Two-Face is on the cusp of turning 75. A firm fan-favorite, the man once known as Harvey Dent has, in that time, racked up quite a collection of incredible stories, some of them long forgotten. Many will readers argue over whether “Dark Victory” is better than “The Long Halloween,” of course, but, how many readers still recognize the greatness of the Bronze or Silver Age? What about the new origin changes for the New 52?
Stories about Two-Face tend to overlap, but they reveal new aspects about Gotham’s former District Attorney and his deformed new self. If you’re enjoying Two-Face’s recent romp through “All-Star Batman,” definitely check out the stories listed here to get a better sense of the character.
WARNING: The below list contains spoilers for many classic comics featuring Two-Face.
15. Half a Life (Gotham Central #6-10)
Written by Greg Rucka, with art from WIlliam Rosado, Jason Pearson, Michael Lark and Dave Johnson, “Half a Life” is one of the most approachable modern Two-Face stories for old and new fans. “Half a Life” finds Two-Face falling in love with GCPD officer Renee Montoya. When Montoya refuses to love him back, Two-Face outs her as a lesbian. Montoya goes crazy over her private life being exposed and she lashes out at Two-Face. It didn’t help that Two-Face also framed her for murder. The things that a “White Knight” does for love…
While equal parts a Two-Face and Montoya story, this one set the pace for many Two-Face tales to come. Two-Face is starting to realize that any ties he had to Harvey Dent are lost. While he hates his old persona, DA Harvey Dent came with some perks that he could still manipulate. Now, too many people have died or moved on. Pretty boy “Apollo” Harvey Dent could’ve easily landed a woman of Montoya’s caliber, or so he thinks. But time has changed and things aren’t as easily defined by the tip of a fedora, or the flip of a coin.
14. Faces (Legends of the Dark Knight #28-30)
“Faces” finds Two-Face forming a country for freaks like him. Unfortunately, Two-Face can’t look past his personal issues to understand the difference between being a freak and a monster. The freaks don’t care about Two-Face’s appearance, they just want him to understand the underpinnings of this new society. But Two-Face can’t help but feel superior to these people he cast out. While the story blasts past most of the familiar Two-Face angles, it returns to his most important character trope: duality.
Two-Face still thinks he’s Harvey Dent in some form. He feels that his status remains higher than most and can’t understand why people won’t treat him with greater respect. Writer and artist Matt Wagner mines gold in this introspective look at the sometimes hypocrisy of duality. You can’t work both sides of the coin and claim to be whole. Sadly, Two-Face never learns this; but hey, some lessons can’t be beaten into you by Batman.
13. The Crimes of Two-Face/Two-Face Trilogy (Detective Comics #66, 68, 80)
Helmed by Batman co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane,”The Crimes of Two-Face” is the first Two-Face story, and it sets up much of what would be explored over his subsequent 74 years. While serving as the first part of a trilogy, this issue explored the rise of Gotham City DA Harvey Kent. That’s right, kids, Harvey wouldn’t be renamed until much later in the Silver Age. Boss Maroni is on trial and flips out when Harvey appears to be winning. So, he tosses acid in the guy’s face and that’s how we meet Two-Face.
The rest of the issue follows Harvey’s wife Gilda leaving him due to his disfigurement. Eventually, Harvey stockpiles mismatched suits and finds a way to strike back at Batman, who was called as a character witness and managed to botch saving Harvey. With his new disfigurement driving him forward, Two-Face figures it’s cool to start robbing banks and doing basically everything in pairs. The trilogy eventually turns into a romantic action comedy, as Batman tries to hook Harvey back up with his wife. In case you missed it, The Golden Age was perfection.
12. Two-Face Too! (Joker’s Asylum: Two-Face)
The “Joker’s Asylum” event produced some amazing one-shots. None were more impressive than David Hine and Andy Clarke‘s “Two-Face Too!” which allowed Two-Face to form a sense of kinship with another deformed individual. In the story, Arkham Asylum began a peer counseling program for the inmates. Holman Hunt is a disfigured firefighter once saved by Batman. While the flames took half of his face, Hunt thanks Batman for saving his life. Two-Face is bothered by this and wants to keep the peer counseling going in the future.
