Batman ’66: The Lost Episode #1: “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face!”
Written by Len Wein
Based on an outline by Harlan Ellison
Illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Colored by Alex Sinclair
Lettered by Wes Abbott
Cover by Alex Ross
Now that’s a list of talent right there. You’ve got Len Wein, creator of Wolverine and Swamp Thing, adapting an outline written by science-fiction legend Harlan Ellison, who also wrote everyone’s favorite episode of Star Trek, with pencils by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and a cover from Alex Ross. If I were to recommend a book solely on pedigree, you couldn’t get much better than this right here.
First, a bit of history. Back in the Sixties, Harlan Ellison wrote an outline for an episode of Batman that would have featured Two-Face, but it wasn’t picked up. Consequently, Two-Face never appeared on the show, with the minor comic character False Face standing in for him (False Face, it should be noted, is absolutely terrifying). With the outline rejected, Ellison packed filed it away and forgot about it. According to Len Wein, Ellison found it recently, sold it to DC who decided to turn it into a one-shot comic, and here we are.
How Harvey Dent would have been handled in the television series has long been a topic of discussion for Batman fans, with rumors long circulating that Clint Eastwood was sought for the role (which, truth be told, would have been incredible.) So after fifty years of speculation and what-ifs, does a Harvey Dent story work in the tongue-in-cheek and pop art world of Batman ’66? Let’s dive in and find out.
The story itself is thirty pages long, which is longer than an average comic issue runs but there’s still so much packed in here that it could have gone on a bit longer or be split into two issues. We open at Gotham’s Northby’s Auction House where an incomplete set of Chang Dynasty blue porcelain glaze vases are up for auction. Naturally, Two-Face is revealed to be one of those in attendance and steals the vases. From there, we get a rundown of Harvey Dent’s scarring by “Lucky” Maroni, a montage of robberies, and showdowns at an abandoned obeservatory, Gotham’s docks, and on a derelict ship, all while a pretty well-characterized morality play between Batman and Two-Face is portrayed. Like I said, there’s a lot going on in this story, but Wein’s tight scripting and Garcia-Lopez’s fantastic pencils really sell the story.
The most surprising thing about this issue is how much depth Dent is given. His duality, coin flips, and obsession with the number two are all played up as one would expect, but he’s characterized in a way that most of the other villains in the series lack. I mean, I love the goofy antics of the Riddler and the Joker as much as the next guy, and I’ll never not laugh at the episodes where the Penguin runs for Mayor, but it’s nice seeing Batman have a personal stake in the conflict as well. Ellison’s outline was written before the series even premiered, so they may have been testing different formats when he submitted it which would explain the character development on display.
There’s a minor misstep toward the end regarding the outcome of a coin flip (and reading the full outline at the end of the issue, it looks like it was adjusted for dramatic purposes), but overall this is as succinct a portrayal of Two-Face as you’d want. He’s fixated on the number two, of course, and he makes all of his decisions based on a coin flip, which Batman muses is because of the deep-rooted good that’s still in him. Personally, I don’t know if, as a character, Harvey Dent would ever truly reform, but these are some pretty deep ideas for a series that’s more famous for its dry humor and onomatopoeia-laden fight scenes.
Other than a few bits of clunky dialogue, Wein’s script is pretty fantastic, but the real draw here is the artwork. Garcia-Lopez has some of the cleanest lines and character models in the business, and his work here is just gorgeous.
It’s incredibly detailed while still retaining clarity, and he uses every inch of the page to tell the story. Some of his panel layouts get pretty complex, not the least of which being the page where Two-Face’s origin is told, but everything flows well and it’s never confusing or unclear as to what’s going on. Coupled with Alex Sinclair’s colors, this is a book that I would flip through just to look at.
Included in the issue are the pencils for the whole story. Normally I think of that as a nice novelty, nothing more than padding to get the issue over a certain length to add a few bucks to the price, but here it’s welcome. No dialogue, no color, no inks, just the untouched pencils for the story, and by those alone you could almost read the entire issue and make sense of it.
Garcia-Lopez once drew the DC Comics Style Guide with the standard character models for the company, and even thirty years later he still has his chops. There are also a few pages of cover illustration ideas and concept drawings of Two-Face, making for a decent little sketchbook that could have easily been packaged on its own.
Also included in this edition is possibly the biggest treat: Ellison’s original, unedited proposal. The eleven page treatment is reprinted from Brain Movies: Volume 5, complete with editorial revisions. The comic script follows pretty closely to the outline, with just a few minor changes here and there, and it’s really interesting to read. My biggest take away from it was the spelling of “Lucky” Morony, which I thought was a typo but, apparently, his name has been spelled a few ways over the years before settling on Maroni. The outline is also accompanied with some production photos and promo stills from the show, none of which are related to the proposal because it never got past the outline stage, but they’re still nice to see.
At $9.99, this issue may be a tad pricey for a single story, but with such great talent on display to bring us such a great lost story, it’s more than worth the investment.
- I mean, look back at that credit list. There’s at least one person there that you like.
- You love Batman ’66, or just Batman in general.
- You’re a fan of Two-Face
- You want your Batman ’66 fix, but can’t afford the recently released TV series and already read the just completed Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet.
Overall: A great piece of Batman ’66 fun in its own right, this is also one of the better Two-Face stories to come out in years. The plotting is solid, the art is hall of fame worthy, and the characterization is surprisingly deep considering the source.