Two-Face: Where Do I Start?

499454-9707_400x600Comics critics have talked extensively about the nature of duality with respect to superheroes and secret identities in comics. But for the DC villain Two-Face, you can see it all over his face.

Two-Face was created by Bob Kane back in 1942 as a clean-cut Gotham City district attorney whose life goes down a sinister path when acid is thrown on his face during a courtroom trial. This physical disfigurement brings to the surface long-gestating evil tendencies, reforging Dent as a highly erratic — yet highly organized — criminal mastermind. His choices all boil down to luck, and the flip of a scarred two-faced coin he carries in his pocket.

Two-Face is one of the chief antagonists in Batman’s illustrious rogue’s gallery, arguably second only to the maniacal Joker. He’s been played in film by everyone from Billy Dee Williams to Tommy Lee Jones (and even Richard Moll from Night Court), but his most seminal stories remain in his home medium of comics. In this week’s Where Do I Start?, we track down the five suspects and present them in a line-up of easily available trade paperbacks.

129991_20080521173757_largeBatman Vs. Two-Face: Although there’s more to Two-Face than being an adversary of Batman, you’ll find many of his best stories locked in that seemingly endless struggle. This 2008-era collection brings together many of their top struggles, including two particularly excellent stand-outs. The first one is the 1970s one-off story in Batman#234 by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams titled “Half An Evil.” In this story, Two-Face’s first in 20 years, Dent returns to Gotham and sinks a ship — but not before robbing it first. The second story isn’t even a full issue — it’s a poetic tour de force by Bruce Timm titled “Two Of A Kind” which originally appeared in Batman: Black And White #1. There haveve been many stories following the idea of curing Harvey Dent, but this classic really hits home in a heartfelt story that sees him seemingly reformed only to be brought back down by a simple but dangerous lie.

Batman Featuring Two-Face & The Riddler: Even though this book forces Dent to share comic book real estate with the Riddler, it’s well worth the buy even if you’re only interested in Two-Face. In addition to reprinting his earliest appearances, it also features arguably the greatest Two-Face story ever told: “The Eye of the Beholder” from Batman Annual #14. This one follow-ups after Dent’s appearance in Batman: Year One, with writer Andy Helfer and artist Chris Sprouse creating what quickly became the formulation take on Dent’s early days and abusive childhood, including the origin of the two-headed coin.

11421_20060905073353_largeBatman: The Long Halloween: This book, called an “epic tragedy” by director Christopher Nolan, follows the early days of Batman as he’s on the trail of a mysterious killer who only works on holidays. Written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale, Two-Face is here back during his pre-disfigured days as District Attorney Harvey Dent, showing there’s more to Two-Face than just his criminal career. If you like this, I highly recommend the follow-up series Batman: Dark Victory by the same creative team.

Gotham Central Vol. 2: Half A Life: Two-Face returns to his old job, so to speak, when he carries out a twisted obsession for police detective Renee Montoya. Greg Rucka built this story up for years in his work on various Batman books, all culminating this five-issue arc beautifully illustrated by Michael Lark.

Batman: Faces: Matt Wagner is an under-rated comics virtuoso, and this three-issue story-arc really solidifies just how great he is. In this, Two-Face forges ahead with a plan to create a secluded nation for “deformed” people like himself away from persecution from others. Wagner takes this story down a slightly surreal bent that ends with a brutal conclusion that twists the accepted reasoning behind Dent’s insanity.

 

Comments

  1. JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

    “Two-Face was created by Bob Kane” — lol, and I’m sure Bill Finger had nothing to do with it… right?

  2. Nightwing97 Nightwing97 says:

    Man, I really need to get my hands on Eye of the Beholder!

    And for those of you that are interested in Gotham Central for the Two-Face story, get the small TP for Half Life. It includes some issues of Batman and Detective that predate the series which build up Dent and Montoya’s relationship. While I ALWAYS recommend the new full collections, they omit these certain issues for whatever reason.

    • theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

      You can find Batman Annual #10 for cheap on eBay. Personally, I didn’t find much inside to argue for its greatness. Maybe I’ll reread it tomorrow. I did just pick up Faces recently though, and flipping through it looks very promising.

    • Nightwing97 Nightwing97 says:

      @theWAC1 No, they’re not anything special, but they provide context for those unfamiliar with Dent and Montoya’s history.

    • APoetSomeday APoetSomeday says:

      Faces is pretty cool – I can heartily recommend it. Also, the Bruce Timm story from ‘Black & White’ can also be found in the ‘Mad Love’ trade, which is absolutely awesome (and a total visual treat) in and of itself.

