Comics on Film: The Five Best Faces of Two-Face

Comics on Film: The Five Best Faces of Two-Face

Dec 02, 2016

The past few weeks have proven to be pretty interesting for comics fans, and Batman fans in particular, since one of the Dark Knight’s primary foes has managed to become an unusually visible subject of some relatively big genre news. Although the majority of fans and casual observers will correctly point at the Joker as Batman's arch nemesis, there are several other candidates for the number two position in Batman's rogues' gallery.

You could make cases for villains like Ra's al Ghul, the Riddler, or the Penguin, but befitting the position as Batman's second most vicious enemy, that spot likely belongs to Two-Face. Given his modern back-story as one of Batman's original allies in Gotham City before a traumatic disfigurement brought about a fractured psyche, Two-Face is and always has been one of Batman's most brutal and formidable foes.

After we shared with you the news about Billy Dee Williams returning to the role of Harvey Dent that he originally played in 1989, it got the gears of Comics on Film thinking about what the best portrayals of the character have been over the last few decades. So we flipped a coin or two, and here's where we think it breaks down.

5) Tommy Lee Jones (Batman Forever, 1995)

It can be kind of a dangerous thing these days to even mention Joel Schumacher's two cinematic efforts with Batman, but the first time we ever saw the scarred vision of Two-Face realized in live-action was in 1995's Batman Forever. Played by the eminently capable Tommy Lee Jones, Two-Face's potential as a threatening force for Batman to go up against was pretty immense, and fans had a lot of good reasons to be excited.

Then, the movie was released.

There's nothing inherently wrong with Tommy Lee Jones' performance, but there's a great deal wrong with the way he perceives the character over the course of this movie. While it gives a relatively truthful flashback in the form of a news report to D.A. Harvey Dent's scarring at the hands of Boss Maroni, there's none of the nuance, tragedy, or relatability of the comics character to be found here. It seems as if Joel Schumacher just pointed at Cesar Romero's 1960's portrayal of the Joker, and said, "just do that," which is why this performance – but more this conception of the character – fall to the bottom of this list.

4) Billy Dee Williams (Batman, 1989)

Although he never got the chance to play Two-Face and actually has a relatively minor supporting role in Tim Burton's first Batman film, Williams definitely left an impression on fans and critics as the relatively straight-laced, tough-on-crime iteration of Gotham's doomed District Attorney. The immediate (if dismissive) attention he gained from his televised speech by future Joker Jack Napier seemed to create a memorable image from the first time you see Williams embody Harvey Dent.

Unfortunately, Dent/Two-Face was excised from Burton's second film, and Schumacher instead went with Jones to play Two-Face in 1995. While we'll thankfully be getting a taste of Williams' take on the bisected killer in next year's The Lego Batman Movie, his removal from both the 1992 and 1995 Batman films still comes across as a missed opportunity. Williams' suaveness clashing with the brutal ugliness of Two-Face likely would've made for an interesting performance, but even though we didn't get to see it realized, it's still fun to think about the possibilities.

3) Troy Baker (Batman: Arkham City & Arkham Knight, 2011-2015)

We've talked in the past in Comics on Film about how the Batman: Arkham games account for one of the freshest, most engaging visions of Batman and his world outside the comics, and that easily extends to the character's most recognizable villains. While 2009's Arkham Asylum featured a significant number of Batman villains, it had some notable omissions, which included Two-Face. Thankfully, 2011's Batman: Arkham City would remedy this.

Something of a video game voiceover superstar, Troy Baker was taped to provide the voice for Harvey and his violent alter-ego, and did an excellent job in creating two distinctly different voices: one for Harvey, and one for Two-Face. Although the games he appears in don't have an overt focus on Two-Face's place as a Batman villain, his appearances in both Arkham City and last year's Arkham Knight were truthful, memorable representations of Batman's tragically fallen former ally.

2) Richard Moll (Batman: The Animated Series, 1992-1998)

For a lot of kids who first became aware of Batman at the height of his popularity that resulted from Burton's films, many were likely first introduced to Two-Face in the episodes of the stellar and now-legendary Batman: The Animated Series. Because voice director Andrea Romano preferred to cast actors and actresses who had, what she called, "voices with character," it made the majority of major performances across the entire show feel far more real and natural when compared with other cartoons airing on TV both then, in the past, as well as today.

Actor Richard Moll, best known to people as the bailiff Bull Shannon on NBC's Night Court, first came on with his natural speaking voice as D.A. Harvey Dent. After slowly being exposed to his repressed darker side, a team-up with Batman to stop mob boss Rupert Thorne ends with Dent's famous disfigurement, which forces his repressed half to the surface, causing Two-Face to be born. Moll's rugged grit helped give audiences a well-represented look at the darkness inherent in a villain like Two-Face, which likely gave the character a renewed look by fans and observers.

1) Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, 2008)

While not maintaining the longstanding trope of having an alternate personality, Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent and his deep, hard dive into the darkest elements of criminality and punishment make for, arguably, the best vision of Two-Face ever created outside of the comics. Giving the nickname credence more through Dent's abilities as a natural politician instead of two distinct personalities, an injured and mournful Harvey is manipulated at a very opportune moment by the Joker to take his rage out on the system he fought to uphold.

Because of the immense lack of fairness that took half his face as well as the woman he hoped to marry, Harvey instead came to conclude that there is only one truly fair and pure element in the world: chance. Feeling that a sense of justice needed to be restored to those he blamed for Rachel's death, Harvey took it out on Jim Gordon and his family, causing he and Batman to come to blows in the climax of The Dark Knight. Of course, even though Eckhart would only appear in that momentous film, the shadow he cast over Gotham City would be heavily felt in The Dark Knight Rises.

Eckhart's Two-Face is haunting and magnetic to watch unfold, giving a different, yet familiar flavor of tragedy to the character of Harvey Dent. After all, he was the hero that Gotham needed.

 

Although I was tempted to include voice actor Travis Willingham's excellent version of Harvey/Two-Face from Batman: The Telltale Series, that game hasn't concluded yet. Still, he definitely deserves an honorable mention, Either way, who's your favorite Two-Face? Sound off below, and we'll see you next week!


Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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