Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Two Faces is Better than None

There has been much written in the news lately about our police force. The stories of excessive force, militarization, and racial profiling, and seeming lack of meaningful discipline have exposed a dark side to the thin blue line. It turns out that the police are less like Dragnet, and more like The Shield. There is no villain that better embodies this idea of the two sided nature of lawmen than Two-Face. 

Created in 1942 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Harvey Dent/Two Face was inspired by Dr Jekyl/Mr Hyde and the pulp character Black Bat. Harvey (Kent) Dent is the city district attorney turned villain through an unfortunate assault. During a court case, Harvey Dent is scarred with acid while prosecuting organized crime boss Sal Maroni. His dual personality is reflected in his good luck charm, a two-headed silver dollar.

Two Face didn't become a regular villain for Batman until the '70s. In fact, the original appearance culminated in the character being healed and reformed. During his 1971 reappearance, he was scarred again during an explosion and relapsed back into his Two Face persona.

The character has evolved from a simple man/monster transformation story, into a psychological study on dual personalities, obsessive compulsive disorder, and obsession with chance. Depending on the era, and the medium, Two Face could be a petty crook, a mob boss, or a serial killer. When written well, his character explores themes based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr Hyde, and is very much like other comics characters the Incredible Hulk, Jason Blood/Etrigan, and another Batman villain, the Ventriloquist.

The dual personalities is an obvious theme, the character's name is Two Face, which is a term used for a deceitful, untrustworthy backstabber playing both sides of a deal in order to get ahead. This could be perfect for a Gotham City legal official. Corruption, after all, is the defining trait of Gotham City officials. However, comic books in the 60's liked to take things into silly places, and Two Face became obsessed with everything in pairs (like twins), and the number 2.

Frank Miller and Jeph Loeb retconned the character and rebooted him in Batman: Year One, and the Long Halloween/Dark Victory. Their versions of the character have since become canon. Recently, The Dark Knight movie used an origin that more resembles the 1971 appearance, giving Harvey Dent his scars in an explosion instead of acid to the face. The recent New 52 reboot Harvey Dent is scarred with acid, but by a different character who also kills Dent's wife Gilda.

This more modern Two Face is no longer a criminal obsessed with stealing twin items during February at 2pm. He has become an unpredictable force of retribution. Each of the more memorable versions of Two Face have made very clear his frustration with the Justice System. Bribery, deals made for amnesty, and clemency for good behavior turn Gotham's Blackgate prison into a revolving door. It would be very easy for DC to turn their Two Face into a jaded, coin flipping version of Marvel's Punisher. This would actually be a great idea. Batman couldn't abide by another vigilante killing in the streets of Gotham, relying on a coin flip to deal out justice. This makes far more sense then turning him into a petty thief or a mob boss.