Batman The Animated Series: Two-Face

"At last we meet, face to face... to face."

Two-Face has one of comic's most tragic origin stories and it has inspired some of the very best Batman stories over the years such as Jeph Leob and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, and this two-parter.

'Two-Face' is Batman: The Animated Series at its absolute best. Brilliantly written, exceptionally directed, and stunningly animated, it's the series' first true masterpiece. This is one of those episode you force a friend who has never seen it before to watch so they can see why you never shut the fuck up about it.

I already rambled on in a previous review about how BTAS always made the effort to make us understand its villains, now I'm going to talk about how it also made us feel sorry for a lot of them. In Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke, the Joker theorises that all it takes to drive someone insane is one really bad day. The makers of BTAS obviously subscribe to that theory since that is how so many of the Batman's villains come to be. Most of Gotham's worst criminals start out as perfectly ordinary people who are living perfectly ordinary lives when something horrible happens to them (or someone they care about) that sends them on a one way trip into madness. And there is no more perfect example of this than Gotham's own District Attorney, Harvey Dent.

This story wouldn't have worked as well as it did if Harvey was just some random city official we'd never met before. We might not have seen that much of him before this episode, but we saw enough to know that he was one of the good guys and, more importantly, Bruce Wayne's best friend. Very probably his only friend. The friendship between these two is at the very heart of the story. Yeah, Two-Face might spend most of the story pining for his fiancee, Grace, but that doesn't carry nearly as much dramatic weight as the pain Bruce feels for letting his friend down.

If Batman is Gotham's Dark Knight, then Dent is its shining white knight. He's the hero people can look up to and believe in. He doesn't have to resort to costume theatrics to bring down crooks like mob boss Rupert Throne. His weapon is the law, but it's currently shooting blanks. Judges in Thorne's pocket are undoing all of Dent's good work. Frustrated with working within a corrupt system, and struggling with the strain of running for reelection, Dent is starting to unravel, exposing his own deep dark secret.

You see, Harvey has spent his whole life trying to be a good person. He worked so hard at it that he suppressed all his negative impulses. This has had the unfortunate side effect of creating his very own monster from the Id: the aggressive, violent, short tempered, gravelly voiced, coin flipping Big Bad Harv. Harvey's been able to keep his alter-ego under control before, but he's coming out more and more, and often very publicly. Fishing for dirt on Gotham's hero, Thorne's minions stumble onto Harvey's secret and the mob boss tries to use it to get the D.A. in his pocket. Big mistake. Big Bad Harv takes over and attacks Thorne and his men. Batman tries to intervene and save Dent, but just ends up bungling the rescue. One explosion later and Harvey Dent is no more, replaced by Two-Face, one of Gotham's most notorious criminals.

I'm going to stop now and take a moment to talk about how exceptional Two-Face's character design is. As is so often the case with this show, the elegance is in the simplicity. Timm and his team never made the mistake of over complicating how the villains looked. Partly because it would've made them more difficult to animate. Of course, just because it looks simple doesn't mean it doesn't have a deeper meaning. Two-Face's black and white suit is a possible references to the Taijitu, the symbol in Chinese philosophy which represents the dualist (yin and yang) aspect of Taiji (supreme ultimate). Yeah, this is that kind of kids' show.

But Two-Face is more than just a triumph of character design. He is easily one of the show's most complex and fascinating villains. It would've been so easy for the writers to just make Two-Face Big Bad Harv unleashed. But that would be obvious and not all interesting. Instead, Two-Face is a sort of melding of the two sides of Harvey's personality. He has all of Big Bad Harv's rage and violence, but it's tempered (occasionally) by Harvey's sense of order, which has been twisted so that everything is determined by the flip of a coin. It is testament to how well Two-Face is written that his obsession with duality never becomes a cheap gimmick, but is a symptom of his mental illness. Because that is ultimately what Harvey Dent/Two-Face is. He's a mentally ill man who placed his job before his own well-being and didn't get the help he desperately needed until it was too late.

Fortunately for Dent, he's up against a Batman who is more than sympathetic to the mentally ill, one who understands that, for all their crimes, his villains are probably the ones who need Batman's help the most. The other day I saw a post on Tumblr (yes, it's still a thing) where people talked about how well this series tackled the subject of mental health and how this Batman is portrayed as a more empathetic character who understands that many of his adversaries are sick people who just need help. Or as one person so brilliantly put it "The story of one fucked up, traumatised little boy, doing his best to help other fucked up traumatised people."



I Know That Voice 

Rupert Thorne was voiced by John Vernon (National Lampoon's Animal House, Dirty Harry, The Outlaw Josey Wales).

Comic Book Connections

Two-Face/Harvey Dent was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane and first appeared in Detective Comics #66 (Aug, 1942). The character was originally named Harvey "Apollo" Kent, but this was changed to avoid confusion with Clark Kent. Rupert Thorne was created by Steve Englehart and Walter Simonson, the character first appeared in Detective Comics #469. In the comics he was a corrupt politicians rather than a mobster.

Notes and Quotes

--It's rather fitting that the series' first two-parter (production-wise at least) is about Two-Face.

--Despite having such a important role here, Grace is never seen or mentioned again after this story.

--First appearance of the Bat-cycles and can I just say I love their design.

--The final scene of Part I is terrific, one of the series' best moments, and looks simply stunning in HD, but there are some notable animation errors. For example, when Harvey is first shown in the hospital, his chin, neck, and hair are all undamaged. Also, his left hand is normal at the end of the episode, but is damaged by the start of Part II, although it is possible he later did that himself so that his left hand matched his face. 


--In the scene where the psychiatrist is trying to bring out "Big Bad Harv" when the lightning strikes, Harvey's face briefly flashes as Two-Face.


Candace: "My, this guy is crazy."
Rupert Thorne: "Yeah, crazy like a fox. That little tantrum probably bought him another 10,000 votes."

Thorne: "So what do you say, Harvey? Do we have a deal?"
Harvey: "There's just one problem."
Thorne: "What's that?"
Harvey: "You're talking to the wrong Harvey."

Two-Face: "Don't bother to adjust the picture. For the next five minutes, I'm in control."
--Harvey is obviously a fan of The Outer Limits.

Thorne: "All men have something to hide. The brighter the picture, the darker the negative."

Alfred: "Remember, sir. Harvey Dent is no longer the great man we once knew."
Batman: "I have to believe that somewhere under that monster is my old friend."
Alfred: "That may make him even more dangerous."

Four out of four monsters from the Id.

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

2 comments:

CoramDeo said...

An epic two-parter, and a testament to what this show is capable of. One of the best villain origins I've ever seen.

sunbunny said...

AHHHHH I could listen to you wax poetic on this episode for another thousand words. Two Face isn't my favorite BtAS rogue (that's Harley, followed by her lady love Ivy) but these episodes might just be my favorite of the show's run. I always enjoy bad guy introduction episodes and this did it perfectly. Like you said, it's great that we've seen Harvey before so he wasn't just some random DA. I really like what you said about the duality between Batman and Harvey Dent. I'd never thought of it in quite that way before.