Batman: The Animated Series – Episode 10 and 11 – Two-Face
Director: Kevin Altieri
Writer(s): Randy Rogel
Story Editor: Alan Burnett
Animation Studio: Tokyo Movie Shinsha (Part 1) and Dong Yang Animation (Part 2)
Theme Score: Shirley Walker
Episode Score: Shirley Walker
A classic two parter, this episode unveils the origins of Two-Face and how District Attorney Harvey Dent became the villain flipping the coin of fate. Altieri does a masterful job emphasizing the teleplay and story by writers Randy Rogel and Alan Burnett. Rogel’s best known as a series writer for Animaniacs while Burnett has done a whole host of shows as a producer but delivered stories to The Smurfs and later Superman and Batman Beyond. From the start of the first episode, the directing is on fire with great contrasts keeping Two-Face in the shadows except for a yellow light illuminating the infamous coin flip while Harvey cowers in fear and denial.
Richard Moll does a fantastic job throughout treating both voices differently but with enough similarity that the viewer can easily see the roots of Harvey Dent in the deep bass of Two-Face. This also is one of the first episodes to let Bob Hastings take focus as Commissioner Gordon and the plot allows him to authoritate his power as Commissioner, showing off vocally why he is so respected among his peers and Harvey Dent. It’s also nice to see Gordon’s respect and affinity for Batman, sighting him up on the rooftop and quietly thanking him to himself.
The plot is fantastic with Harvey going ballistic when a hoodlum knocks him verbally in relation to Rupert Thorne, a crime boss that Harvey Dent has been chasing for a long time. Dent decrying his three months wasted on the raid because the Judge overturned it due to an incomplete warrant not only is truth in television but further deepens the divide between Dent as District Attorney playing by the rules/voters and Two-Face who’s out to be a vigilante and get his own justice whether it’ll hold up or not. It also makes sense on a deeper level for Bruce to befriend the District Attorney to make sure the villains he catches as Batman can be fully prosecuted to the extent of the law.
Part of what makes the episodes work well are the physical designs of the characters as well. Dent is not only tall but broad shouldered and physically imposing, which makes his transformation into Two-Face not only striking (especially in lieu of the color combination and skin color on his face) but an immediate threat to Batman as a possible fighter. There’s also some nice foreshadowing as Bruce remarks that Two-Face was nearly another person when Dent goes off and the relationship between Bruce and Dent is really well played here. It lends a nice atmosphere later when Batman has to confront Two-Face as Bruce knows it’s Dent beneath the face and knows what Dent has been going through recently.
Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) is a little too on the nose with the Marlon Brando/Godfather similarity in terms of character design but Vernon does an adequate job making Thorne a threat behind the scenes as a credible lead mob boss. A lot of what makes Thorne work as the villain in part one is the impact his character has had on Harvey Dent’s in regards to his “career” as a DA. Thorne’s usage of the transcripts about Harvey’s past and his threat to unveil it to the public helps set up Harvey’s eventual rage induced snapping. Altieri does a great job teasing back to the coin flip to denote “Big Bad Harvey” and then Moll does just as good a job transitioning voice wise to him from District Attorney Harvey. In a humorous bit, I love Cadance’s watching the bodies fly back and forth in front of her with a bemused expression.
The score is absolutely amazing with a lot of little cues and flares and dramatic build ups throughout from brooding notes in the opening nightmare of the first episode to the climactic battle in the second episode. The chimes of the bells helps to create a haunting atmosphere within the nightmare and the noise effects associated with the coin flip instantly implant that the coin is negative to the viewer.
The penultimate scene in part one really does make Harvey’s deformed side look as freakish as he feels it is with an enlarged yellow eye, exposed gums of his mouth, and the shock of white hair not to mention the obvious teal coloring. The way Grace reacts and promptly faints mirrors a lot of the internal feelings of the viewer at the visual before them. Tokyo Movie Shinsha (now known as TMS Entertainment) were behind Akira and also did work on DuckTales and Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears. After BTAS they would also work on Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. In this episode, they do a fantastic job throughout especially with the illumination of Harvey Dent’s body from lightning flashes including a brief teaser of Two-Face during the psychiatric visit.
Immediately the strong writing continues in part two and the coin is an instant focus to differentiate Two-Face from Harvey Dent characterization wise. A smart little move that allows younger viewers to see he’s a different person without telling them outright. I also like that Two-Face makes no bones that he is Harvey Dent and targets the areas associated with Rupert Thorne in an effort to rob him blind and make him pay in a vigilante way. Even though Rupert puts out a million dollar bounty, it’s a great way to showcase the shades of grey that Batman: The Animated Series worked so well and extends that to Bruce’s own guilt and doubts no longer catering around just his parents but now also a close friend of his. It’s a fairly depressing reality that sometimes gets ignored in the face of Batman being the hero.
The writing and plot are fun because the episode just goes so many levels deep in exploring the duality of not only Harvey Dent/Two-Face physically but also the roles of good guy vs. bad guy and later vigilante vs. good guy in the form of Harvey as DA and Two-Face robbing Rupert Thorne. Then, on top of all that you have Two-Face’s pessimism and resignation of who/what he is and that he cannot be saved contrasting Bruce Wayne’s desire to not only save Harvey Dent but try and show Harvey that he isn’t purely Two-Face in an effort to help Harvey save himself.
Batman: The Animated Series is at its best in keeping the humanity within the villains and it stays within Harvey Dent/Two-Face in a fabulous showing not telling scene when he spots a bride and groom in a window and immediately calls up Grace in a desire to see her again. This would be used to equally great effect in the memorable episode Mr. Freeze in terms of touching on the humanity of a villain. I particularly love that the writing lets Harvey try to explain to Grace what he is now and why he doesn’t see them as being able to stay together romantically. Very few shows would go that far in the script, especially for a cartoon.
Overall Score: 97% for Part 1 and 94% for Part 2 Altieri brings top notch directing to a very tightly woven plot that doesn’t dip anywhere while Tokyo Movie Shinsha do a fantastic job making the first episode feel like a mini-movie throughout despite the lower budget and Dong Yang hold up their own in part two. Also Shirley Walker’s score is fantastic throughout and covers a lot of variance while the depth and layers in the writing truly transcend what most animation does even in today’s era. This episode runs the gamut from tension to action to horror to even sweethearted romance and a near happy ending.
You can see the rest of my BTAS Episode Reviews: at this link
In two weeks comes the episode, “It’s Never Too Late.”