Two-Face is not a very original character. A criminal, half-scarred, with psychotic tendencies? Another madman in the queue of Batman’s long line of adversaries, and not a potent one at that.
Two-Face is a remarkably original character. Batman’s enemy Two-Face had his first appearance in Detective Comics #66, August 1942 – two months shy, as at the date of this article, 80 years ago. The character was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Two-Face was Harvey Dent, a district attorney whose face was burned with acid by a felon during a criminal trial. The horror of his disfigured face caused Dent to go insane. The concept of a crime-fighter – later described as an ally of Batman – being driven over the edge is rare amongst superhero comic book characters.
Two-Face, as a character, preys upon the apprehension that mental illness is evil. Like other foes appearing within the never-ending pages of Batman’s adventures, Two-Face’s appeal lies not in some sort of super-power, but in the nature of his mental disorder. As readers, we revel in the fact that this madman threatens lives, and are grimly assured that when caught, Two-Face will end up in Arkham Asylum – a place guaranteed to make any mental illness worse. Mental illnesses are to be treated, not turned into a criminal vaudeville act.
Two-Face can be a sombre character. The nature of his illness means that sometimes he hinders Batman, and sometimes he assists, depending upon the binary outcomes of his coin toss. Often, Two-Face is depicted as a man who wishes he had more volition over his actions and his psychosis. He is a passenger in the vehicle of his insanity, and regrets it is not otherwise.
Two-Face’s scars are inconsistently represented through a combination of lazy editor and artists.
Two-Face’s scars have been dramatically represented by legendary contemporary artists. Sometimes, frayed, sometimes burned, all fascinating in their interpretation of the horror.
Two-Face is a creative cul-de-sac. Writers have never been in the position to resolve the character’s insanity, and cannot without ending the character. Some writers have resorted to outrageously silly ideas such as Two-Face joining the Justice League, or even Two-Face becoming Batman, in an effort to inject originality into an exhausted concept.
Two-Face’s ultimate destiny was spelled out in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. In this vision of the future, Two-Face has undergone extensive plastic surgery at Bruce Wayne’s expense. His face has been rebuilt. But, as Mr Miller had Batman sadly note, the scars run “too deep”. Two-Face’s illness has nothing to do with his facial disfigurement. At the end of the day, Harvey Dent is criminally insane. How he looks, at what is meant to be the ostensible end of the character’s publication existence, has little to do with it. Two-Face is a not half a broken man. He is completely broken. It was a brilliant interpretation of the character, the stand-out vignette in a classic of the genre.
Happy / Unhappy 80th Birthday, Two-Face.