Revisiting ‘Two-Face’ (Parts 1 And 2) From ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

Revisiting ‘Two-Face’ (Parts 1 And 2) From ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

Two-Face's thematically rich origin story is among the top episodes of the series.
Warren Henry
By

Spoilers ahead.

With “Two-Face,” the animated series takes another creative leap upward, surpassing “Pretty Poison” on several levels. Better episodes are yet to come, but this one––appropriately the first two-part story produced––is widely considered to be in the top tier.

This is the first true origin episode of the series (the backstories of the Scarecrow and Poison Ivy were briefly shown in flashbacks). The disfigurement of Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent here departs from the classic courtroom confrontation shown in the original 1942 comic (and clumsily re-enacted in “Batman Forever” in 1995).

This version of the tale also has Dent already struggling with mental illness before becoming Two-Face. This element did not become part of the comics mythos until the 1980s, but fits the simultaneous split-personality disorder the character displays. Indeed, it is broadly consistent with Dent compulsively flipping his double-headed coin (as seen in the series pilot), which he later damages to mirror his new appearance.

The transformation of Harvey Dent carries more dramatic weight because the series already established Dent’s friendship with Bruce Wayne. Accordingly, Bruce figures more heavily in this story than the Batman. The writers (including series co-creator Alan Burnett) do not shy away from linking Bruce’s sympathy for Harvey to his own potentially dangerous duality.

Richard Moll (known for playing Bull from “Night Court” and the Bat-computer in this series) turns in a fine performance as both the tortured Dent and the menacing Two-Face. The secondary villain, politician-turned-mobster Rupert Thorne, is given more impact than the script affords him by the voice performance of John Vernon (known for playing the Mayor in “Dirty Harry” and Dean Wormer in “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”)

The direction and artistry of the animation is also superior in “Two-Face.” Scenes involving Dent’s illness take on garish colorations. Chiaroscuro lighting often reinforces the theme of duality, even turning black and white during storms which mirror Dent’s mental struggle. Even small touches, like the way Two-Face pushes away his fiancee by bringing his hands together between them, then splitting them, reinforce his character and make this story the high point of the series to date.

The Plot (Part One)

Part one opens with Dent’s nightmare involving a man in silhouette. The figure’s coin-flipping (in a sickly orange shaft of light) reveals him as Dent’s other personality, “Big Bad Harv,” who warns that “it’s time.”

Dent awakens on his office couch and is informed Commissioner Gordon is raiding a building held by Thorne’s gang. Dent and Gordon are pinned down by the gang’s firepower, but Batman stealthily dispatches the mobsters from within.

Dent praises Gordon to the assembled media. A few moments later, however, Dent ferociously assaults a handcuffed goon who splashes mud on him. (The sky seemingly turns magenta during this incident.) Gordon stops Dent, who has little recollection of the attack.

The arrests anger Thorne, who assigns his moll Candace to find incriminating dirt on the seemingly squeaky-clean D.A.

During a Dent re-election fundraiser at Wayne Manor, an ice sculpture of Lady Justice sweats––literally and symbolically. Upon learning a judge dismissed charges against Thorne’s goons due to a defective warrant, Dent nearly strangles the messenger in front of the guests. He is calmed by his new fiancee, Grace Lamont (Murphy Cross).

Wayne escorts the couple into his library. Grace discloses that Harvey is already seeking psychiatric help. An embarrassed Dent worries that if his condition became public, it would ruin his political career. Wayne assures Dent it is a sign of strength to seek treatment (unlike Wayne, apparently) and assures his friend he can keep a secret (true).

Dent visits Dr. Nora Crest. As a storm rages, Big Bad Harv surfaces during hypnosis and nearly throws Crest through a window. She recommends Dent commit himself to a hospital for a few days. He refuses due to politics, but agrees to more intensive treatment. Candace overhears the exchange and reports it to Thorne.

On election night, Dent is headed for a landslide win. He tells Grace he will announce their wedding date in his victory speech. However, Dent leaves his party to meet Thorne, who has telephoned and threatened to reveal Dent’s illness. Bruce follows Dent through another storm as Batman (marking the debut of the Bat-cycle).

