In “Batman and Robin #23.1: Two-Face” by Peter Tomasi and Guillem March, Two-Face flips on an offer from the Crime Syndicate and pays a visit to his old DA offices to bring justice to Gotham. Tomasi tells the story from Two-Face’s first-person point of view, as Batman’s absence in Villains Month and the Crime Syndicate’s mysterious offer suddenly present the split-faced, two-minded villain with more choices. Will he step into Batman’s shoes as Gotham’s defender, or will he operate as a villain without restraint?
It’s enjoyable to see Two-Face visit his old stomping grounds as Harvey Dent, and the best art in the issue is a page where March contrasts past and present, Dent vs. Two-Face, in the halls of justice. The near-identical composition drives it home that this is the same man, while Morey’s attractively subdued palette reinforces the differences with the contrast between the warm light of the Harvey Dent panels vs. the cold gray of the Two-Face panels. Through this visual nostalgia and compositional echoing, March’s art gets across how Harvey Dent is still there somewhere.
Unfortunately, that is as far as the characterization goes. Both the internal and external developments in “Batman and Robin” #23.1 are very shallow, despite the reader’s access to Two-Face’s thoughts. “Batman” title writers have portrayed Two-Face’s criminality and obsession with free will/fate as resulting from a number of mental disorders, primarily schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. The dialogue has a great moment when Two-Face utters the send-off, “Give my regards to the ferryman,” a nod to Greek mythology and Dent’s education. Also, Two-Face’s need for independence is emphasized as he dissociates himself from Batman’s other enemies, both when he judges Batman and Robin’s “victims” and in his uneasy acceptance of the Criminal Syndicate’s offer. On the whole, however, Tomasi’s portrayal lacks nuance. Two-Face’s slavery to the flip of his coin feels simple-minded instead of a compulsive pathology or twisted philosophy. Villains are the most sympathetic when their motivations are complex. Two-Face is a fallen man, but Tomasi doesn’t explore Two-Face’s latent goodness. “Good” Two-Face doesn’t revert back to being Harvey Dent, but instead delivers a bloodbath just like his “Bad” half would.
Two-Face decides by coin toss to both save Gotham and accept the sponsorship the Crime Syndicate. Naturally, these two decisions are not compatible, but the action-heavy plot conflict is rapidly resolved, and Tomasi has the story arc spin back to have the final page echo the first page. While this is even-handed and conceptually fitting for Two-Face, it also results in “Batman and Robin” #23.1 feeling like a filler issue. Tomasi and March’s pacing is suspenseful, but the anticipation they create in “Batman and Robin” #23.1 ultimately falls flat due to the lack of impact.