the Batman: The Animated Series cartoon of the early 90’s. This was a capable and confident Two-Face; a man who did justice to his own history insofar as his competence as a criminal and an intellect. He was, for lack of a better term, a boss. He came on strong, bold, with a clear plan and expectation for what it is that he wished to accomplish—certainly many of his decisions hinged on the flip of a coin but, without taking anything away from that particular idiosyncratic trait, remember this was also a children’s cartoon. The Paul Dini/Bruce Timm Two-Face is a strong character that, at least in the onset of the series, is not so terribly over the top (given the medium) that he could be discounted as a serious threat.
On the other hand, there is the Two-Face as portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever. My god. What a terrible movie. Joel Shitmaker certainly had the crap gods smiling upon him when they churned out this waste of my dime (actually my father’s dime). Without getting too much into the awful decisions made all around in this movie I will attempt to discuss the Two-Face contained within. Harvey Dent so-called as portrayed Tommy Lee Jones was somehow an exponentially more cartoonish figure than the Dini/Timm version could have ever hoped to be. On an acid trip. In Oz. With Rip Taylor as your guide. Somehow they managed to take every over the top, ridiculous, and downright nonsensical piece of the character and exponentially amplify it to the level of ultimate retardation. I’m not even going to waste our time (yours as the reader and mine as the writer) giving a multitude of examples—suffice it to say that the character is so thoroughly one-dimensional and oafishly portrayed and written that he is defeated by a bag of half dollars thrown in the air. The end. That’s all folks. If my memory serves Batman doesn’t even bother to punch him afterwards. This is a brilliant man? I think not.
Now, as much as I find Batman Forever to be a blight upon humanity, from its Broadway Gay lighting schemes to Jim Carrey playing the Joker in a Riddler costume, The Dark Knight is its polar opposite. I won’t delve too deeply into recap or critique on this movie either but the portrayed of Harvey Dent/Two Face by Aaron Eckhart in this movie is leagues better, parsecs better, than what we’ve got going on with Jones. First, the emphasis on the characterization of the man Harvey Dent throughout the greater part of the movie really drives home the point that the heart of Two-Face is the lawyer, the district attorney, the man. The Dark Knight probably does this to a fault, because by the time Dent becomes Two-Face (in an alternate-yet-similar origin story) it seems forced and rushed because its towards the end of the movie. Even so, this Two-Face is driven by justice—not law mind you—and this is tempered and infused with chance upon mortality. Dent seeks out corrupt cops and mobsters alike and gives them one coin flip to decide their fate.
This approach is already encroaching on the Two-Face I would like to read, or would write myself. A man whose life is about justice; before being disfigured law and after a deranged or personal sense of right and wrong—but not about robbing the second national bank on February 2nd. There was some hinting at this kind of a Two-Face in the One Year Later event following DC’s 52 but it was quickly abandoned and forgotten. There was a quick amnesia surrounding the entire diea that Two-Face was actually operating as a hero in Gotham while Batman was gone for a year, and as if he had lost a bet to the Bat, Dent resumed his villainous ways upon Batman’s return.
(note: The Riddler has been operating as “reformed” detective for hire as something of a con-man for a while now and I think it adds something to his character. Again, why would he self-defeat by leaving clues and robbing banks? It is also interesting to note that both of these characters were poorly portrayed in Shitmaker’s first Batman debacle)
The Two-Face that needs to arrive is not a cartoonish oaf with a ridiculous obsession over the number 2 but instead a stone cold killer with his own sense of justice. One who finds himself closely aligned Batman in almost every way…except one: his willingness to kill because of his utter lack of faith or even contempt for the system. This Two-Face would be at odds with the Caped Crusader much in the way that Catwoman is (minus the sexual tension—probably) and being erstwhile allies in the protection of their city. Interestingly enough this would have him operating in a moral grey area that his own mental damage doesn’t allow him to recognize in the actions of others.