Thorne shows Dent a medical file which reveals his split personality traces back to childhood, when Dent retaliated against a bully. (The bully was hospitalized, but we learn this was for appendicitis––an irony which makes Dent’s condition more tragic.) The blackmail threat triggers Big Bad Harv, who attacks Thorne’s gang, with assistance from Batman.

Thorne escapes with the medical file and Dent in pursuit. A goon shoots at Dent but Batman causes him to misfire, sending an electrical cable into a vat of chemicals of the sort common to criminal hideouts. The vat erupts, splashing Dent and knocking him unconscious. Batman rushes to Dent’s side and recoils at seeing what the viewer cannot.

At the hospital, a doctor assures Bruce his friend can be treated with cosmetic surgery. Bruce is more concerned about mental scars, particularly after Thorne exposes Dent’s illness. The doctor removes Dent’s bandages. Dent demands a mirror (in an obvious homage to the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman”).

Grasping for the mirror, Dent knocks over a vase of flowers as Grace is arriving with a fresh bouquet. In despair, Harvey stumbles into the hall where he meets Grace. Revealing his deformed half, starkly lit by lightning, Dent bids farewell before escaping through the window.

The Plot (Part Two)

Part Two begins months later, as Two-Face wages war on Thorne’s operations with assistance from identical twins (Min and Max, voiced by The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz). During one robbery, Two-Face’s trademark coin vetoes taking a diamond ring from a female bystander. Thorne puts out a contract on Dent for not one, but two million dollars.

Meanwhile, Bruce becomes obsessed with saving Dent. In Bruce’s own nightmare, his failure mixes with guilt for doing nothing when his parents were killed, despite having been a child.

Candace, posing as a police detective, asks Grace to activate a beeper should Dent contact her. Indeed, after the robbery, Two-Face sees Grace’s photograph and thinks of calling her, but again is vetoed by his coin.

Batman deduces Two-Face’s targets are Thorne enterprises with names suggesting duality (an unexplained coincidence). Batman concludes Two-Face has run out of such targets and will now attack Thorne personally.

Accordingly, Batman catches Two-Face stealing Thorne’s file from an attorney named Doubleday. (The incriminating files are another parallelism.) Invoking Grace’s concern, Batman almost convinces Two-Face’s good side to surrender, but is disrupted by one of the twins. Two-Face escapes after knocking Batman unconscious.

While fleeing, Two-Face sees a bridal store. He telephones Grace, who agrees to see him…but also activates her beeper. She meets Two-Face at the “Wild Deuce” casino, half of which has been trashed. Two-Face rants about life being determined by fate or chance; Grace urges him to take control of his life and pledges her love.

Again, Dent’s good side nearly prevails but is interrupted by Thorne’s gang, who have subdued Max and Min. Thorne forces Two-Face to return the legal file by threatening Grace.

Batman arrives, from the good side of the room. Thorne aims at Batman. Dent jostles Thorne’s arm, causing machine-gun fire to bring a chandelier down upon Thorne. Batman and Two-Face battle Thorne’s gang. Grace knocks out Candace, who crashes into a large vase of flowers (in yet another parallelism).

Once the gang is subdued, Two-Face retrieves a machine gun from the destroyed half of the room and aims at Thorne. He cedes his decision to a coin flip. Batman seizes the moment to throw a box of silver dollars into the air, sending Two-Face into confusion (a tactic that reappears in “Batman Forever”). Dent dissolves as Grace attempts to comfort him.

As Dent is arrested with Grace at his side, Batman tells Gordon where there is love there is hope. Batman then flips one of the silver dollars into a fountain; the coin lands heads-up.

Among its dualities, “Two-Face” underscores that Bruce is friends with Harvey because, in a common superhero trope, they are alike. Dent’s disfigurement turns him criminal, but one obsessed with destroying another criminal. When Dent seethes that he could have brought down Thorne with the information in the legal file, it is clear the district attorney still lives in Two-Face’s damaged psyche.

Warren Henry is the nom de plume of an attorney practicing in the State of Illinois.

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