He’s one of Batman’s oldest foes, but he was once a friend. Scarred by abuse and acid, Harvey Dent (née Kent) was once Gotham’s promising young District Attorney. A criminal’s retaliation rendered his face divided, but even reconstructive surgery could not repair his damaged psyche. And so over the years, Two-Face has proven to be one of the Dark Knight’s most formidable enemies.
As with other books in the Batman: Arkham series, Batman: Arkham: Two-Face collects stories spanning the character’s existence, from the early days of Finger and Kane through the New 52. Even in the early years, when comics had a lighter tone (even when dealing with darker material), the story of Two-Face is a tragic one, and this volume serves as a perfect primer for new readers, as well as an anthology of the character for long-time fans.
The book begins with a three-part story from the original Batsquad of Bill Finger and Bob Kane:
- “The Crimes of Two-Face!”, from Detective Comics #66, originally published in 1942; written by Bill Finger, with pencils by Bob Kane, inks by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos, and cover art by Robinson and Roussos
- “The Man Who Led a Double Life!”, from Detective Comics #68, originally published in 1942; written by Bill Finger, with pencils by Bob Kane, inks by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos, and cover art by Robinson
- “The End of Two-Face!”, from Detective Comics #80, originally published in 1943; written by Bill Finger, with pencils by Bob Kane, inks by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos, and cover art by Robinson and Roussos
Up next is a fairly campy Batman/Supeman team-up from the pages of World’s Finest:
- “The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes”, from World’s Finest Comics #173, originally published in 1968; written by Jim Shooter, with pencils by Curt Swan, inks by George Klein, and cover art by Swan and Klein
The standout Bat-team of the 70’s is next with another one-parter:
- “Half an Evil”, from Batman #234, originally published in 1971; written by Denny O’Neil, with pencils by Neal Adams, inks by Dick Giordano, and cover art by Adams
A two-part Two-Face story spanning two titles in 1982 starts on page 82:
- “Half a Hero…”, from Batman #346, originally published in 1982; written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Don Newton, inks by Frank Chiaramonte, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Ben Oda, and cover art by Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano
- “…Is Better Than None”, from Detective Comics #513, originally published in 1982; written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Don Newton, inks by Frank Chiaramonte, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Ben Oda and cover art by Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano
Up next we get a four-part Doug Moench story featuring young Jason Todd:
- “Free Faces”, from Detective Comics #563 originally published in 1986; written by Doug Moench, with pencils by Gene Colan, inks by Bob Smith, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by John Costanza, and cover art by Colan and Dick Giordano
- “Binary Brains”, from Batman #397, originally published in 1986; written by Doug Moench, with art and cover by Tom Mandrake, colors by Adrienne Roy, and letters by John Costanza
- “Double Crosses”, from Detective Comics #564, originally published in 1986; written by Doug Moench, with pencils by Gene Colan, inks by Bob Smith, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by John Costanza, and cover art by Colan and Dick Giordano
- “About Faces”, from Batman #398, originally published in 1986; written by Doug Moench, with art and cover by Tom Mandrake, colors by Adrienne Roy, and letters by John Costanza
Next, we have perhaps my favorite story in the volume:
- “Crime and Punishment”, from Batman: Two-Face #1, originally published in 1995; written by J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Scott McDaniel, colors by Pat Garrahy, and cover art by Brian Stelfreeze
The volume closes with three one-and-done stories:
- “Double Jeopardy”, from Batman Chronicles #8, originally published in 1997; written by Sholly Fisch, with pencils by Douglas Wheatley, inks by Wade Von Grawbadger, colors by Gloria Vasquez, letters by Albert de Guzman, and cover art by Walt Simonson
- “Two-Face, Too!”, from Joker’s Asylum: Two-Face #1, originally published in 2008; written by David Hine, with art and cover by Andy Ckarke, and letters by Rob Leigh
- “A Tale of Two Faces”, from Batman and Robin #23.1, originally published in 2013; written by Peter J. Tomasi, with art by Guillem March, colors by Tomeu Morey, letters by Dezi Sienty, and cover art by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn
Finger and Kane
Did you know that Harvey Dent was once Harvey Kent? I confess that I did not prior to reading this volume. Why was it later changed to Dent? Your guess is as good as mine, but my money is on avoiding any link between Superman’s alter-ego and Two-Face. Anyway, none of that really matters. This three-part origin has a number of familiar elements: Boss Maroni marring Gotham’s handsome D.A. and unleashing the criminal within, poor Gilda trying desperately to make Harvey believe that she could love him in spite of his deformity, and Batman desperately trying to redeem the man who was once his friend. Unlike most modern Two-Face tales, however, this one ends on a more hopeful note—at least if you don’t think about the decades and decades of misery that follow.
