Welcome to the ninth installment of "Adventure(s) Time," where we examine a classic episode of an animated series and an issue of its companion comic. This week, we're going to be looking at the debut of Two-Face in the "Batman" animated continuity, and the follow-up storyline that was intended for animation, but eventually found a home in the "Adventures" spinoff series.
The two-parter "Two-Face" debuted on Sept. 25-26, 1992, the 17th and 18th episodes of "Batman: The Animated Series" (or 10th and 11th, based on production order). The story is by Alan Burnett and Randy Rogel, and both episodes are directed by Kevin Altieri. The legendary studio Tokyo Movie Shinsha animated Part I, bringing an incredible amount of life to the animation. Dong Yang Animation does a competent job on Part II, but it lacks much of the energy seen in the first chapter.
Harvey Dent had made a few appearances on the show prior to this, essentially to set him up as Gotham's noble district attorney, someone just as determined to fight crime as Batman, but able to do it within the system. "Two-Face" opens with Harvey suffering from a nightmare, hinting at the darkness that lies in his subconscious. Soon, we see Harvey at work, using Batman's aid to bust a gang that's associated with alleged mobster Rupert Thorne. One of Thorne's men kicks mud in Harvey's face while being taken into custody, which sets Harvey off into a shocking rage. (The goon also boasts, in front of cameras, that Thorne can't be stopped and that he'll outwit Harvey -- a rather dumb move if you're working for a "legitimate businessman" who has yet to be charged with any actual crimes.)
The next few scenes introduce us to Harvey's fiancée Grace Lamont, and also re-establish that Harvey is close to Bruce Wayne. Still early in the show's run, actor Kevin Conroy seems to be overplaying Bruce's dorky public persona in some scenes, but during Bruce's private moments with Harvey, who's clearly cracking up, he does a fantastic job melding the Batman voice with his traditional Bruce Wayne. Conroy's acting skills, when he has Bruce drop his foppish act and express genuine concern for Harvey, are used to wonderful effect in these scenes. This is not the level of acting that the audience had grown accustomed to in "kids' TV." It's a genuine performance, and it helps to elevate the material. The producers have cited "Two-Face" as the moment the show began to take a more adult tone, and they're right. It's hard to go back to "I've Got Batman in My Basement" after scenes like this.
Richard Moll also deserves recognition as the voice behind Harvey Dent and Two-Face. To this day, it's amazing to me that one actor could be responsible for both voices, and could so effortlessly shift between the two. The scene between Harvey and his therapist, when the Two-Face persona first emerges, set against a relentless thunderstorm, is still amazing to watch. (Undermining the running theme of duality, Moll also appears as a third voice in these episodes -- he's the uncredited voice of Thomas Wayne during Bruce's tortured dream that blames him for failing his friend, and his parents, as a child.)
By the end of the first chapter, Dent has been blackmailed by Thorne into traveling to an abandoned chemical plant, lest his hidden mental illness be disclosed to the public. The dark side of Dent ("Big Bad Harv") takes control, and in the ensuing chaos, a chemical explosion ruins half of Harvey's face.
The second installment of the story begins some weeks later, with Harvey fully adopting the Two-Face persona, now carrying a scarred coin that will guide his moral decisions. Not only has Harvey adopted a two-toned suit, but he's accompanied by twin henchmen, he's compelled to attack Thorne holdings that have a connection to doubles in their name (which seems to imply that Thorne himself is obsessed with the number two, given how many he owns), and he's taken up residence at the derelict Wild Deuce club.
Batman continually tries to bring his friend back to the light, but is unsuccessful. Grace becomes a target for Rupert Thorne, specifically his sadistic assistant Candice, who poses as a police detective and tricks her into revealing Two-Face's location. Soon, all of the players are in place at the Wild Deuce club, and Two-Face is given an opportunity to kill Thorne. Both Batman and Grace plead with Harvey to allow the law to deal with Thorne, compelling him to flip his coin to make the call. Batman, clearly displaying no real faith in his friend (with good reason), knocks a box of silver dollars into the path of the coin, causing Two-Face to suffer a meltdown. Grace emerges to comfort Two-Face, who's soon taken away by the police. Commissioner Gordon questions if the Harvey Dent he knew can be saved. Batman responds that where there's love, there's hope.
The ending clearly implied that Grace will become an integral part of future Two-Face stories. If you're only familiar with this continuity through the animated series, however, you would assume that the character was simply forgotten. Not so.
"Batman & Robin Adventures" #1-2, the opening issues of the 1995 attempt to re-brand the "Adventures" series to match the new "Adventures of Batman & Robin" Saturday morning run of the show, reintroduce the character of Grace. The plot was originally intended by Paul Dini for the animated series, but he decided to use it during his run with Ty Templeton on the comic. In "Two-Timer" we learn that Bruce Wayne and Grace Lamont have been visiting Harvey once a week in Arkham Asylum, and that Bruce is personally paying for Harvey's treatment. Harvey seems to be winning the battle against his Two-Face persona, although Robin expresses his doubts to Batman. As Robin points out, Bruce was friends with Harvey Dent, the crusading DA, but Robin only knows him as Two-Face.