Weeks pass and Hunt finds his wife and himself strapped to chairs in a confined area. Two-Face is revealed as his captor in this room of terror. On one side of the room is Batman, about to die, and on the other is his wife, about to be hit with acid. Hunt has to pick whether Batman lives and his wife dies or Batman dies and his wife lives. Hunt chooses to shoot Two-Face in the head, but the gun is empty. Batman saves the day, but Hunt is forced to re-examine his life after his wife leaves him and he slowly begins turning into a Two-Face of his own.
11. The Big Burn: Ablaze (Batman and Robin #24-28)
“The Big Burn: Ablaze” allowed Peter J. Tomasi and artists Doug Mahnke with Patrick Gleason to tell Two-Face’s origins for the New 52. The McKillen sisters are introduced as the new big baddies that are responsible for Two-Face, and gone is the origin of Boss Maroni tossing a jar of acid into Harvey Dent’s face. In the new 52, Two-Face is the McKillen family’s legal eagle for life. When he tries to break away from those mob ties, Bruce Wayne funds his campaign for District Attorney. Shortly after becoming DA, Dent is attacked by Erin McKillen, who blames Harvey for the recent suicide of her twin sister (gotta get that patented modern-DC grimdark to take the origin into the 21st century). Erin breaks into the Dents’ house and kills Gilda in front of Harvey. If that wasn’t enough, she pins him down and pours acid onto his face. Left for dead, Harvey becomes the New 52 Two-Face.
Two-Face hunts McKillen for some time and attempts to burn her with the same acid, but is stopped by Batman. While Two-Face manages to horribly disfigure Erin, he wrestles with what to do about Batman. The two fight and Two-Face finally reveals that he’s known that Batman is Bruce Wayne all this time. Two-Face lets everyone go, as he tries to wrestle some control over himself. The ending of the story seems to imply that Two-Face committed suicide, but the vagueness of the scene seems to have been undone by the current “All-Star Batman” run.
10. Half an Evil (Batman #234)
“Half an Evil” was part of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams‘s efforts to return Two-Face to the Batman books. The character had fallen out of favor during the ’50s and ’60s due to fears that he was too scary for children. While it’s a simple mystery about a pirate ship and a robbery, it sets up the modus operandi for the modern Two-Face. Sure, he still robs and does gangster things, but the coin controls his life now. Batman plays upon this and uses elements of Two-Face’s mental illness to undermine him.
While a light affair, it still showed Batman’s willingness to move past his friendship with Harvey Dent. Modern audiences might take fault with mental illness being used as a weapon, but isn’t that the case with most Batman villains? Strong early ’70s work from O’Neil gets lifted up here, due to its historical importance in defining Two-Face.
9. Batman: The Long Halloween
“The Long Halloween” is an amazing miniseries and one of the greatest Batman stories ever told. However, it loses a degree of its luster for Two-Face. The story opens with Gotham City believing in Harvey Dent. He’s the great white hope that is going to save Gotham in a way that Batman can’t. Does any of that sound familiar? Well, it should. Christopher Nolan, among others, mined the Loeb/Sale tale for their later works.
This is a great Two-Face story because it marks the first time that you felt the weight of his disfigurement. Other tales tried to pass off the sense of loss by framing it via Gilda, Harvey’s childhood or Batman’s perspective. Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale found a way to hammer down the tragedy of Dent being in the wrong place at the wrong time, building up Dent as a defender for so long, just to have everything be lost. That theme is really what makes these stories matter. “Long Halloween” isn’t just a great Two-Face story, but one of the best DC stories of the last 30 years.
8. Secret Origins Special #1
So many readers are returning to this Secret Origins Special #1, after it spent 25 years sitting in dollar bins of local comic shops. This story opens on Grace Dent being interviewed by a random reporter. Wait… Grace? But you thought her name was Gilda. Well, that’s why continuity matters. For those playing the home game, Gilda is also called Grace throughout the run of “Batman: The Animated Series.” With that out of the way, let’s focus on the story.