Kane’s artwork is pretty goofy-looking, but his layouts—particular during action sequences, actually work pretty well. The lettering, on the other hand, is sometimes placed ambiguously, and there were times where I didn’t know what should be read first until after reading everything.
It’s tough revisiting old stories like this. The artwork, dialogue, and characterization all feel as dated as they are. It’s nice to have this in the book if you want Two-Face’s first appearance in your collection, but this is the one arc in the book that was likely included without any consideration of its quality, and I think it shows.
The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes
Fast forward twenty-five years, and Harv has replaced his “K” with a “D”—just in time for a Batman and Superman crossover where folks might have gotten really confused.
I won’t waste too many words on this. The concept is a bit nutty, with a potion turning Bats into Two-Face and Superman into Kralik (whose most notable super power appears to be inventing the Krump). While altered, they commit all sorts of mischief. There’s also tons of heavy-handed two-humor. It’s a little fun, but mostly annoying.
I told you…
The artwork, on the other hand, shows a marked improvement over the Bob Kane stuff. Whereas Kane’s pages seem limited by his own ability, Curt Swan is clearly a capable penciller working within the confines of the comics production processes of the late 60’s. As silly as the actual story is, reading this in sequence makes for a neat study of how far comics art advanced in the time since Kane’s work on Detective.
Half an Evil
Say what you want about Neal Adams’ more recent efforts, but his comic super-stardom is entirely earned. His work on this issue of Batman is some of the best stuff in this whole book no matter which way you look at it—layouts, finishes, facial expressions and posture. Adams clearly has (or had) the chops to draw people well, but his creativity and perspective put him on another plane. You can see it in flashy, obvious stuff like the opening spread above, but you can also find it in smaller, subtler moments like this delightful number:
Unfortunately, the usually solid Denny O’Neil contributes one of the weakest scripts I’ve ever read with his name attached to it. A fair chunk of the blame rests on tired Two-Face gimmicks—O’Neil isn’t the first or last writer in this volume to go overboard with heavy-handed two-references. But even taking that into consideration, there isn’t any substantial good to compensate for the standard drudgery. Adams and Giordano are left with too much of the heavy lifting, and while they perform admirably, it isn’t enough to make this worth revisiting for me.
Half a Hero is Better Than None
This Gerry Conway two-parter opens with some nice, poetic narration—somewhat like we might expect from Doug Moench (though a bit less drippy). Unfortunately, things quickly get bogged down in awkward dialogue recounting Two-Face’s backstory. Later dialogue is similarly weak, with Two-Face explaining his binary shtick openly. We also have the obligatory bevy of two-references.
Thankfully, Conway explores some interesting conceptual terrain. Two-Face has a halfway house with a room split down the middle and—as you might expect—drastically different on each side. And when Batman finally takes Harvey down, he does it by attacking his sense of identity—his greatest vulnerability. I won’t spoil precisely how he does that, so you can read it yourself, but suffice it to say it’s a well-conceived (and fairly well-executed) idea from Conway.
Don Newton’s artwork is jarring after the refined layouts and finishes from Adams in the previous story, but the most noticeable difference is in the color. I’m not sure in what format the O’Neil/Adams pages first appeared, but there are techniques in the coloring that suggest a higher quality paper that would support smoother blending of tones. The colors here, though, look like what you’d expect from comics printed on cheaper, thinner paper, and it feels like going back in time after the slick finish on the last story.
Beyond the general aesthetic differences, Newton frequently renders panels with no background, leaving it to Adrienne Roy to spruce up the surrounding area with color. I don’t like this sort of thing, even if I understand that it’s most likely a time-saving technique. There are just too many instances of this where I find it difficult to get a sense of place, as though characters are fighting or conversing while floating in air.
In spite of some interesting concepts, this one suffers from lots of poor dialogue and art that—while not terrible—isn’t the best it could be. And that dialogue is off-putting enough that I don’t see myself revisiting this one in the future.
