Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hero of the Week #28: Two-Face

Real Name: Harvey Dent
First Appearance: Detective Comics #66 (August, 1942)
Group Affiliation: NA
Gaming Credentials: Batman: The Animated Series (1993); Adventures of Batman & Robin (1994); Batman Forever (1995); Batman: Chaos in Gotham (2001); Lego Batman (2008); Batman: Arkham Asylum 2 (TBA); DC Universe Online (TBR)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #327

The (Super) Hero of the Week was always about reacting to cross-cultural references that would resonate with gamers, fanboys, and those that fall somewhere between. Arkham Asylum certainly achieved that goal in 2009 by harnessing multiple facets of the Batman license to deliver an experience just as sure to satisfy the hands-on interaction of video games, as it was the customary plotlines more familiar to comic books.
I feel a little like I'm jumping the gun by talking about a character that will inevitably have far greater significance in the future, but there can be no denying the immediate impact of the revealed return of Rocksteady and their take on the Batman license.

Revealed live during Spike's Video Game Award show; the trailer for 'Batman 2' quickly guarantees more quality adaptation from the developer, with a string of references promising a wider perspective of Gotham City as a platform and presence. Honing in on these clues that point to appearances by enduring villains like The Penguin and Black Mask, as well as less subtle inclusions, Joker and Harley Quinn, was eagle-eyed 1up Editor, Mike Cruz. He was first on the scene and already shared his findings with "detective vision" clarity on his own 1up blog.

By nestling deep within the confines of the iconic Arkham setting; the first game set utterly realistic expectations of itself by opting to tackle a single refineable location, rather than the vast landscape of a sprawling stylized city like Gotham. The flow-on effect was felt in everything from the mechanics of Batman's interactions with the enviroment, to the scale of the villains he was set to encounter.

In a game that presented such a respectable slice of the Batman mythos, I personally wasn't about to buy into vague references at the end of the game to Two-Face. Some of us might call that a very obvious way to establish intended content for a sequel -- a method that's a little too conventional, or similar to other popular examples [Batman Begins]. Hyperbole aside; it's seems the duplicitous former District Attorney is indeed set to play a significant role when Rocksteady return to the annals of the Dark Knight Detective. The biggest clue pointing in that direction -- jingoistic propaganda, found at, featuring a (literally) defaced poster of a distinctly half-soiled, gun-toting Uncle Sam figure. Another none too subtle reference sure to be familiar to movie-goers.

Image borrowed from Mike Cruz' blog: Batman Teaser Trailer Impressions.

2008's The Dark Knight presented the second cinematic account of Harvey Dent's fall from grace, combining the chaotic preaching of their version of the Joker, with the half-scarring that gave visual origins to the psychological bifurcation of the former lawman. It was a respectful vision that put the illdefined manic Tommy Lee Jones character of Batman Forver aside, to firmly establish the significance of Harvey Dent as a presence in his life before becoming Two-Face.

Harvey Dent/Two-Face represents many of the ideals that are closely associated with what makes Batman's rogues gallery one of the best in comics. Like Joker or Scarecrow; Two-Face is identified not for any superhuman trappings, but for the simple exaggeration of mental illness that could easily be found anywhere within society, taken to the nth degree in this homicidal package. Despite his relevance to the classic definition of a Bat-villain, it's actually been the continued work of writers right through to the nineties, that has fully realised the definitive Harvey Dent.

The portrayal seen in The Dark Knight owes the bulk of it's characterization to The Long Halloween -- a 1997 maxi-series by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, which has been regularly referenced throughout production on the revamped Bat-movie franchise, (Batman Begins included).

Loeb's portrayal of Harvey Dent; who is a central figure in The Long Halloween; was partially inspired by late DC editor, Archie Goodwin, with specific reference to the work of Frank Miller [Batman: Year One], who at some point once described Two-Face as a great under utilized Bat-villain. Dent played only a supporting role to the more significant (would-be) Commissioner Gordon, and Bruce Wayne, in his descriptive telling of the first adventures of Batman in Gotham City. It introduced a dynamic of antagonism between the traditional mobsters Batman fought regularly in his early stories, with the garish "freaks" who became more typical recurring foes in later years. Harvey Dent was to fall somewhere in between, making the transition from fiercely dedicated District Attorney-stroke-potential vigilante, to mentally and physically scarred miscreant.

Loeb's version further emphasised the treaty between Gordon, Dent, and Batman, and elaborated on the drive to see justice done that had made him a prime-suspect for being Batman, in Year One. The motif of duality has since continued in the characterization of Two-Face, who is often seen as more than a simple criminal menace, with the Harvey Dent persona often commanding some form of perspective based around the beliefs he held as District Attorney. It is a lingering presence that has also created a unique personalized relationship between he and Batman, rarely seen in the Dark Knight's dealings with other criminals in Gotham.

It will be interesting to see if these nuances of personality will have a platform to play out in the upcoming Batman video game sequel. If Paul Dini -- the writer behind the game and popular instalments of the animated series and comics -- returns for the sequel, we can certainly have high hopes for a success similar to the first title. As good as the movies are, it was the last game's ties to the source material that really impressed me. Here's hoping the team is ready to navigate the minefield of the sequel, which has the potential to undermine the great work done in the last game if the path forward isn't carefully considered.

I'm reluctant to refer to it as "Arkham 2", if only for the notion that it would be an error to attempt to recreate the confined systems of Arkham Asylum. As much as keeping the game contained to a single location played in it's favour, there's an expectation that sequels will be able to unfold on a much larger scale. There's only so often you can plonk players into the heart of Gotham City and expect the to remain a rat in a maze. This is "the goddamn Batman" we're talking about, after all.

A far less definitive version of Two-Face has been appearing in the pages of Batman as a quasi-caped crusader himself, battling the newly appointed Dick Grayson version of the Dark Knight amidst DC's Batman: Reborn line-up. You can find more information about these titles and more at DCcomics,com, more info about the next Bat-game at, and more blogging from me in my Best of 2009 post!

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