Written by Mark Verheiden, with art from Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano, the untitled tale in “Secret Origins Special” has Grace talking about how Harvey fought the coin to save her life. It’s a simple story, but the underpinning of the tale is Gilda’s hope. She strongly believes that Harvey can beat the Two-Face persona and return to her. While we often see people slamming Batman for not putting criminals in the dirt, Gilda’s hope is a refreshing take on the lives in Gotham, and the villains that impact them. To Grace, Two-Face is still Harvey. She can forgive a lot and just wants him to return to his rightful state. It’s a thing of beauty that modern tales are sorely missing.
7. Jurisprudence (Detective Comics #738-739)
“Jurisprudence” features the story moment that all fans knew would eventually come in a Two-Face tale. During “No Man’s Land,” Gotham City was ruined and left in squalor, with many criminal factions carving out chunks of the city as their new territories. Commissioner Gordon and his Boys in Blue protected people in their area, while Two-Face and other villains drew out their new boundaries. When LexCorp sends in Bane to wreck up the place and steal things, Two-Face loses a lot more than other War Chiefs. Thus, ever the litigator, Harvey Dent moves to put Gordon on trial for not having the GCPD defend him.
Gordon agrees to the trial, but demands that Dent represent him. Two-Face, ever a fan of balance, agrees to the conditions, and works out a balance between his personas. Two-Face will prosecute Gordon, while Harvey Dent will defend him. The entirety of “No Man’s Land” was worth it just for these two issues. Montoya works to help free Gordon, but the commish has trust in Dent’s goodness to save the day. The legal expert Harvey Dent is eventually able to best his savage counterpart and acquit Gordon, who is free to leave with the others as Two-Face feels betrayed by his dual nature.
6. Nightwing: The Great Leap (Nightwing #147-153)
What is it about Robins and Two-Face? Dick Grayson was nearly killed fighting Two-Face early in his career. Jason Todd‘s father was killed by Two-Face. Tim Drake made his debut as Robin while fighting Two-Face. In “The Great Leap,” that tradition continues as Grayson returns as an adult Nightwing to square off against Two-Face, but this time in an unfamiliar scenario. Dick Grayson is finally leaving New York City to return to Gotham City. When he arrives, Two-Face is tearing apart the city to kill a trial witness. Peter J. Tomasi and his group of artists takes a simple setup and turns it on its ear with some startling revelations about Nightwing and Two-Face.
While Two-Face initially seems to be up to no good, the Dent persona starts taking more control. Dent wants to make peace with the heroes he attacked and believes that he’ll get a degree of sympathy, a la what he gets from Batman. But Nightwing has been trained since puberty to fight these people. He has no sympathy for Two-Face/Dent and simply wants to lock him away forever. When all of this sinks in for Two-Face, he starts to see himself as the monster he spent years becoming. This is the first story where Two-Face realizes a sense of aging. Batman has gone missing, Nightwing has taken over, and Gotham City is changing all around him. It’s not terror that we see in Two-Face this time, it’s a sense of longing for better times.
5. Face the Face (Batman #651-654, Detective Comics #817-820)
As James Robinson and his retinue of artists explore in “Face the Face,” Harvey Dent never fared well in returning to a semblance of his old life. During the “One Year Later” event following “Infinite Crisis,” Dent was busy recapturing the glory of his normal life. After his face was restored by Hush, Dent had a new take on life. For a year, Batman left Gotham City in the care of a reformed Dent and it worked relatively well. That is, it did… until Batman returned.
Shortly after Batman and Robin (Tim Drake) returned to active duty, several B and C-list villains turned up dead. The common link between these murders? They were killed with Two-Face’s famous double-barreled gun. Dent’s prints were on the weapon and a witness was able to place him at the crimes. As Batman would find out, Dent had supposedly been using low-level super villains to act as spies in the Gotham City Underworld, leveraging his new intel as a way to take down The Penguin once and for all.