The meatiest tale in the volume, these four chapters by Doug Moench has it all: a 1980’s understanding of computers, mysterious, deformed women, magical masks, and someone getting WUMP‘d with a scepter. There’s also some nice suspense, decent artwork, and a treatment of Harvey’s duality that is much easier to stomach than what’s come before.
Most of the stories in this trade are self-contained. Even as they exist in a larger body of ongoing series, they generally introduce and resolve all of the plot threads contained within. “Half a Hero…” breaks from this a bit, but Moench’s turn is the first that feels truly integrated in a much larger story that we don’t get to see unless we go outside of this volume. The most prominent preexisting subplot involves Batman and Catwoman’s relationship, but there are stories for Jason and Lucius Fox, as well. For some of you, not having the context may be a point of confusion, but I actually appreciate the sense that this story isn’t taking place in a vacuum.
The actual tale Moench tells is very interesting. All of the characters—Batman himself, Robin, Two-Face, Circe, Selina, and Gordon—are written well. There are big things, like Circe’s torment and tragic background, or the trembling distance between Bruce and Selina; but there are also more subtle touches, such as seeing how much Gordon cares for Batman—the man, not just the results.
The artwork occasionally suffers from some confusing panels, but it is nevertheless interesting, whether the artist is Colan or Mandrake. And there are even a few spots that are exceptionally good:
This is one that I could definitely come back to. Great characters, a cool caper, and a Two-Face that doesn’t constantly spew variants of the word “two” combine for a winner.
Crime and Punishment
“Crime and Punishment” is without question my favorite story in this book, and one of my favorite treatments of Two-Face’s origin in canon. Like Jeph Loeb and Paul Jenkins after him, J.M. DeMatteis explores the notion that Harvey Dent was split in two long before Sal Maroni marred his face. Told in the present and in flashback, this tale of sorrow looks at a part of Harvey’s life that has shaped and continues to shape him, even now. Both the past and the present are heart-breaking, and DeMatteis succeeds in making Two-Face far more sympathetic than he has thus far been presented in this collection. And the credit is as much to how DeMatteis conveys his story as it is to what he’s actually conveying.
McDaniel and Garrahy’s finishes are very rough, even garish at times, but once your eyes adjust, the visual storytelling is quite good, and on occasion I would even say it’s amazing. There’s so much emotion in McDaniel’s facial work, especially in the eyes, and his wider shots play with shadow and perspective in interesting ways. In spite of the surface-level shortcomings of the finishes, it’s actually easy to get immersed in this tale.
Like I said, this is my favorite. It’s a great take on Harvey with beautiful prose and artwork that rewards a little patience at the beginning. I look forward to revisiting this in the future.
A short, short tale by Sholly Fisch, “Double Jeopardy” sees Two-Face used as a resource to try to help catch the man who—at least in part—made him who he is: Sal “Boss” Moroni. The artwork is alright, but fairly boring, and there isn’t much meat in the story itself. There’s a double-cross that anyone could see coming a mile away, and a cliffhanger at the end that no one would really care about. This is worth reading once for curiosity’s sake, but that’s about it.
A one-shot from the Joker’s Asylum series, “Two-Face, Too!” is about as bland as the short story that precedes it. There are some interesting turns from the Joker, but the story and the artwork feel disposable.
A Tale of Two Faces
Our final story was a “Villains Month” special issue in 2013, spinning out of the events of Forever Evil. It’s another throwaway, albeit with a few more redeeming moments than the two that come before it. I like Guillem March’s artistic style, but I also think he tries to make up for mediocre layouts with angled-panels and tilted perspectives. This might have been an entertaining read when it came out, but like too much of this trade, it doesn’t have lasting value.
Much like in the Killer Croc collection, you won’t find many extras here. There are a few biography pages and a pinup, but that’s it.
Value: Sale Price
There are a few good stories in here, and one of those is a four-parter, but there is unfortunately much less good than bad. It’s definitely worth owning, on the strength of Moench and DeMatteis (and maybe even for the historical value of having the first appearance of Two-Face), but the fifteen bucks Amazon’s asking for a new copy is steep given how much of this will only be read once.
Though enriched by several outstanding stories, most of Batman: Arkham: Two-Face feels dated or clunky. What remains provides light entertainment, but no deep, enduring enjoyment. This is a great volume to have in your collection as a survey of Two-Face’s history, and the DeMatteis story is one of the best treatments of Harvey that I’ve read; but as a whole, this is a disappointing book that does more to make me tire of Two-Face than it does to make me eager for his next appearance.