      I’d like to add a couple to the above list:
      ‘Robin: Year One’ (which features a couple of genuinely horrific Two Face moments) and the story
      ‘Half A Hero’ from Batman 346 – ‘Tec 513 (where Two Face builds a ‘trick house’ and imprisons Batman for several days). Also, Two Face’s appearance in ‘A Lonely Place of Dying’ is excellently written. A great study of compulsion and duality.

      There’s also a pretty fun Two Face story by Dick Tracy writer Max Allan Collins, which deals with Post-Crisis Jason Todd’s first mission as Robin. That one adds nothing to the character, but it is fun.

      Also (last one now, I promise!), another good Two Face story is in ‘Dark Detective’ by Engelhart/Rogers, where Two Face gets Doctor Double X to create a clone of an unscarred Harvey Dent, but then the Doctor also creates a full-scarred Two Face. Nobody ever mentioned it again, but we have to assume that somewhere out there is a fully scarred up Two Face, just waiting to pounce.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      “Dark Detective” is something special, it also has Joker and Scarecrow and doesn’t feel cramped at all. Great story, classic 70s/80s Batman.

    • APoetSomeday APoetSomeday says:

      @Itho – ‘Dark Detective’ Is actually a very underrated read (although it was actually first published in 2005, as I understand it), I’m glad that someone else enjoys it as much as I do!

      I love the story premise with The Joker running for office. Some Amazon reviewers called it goofy, but to me, its a classic Joker caper (from the same mind that brought us ‘The Laughing Fish’ no less) and its exactly the sort of thing Joker would do. The bit with the ketchup was classic, as was the bit with the stuffed cat.

      I love the way Rogers draws Joker’s laughter whirling around his head.

      You’re so right that it doesn’t feel cramped. Even though we get an IMPORTANT Bruce Wayne childhood flashback, the return of Silver St. Cloud, Scarecrow, Two Face (all three versions of him), Dr. Double X, Joker, a lot of political satire and a KILLER third act, it still feels breezy, easy and fun.

      Its not as good as ‘Strange Apparitions’ (which is why its not that highly regarded by most fans), but its still an excellent read. Personally, I admire Engelhart for sticking it into the contemporary continuity and not simply doing it as a ‘Pre-Crisis’ story (that might as well be ‘Elseworlds’ for most fans). We even get to see Commissioner Akins instead of Gordon. Great read. As I said, its so cool that somebody else gets it!

    • theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

      My apologies…I got my annuals mixed up. I just read “Eye of the Beholder” and it was an excellent Two-Face origin story. Dark Detective is on my list as is the Batman 346/ ‘Tec 513. We’ve talked about it a little before, but I really like the Collins Jason Todd issues. The late 80′s seemed to belong to Two-Face. He popped up all over the Batman titles.

    • APoetSomeday APoetSomeday says:

      @Wac1 – He did indeed. He was generally written and drawn very well during that decade. Do you have ‘Lonely Place of Dying?’ because his appearance in that is awesome.

      Dark Detective is cool. As a ‘Strange Apparitions’ fan, you’ll love it to pieces.

      As for Jason, I vastly prefer Jason’s Post-Crisis origin, but I felt that the character was better developed in Moench’s Pre-Crisis run, especially during the Nocturna custody battle storyline.

      As I said before, I like to read Collins’ Jason Todd origin and then backtrack to just after Jason’s introduction, that’s the way I would recommend reading Jason Todd to anyone interested in his past. Did you ever read ‘The Diplomat’s Son’ by Jim Starlin (I forget which issue its in, but it takes place right before ‘Death in the Family’). That’s a great story that sets up ‘Under the Red Hood’ nicely in continuity.

    • theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

      Oh yes! The diplomats son is one of the best Jason Todd stories IMO, and even though I never thought about it, you are totally right about it being a great set up for his life as Red Hood. Ive read A Lonely Place of Dying. Its good, but its so clear from the beginning that Tim is going to be Robin that it put me off, but Two-Face is a very disturbed villain in the story and they definitely drive home his obsession for 2′s (when did that start, the 60s? Its my least favorite part of his character even though its done well here). Im really mad at myself for knocking Eye of the Beholder. Even though we only get a few pages of “Two Face” I really liked hiw he was written. I liked him in the animated series too.

    • APoetSomeday APoetSomeday says:

      @WAC1 – TAS did EVERYTHING right.

      Did you read the follow-up to ‘Diplomat’s Son’? Its in the issue directly after and done by the same creative team. It may actually be Jason’s last case as Robin. God, I love ‘Diplomat’s Son’, it really puts you directly in the heart of the action, asking you “what would YOU do?” whilst at the same time its so ambiguous regarding what actually happened.

      You know another cool link between that comic and the modern age? The scene where ABUSE and Damian lie to Dick Grayson after Damian “kills” Mr. Zsasz in his arena of death. That ending is so similar that I get chills whenever I read it. Its in the ‘Leviathan’ trade, I think. Not Batman, Inc-related in any way, just a really cool Paul Dini, Chris Yost & Dustin Nguyen trade.