Unfortunately, the stress of trying to be a Batman figure for a year caused Harvey’s mental control over Two-Face to break, ultimately deforming himself to return to his Two-Face persona. The story has a tragic twist: Harvey was innocent the entire time.
4. Year One (Two-Face: Year One #1-2)
“Year One” allowed DC to help popularize Two-Face’s origin before “The Dark Knight” hit theaters. The two-issue series overlaps significantly with “The Long Halloween,” as we find Dent slowly losing control following Boss Maroni beating his latest string of legal charges. Now, Maroni’s men are being attacked by The Holiday Killer, and both Harvey’s legal rivals and the Batman start suspecting the gruesome killer might be Dent.
This series’ greatest feat was showing that Falcone helped Dent’s assistant get the infamous acid to Boss Maroni, the rationale being that removing a legal whiz from Gotham City would stop the constant assaults on the mob. The series ended with a Two-Face assault that really destroys a lot of continuity to make it work, but the guts of this story are seeing the real reason for the attack that created Two-Face.
The rest of the series deals with Two-Face running for re-election to keep Harvey’s District Attorney position. “Two-Face: Year One” ends with a super villain running for public office, which is both amazing and these days, pretty darn topical.
3. Batman: Dark Victory
Another Loeb/Sale joint, “Dark Victory” is a rare case where the sequel is far superior to the original; that is, when you consider them both to be Two-Face stories and not about Batman. Time has passed since Harvey became Two-Face, and the Gotham City legal system is changing. Things are slightly improving, as Gordon is leading the cops in greater cooperation with the Batman. All the while, Two-Face finds himself aligning with more of Gotham City’s emerging supervillain set.
This story ranks higher due to more time being spent with the dominant Two-Face personality. While Harvey is still somewhat present, in “Dark Victory,” Two-Face attempts to make sense of a world that he’s trying to fix. The new Hangman killer is slaughtering individuals that helped Harvey Dent rise to the office of District Attorney, but again it’s another villain attempting to blackmail Two-Face. This time it’s Falcone’s daughter who wants to put him away, specifically for Dent’s attacks on organized crime and the Falcone family. Ultimately, choices are made and the Batman has to realize that his trusted ally is long gone.
2. Two of a Kind (Batman: Black and White #1)
Written and drawn by the inimitable Bruce Timm, “Two of a Kind” is one of the greatest short stories in mainstream comics history. Like most Two-Face stories, it covers well-trodden ground, but this time, it’s a pair of stunning twins that work their charms on Harvey Dent. One is a master plastic surgeon who cures Two-Face’s deformity, the other is a Lana Turner-style sexpot, who wants to have Dent out of jealousy. The two sisters brawl until crazy sister kills good twin sister.
What follows plays like classic Film Noir, as Harvey acts out in rage. Finally unleashing his true Two-Face self, he meets with the bad twin sister to decide what must be done. Guilty over lusting for the lady, he gives into justice and shoots her in the chest. While Batman watches on, Two-Face knows that he doesn’t belong among the free. Reading this story, you can almost hear the Bernard Herrmann score well up in the background.
1. Eye of the Beholder (Batman Annual #14)
“Eye of the Beholder” was the first substantial attempt to define Two-Face after Frank Miller‘s “Year One.” Harvey Dent was examined as a tragic figure who spent his childhood being savagely beaten by his father. Once again we see the initial partnership between Dent, Gordon and Batman, but Dent’s mind is already starting to break due to the stress of being District Attorney.
We count this entry as the greatest Two-Face story because it explains Harvey Dent’s descent into madness in the least complicated way. He was always going to be Two-Face, the disfigurement just sped up his eventual collapse. This issue also ties elements of childhood trauma and emerging mental illness into the Two-Face story in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative.
As we see Two-Face try to work out why he became this monster, everything returns to his father and the coin he tossed. It ends with Two-Face transformed from fearsome villain to broken child in front of the man that ruined his life (Batman); a shame that occurs just before he claws one half of his face apart and accepts his destiny of duality.
What are your favorite Two-Face stories? Double down in the comments section!
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