Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Second Origin of the Second Two-Face

Two-Face was one of Batman's better villains. Harvey Kent (later changed to Dent) was a handsome District Attorney in Gotham City, with a penchant for prosecuting mobsters. When he prosecuted Boss Maroni, the mobster scarred the left side of the DA's face with a vial of acid. Driven mad by his sudden bizarre appearance, Kent became a lawbreaker, using the "two" theme in his crimes. In keeping with his dual nature, Two-Face had a silver dollar with two heads on it, one of which he disfigured. He would flip the coin and if the good side came up, he would donate the proceeds to a charity, blending in a little Robin Hood with the obvious Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde characterization.

But Kent eventually repented his evil ways and with the help of his fiancee and a plastic surgeon was able to resume his prior life. The saga was told over a series of stories appearing in Detective Comics #66, 68 and 80. Two-Face was clearly a popular character, and yet the editors seemed reluctant to disturb the happiness of the Kents. There was one story after those with Two-Face, but it turned out to be the Kents' butler, wearing a mask.

In Batman #68, a new, real, Two-Face was introduced. As it happened my introduction to this story came when it was reprinted in Batman Annual #3, which is effectively the only appearance for either of the Two-Faces in the Silver Age (yes, I know about the World's Finest issue, but that was Batman dressing up as Two-Face). In the story, Paul Sloane is a handsome actor, portraying Harvey Kent on a Hollywood TV set, when something goes terribly wrong:

It's a memorable moment, and so when a friend of mine showed me his copy of Batman #68, I was looking forward to rereading it in the original. I was startled to discover that the above scene does not appear there. Instead there's this:

Note also the black and white image as viewed from the TV in the original versus the color image in the latter; another difference between 1963 and 1950. I remember the first time I saw a color TV at about 1962 being completely blown away by the idea that they could improve on black and white.

It turns out that the prop man had put acid in the bottle as revenge for Sloane stealing his girlfriend. I suspect that the Comics Code Authority, while allowing the disfigurement to be presented, demanded that the love triangle be edited out of the scene when it was reprinted in Batman Annual #3.

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