Harvey faces the most severe obstacle to his recovery yet when the Joker, out of sheer boredom, decides to get under his skin. He plants the idea in Harvey's mind that Bruce and Grace are secretly an item, and then conspires with Harley Quinn to plant the phony story of their engagement in the newspapers. It's possible the producers always had this story in mind, going back to the first chapter of "Two-Face." When Grace is needling Harvey about when exactly they're going to be married, Bruce jokes that he might just snatch her up. Talk about foreshadowing...
Grace, by the way, is actually developing feelings for Bruce. Could it be that the Joker is more in tune with human emotions than he's let on in the past?
Once Harvey discovers the "news" of Bruce and Grace's engagement, he reverts to his Two-Face persona and escapes from the revolving door known as Arkham Asylum. Now on a mission to destroy anything close to his former friend, Two-Face kidnaps Grace and Dick Grayson, holding them hostage at Gotham Gardens, Bruce Wayne's new housing development. After making a personal call to Wayne Manor (and saying "hi" to his old acquaintance Alfred), Two-Face lures Bruce to Gotham Gardens.
Two-Face makes the classic villain mistake of leaving Bruce and Dick tied to a chair, assuming that the explosives he's set inside Gotham Gardens will kill them, but in his defense, he's unaware of their secret identities. Predictably, Bruce and Dick escape, change into their costumes, and track down Two-Face, who's leaving town with Grace on his yacht. (Grace is being granted a "second chance" by the magnanimous Two-Face.) After Batman and Robin dispose of his goons, Two-Face is quick to perform his own double-cross on Grace, using her as cover while he blasts away at his foes. Grace grants the heroes the opening they need when she steals Two-Face's signature coin from his pocket and cuts his face with its jagged edge. He's soon defeated by his former friend and taken back into custody.
Robin, surveying the remains of Gotham Gardens from the rooftops, remarks that everything destroyed by Two-Face can be rebuilt. Looking down at Grace, saying her final goodbyes to Two-Face, Batman responds, "Not everything."
The beautifully painted image of Two-Face, which sits still while the animated bandages fall from his face, is a great reveal of the design. It also hints at the influence of John Kricfalusi on the series, who did similar tricks on "Ren & Stimpy" for years. Although it appears to be a full painting of Harvey's new face, the image goes by so quickly, the audience never has a clear view. I'm not certain if the full painting has ever surfaced.
- The image of Two-Face in a simple black-and-white suit began with these episodes, and it's influenced his look in the comics ever since. It's also likely that the explosive revamp of his origin (which differs from the "mobster tosses acid in Harvey's face while on the stand" origin from the comics) inspired Two-Face's origin in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" film. Plus, Batman tossing dozens of coins in the path of Two-Face's precious scarred coin is a bit that was later used in "Batman Forever."
- Grace Lamont is based on Gilda Grace Dent, Harvey Dent's fiancée who debuted with Two-Face, all the way back in "Detective Comics" #66 (August 1942). Gilda originally played a larger role in his origin -- Two-Face couldn't believe that a brilliant sculptor like Gilda, who cherished beauty, could ever accept him. Gilda also serves another surprising role in continuity; she's the mother of the original "Harlequin," Duela Dent. Gilda was most likely named Grace for the animated series because the post-"Crisis" version of the character has been called that since "Secret Origins Special" #1.
- Whether or not Thorne's men killed Two-Face's twin goons, Min and Max, has been a point of contention amongst fans for years now. They do seem to be lifeless as they fall to the floor, but no wounds are visible. And who could've guessed that the twins are voiced by Micky Dolenz of the Monkees' fame?
In the second chapter of "Two-Face," a shot of Two-Face's wallet reveals that he has an ID card issued not in Harvey Dent's name, but in Two-Face's. Do supervillains have their own DMV? What are the lines like?
Over the Kiddies' Heads
"Two-Face" features quotes from both the Al Pacino film "Dog Day Afternoon" ("For the next five minutes, I'm in control!" ) and the classic television series "The Outer Limits" ("Don't bother to adjust the picture...")
Approved By Broadcast Standards & Practices
The FOX network censors were skiddish about the portrayal of mental illness in these episodes, so the producers were ordered to run the scripts by a psychiatrist to ensure that children weren't being mislead on the nature of Harvey's illness. Surprisingly, the network censors didn't seem to have a problem with the use of machine guns in the series; the second part of "Two-Face" feels like an endless series of Tommy Gun fire.
Battle of the Broken Relationships
The animated "Two-Face" story ends with a hopeful note -- Batman tossing a coin into the fountain, which happens to turn up on its "good" side. Why the producers did this when they had every intention of using Two-Face as a recurring villain is hard to discern, outside of it simply making for a nice ending. The implication is that Bruce and Grace are sticking by Harvey, which is where Paul Dini's sequel begins. In Dini's story, Robin is the true friend, correctly predicting that Harvey is now gone, and this isn't the Joker's fault; if Harvey were truly cured, the Joker's "nudge" wouldn't have sent him over. Watching a distraught Grace walk out on Harvey on the final page of the story presents a stark contrast to the original episodes' ending. It's more bleak, but also more honest. The "Batman & Robin Adventures" story can't match the intense animation of the original story, and some of the action feels rushed and unsatisfying, but the impact of Harvey's betrayal of his loved ones is more accurately depicted here.
That's all for now. Special thanks to the DC Animated Universe Wiki for research assistance. If you have any suggestions for future installments, please leave a comment or get into contact on Twitter. Your suggestions do make a difference -- I plan on covering several of them in the coming weeks.