  3. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    I’ve read 3/5′s of this list, for good reason. “Batman: Featuring Two Face and the Riddler” is great, showing good stories of both villains. Wish my library still had a copy. Long Halloween should be required reading for every Batfan.”Dark Victory” is…not as good. Its not bad, but they tried to hard to replicate LH so it feels like you’re reading a less interesting version of LH instead of its sequel. “Faces” I did not care for, at all. It’s a dumb story IMO. I like the message and the ending, but for me Matt Wagner cannot write Batman stories. Cannot. That and “The Monster Men” are 2 terrible books that I will never read again. Wagner’s “Sandman Mystery Theater” and “Green Hornet” are very good though.

    I wish we’d see more stories where Harvey’s coin lands on the good side and he has to do good things. i saw that in No Man’s Land, and his first story but nothing besides those. I think it’d make him look even crazier seeing him do good and bad things at random, in the same story! Besides, isn’t it a rule a coin has to land on heads 50% of the time?

    • Nightwing97 Nightwing97 says:

      Interesting. I rather enjoyed Wagner’s Batman books, but cannot personally recommend ANYTHING Jeph Loeb has done. Different strokes, I suppose.

      And you haven’t read Gotham Central?! My gosh, read that before you go to sleep tonight!

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      I read the first issue of “Gotham Central”, didn’t enjoy it. It’s not my thing, I find police dramas boring. Different strokes.

    • APoetSomeday APoetSomeday says:

      @Itho – So glad someone else wants to see Harvey’s ‘good’ side come out more often! Its a part of his character that has been unfairly ignored for a long time now.

      - However, to join the ‘different strokes’ theme of this thread, I must say that I LOVED both ‘Monster Men’ & ‘Mad Monk’. I like Matt Wagner’s take on Batman a whole lot. To each his (or her) own.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      @APoetSomeday, this is why I’m bored by Two-Face right now; he flips a coin, it lands scarred side up, and he robs a place with the number 2 in it, and he flips his coin a few more times which will probably land scarred side up, raise and repeat. It’s boring! The first Two Face story you see him rob a bank than give the money to an orphanage. That’s the kind of stuff I want to see, a person so crazy he allows a coin to make all his decisions absolutely without question. His coin landing scarred 99.999% of the time makes the stories predictable and stale IMO. Show him doing other stuff, not being a “good guy” but following what his coin tells him to do, good and bad.

      -Different strokes; Wagner’s Batman is fine. What I didn’t like was; in the case of “Monster Men”, him taking a story I’ve already read (Batman #1 I think) and just adding the Batmobile and other stuff. That annoyed me. Then I think he also wrote “As the Crow Flies” which I liked somewhat until the end and then I felt there were some “leaps” in story logic. It’s fine others like those stories, but I just don’t care for them. Speaking of “Batman #1″, when are we going to see Hugo Strange in action again? He showed up in the back up stories of Daniel’s Detective Comics but nothing after that.

    • APoetSomeday APoetSomeday says:

      @Itho – I hope we see Hugo really, really soon. He’s my favorite Batman villain.

      He’ll return again, its a certainty. The only thing I hope is that whoever does decide to resurrect the good doctor does him justice.

      Also, I have high hopes for Two Face’s appearance in ‘Batman &_______’ (as we seem to be calling it on here). I think Tomasi may be the guy to bring back the unpredictability of Two Face.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      After “Arkham City” I think the character really has potential. He was good in “Strange Apprations” too but AC is just one of my favorite Batman experiences ever.

      I think it’d be really easy to say Snyder should write Hugo Strange, but for once I’d like someone else to take a crack at him. Maybe Tomasi, Hurwitz seems to be just doing single villain arcs (running them into the ground it seems), Layman might be the guy for it (although I stopped reading Detective ages ago).

    • APoetSomeday APoetSomeday says:

      Of all current monthly Bat-writers (and I can only say this for another week or so, it seems),I think Morrison would write the best Hugo Strange story.

  4. John42 John42 says:

    I’d add Arkham Asylum to that list. Morrison introduces some interesting ideas, like his therapist trying to move him from a coin to dice. And McKean’s two face needs to be seen.

    I really dislike that Nolan quote (use of it here is fine), cuz the full quote is ‘long Halloween is not a comic book, it’s an epic tragedy.” So he’s basically saying comic books can’t be epic tragedies.

    Writing ‘McKean’ made me think of Michael McKean which me want to see David st. Hubbins write and star in a two-face rock opera.

  5. Glad to see Faces on this list. Love Matt Wagner’s Batman stories. I think e does a great job of writing him as a detective first and. Superhero second.