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Who is Two-Face? The Batman Villain's Comic Origins Explained

The classic Batman villain Two-Face has been through plenty of origins and mental trauma. How did a good man become Gotham's darkest mind?

Batman Two-Face Movie Art

With the mystery now settled, and Robert Pattinson the new Batman, the questions now concern the classic villain the dark knight will face in his next solo movie. One character always guaranteed to be a fan-favorite option for a new adaptation--for obvious reasons--is the villainous Two-Face, formerly known as Harvey Dent.

The villain has been featured in both of the major Batman film series, and has proven to be just as much of a fan-favorite in DC Comics, where he has terrorized Gotham since his debut in 1942. But how many fans truly know the complicated backstory behind the origins of Two-Face? That's a question we're here to answer.

Two-Face's Comic Origins Explained

Two-Face Batman Comic Cover

While he's now dubbed Harvey Dent, the originally named Harvey Kent (a certain Kryptonian's name would soon be the reason for the edit) debuted in Detective Comics #66 in 1942. The character was seldom used in his first twenty years, only appearing five times in the '40s and '50s combined. He was slowly reintroduced in 1968 in World's Finest Comics #173 and became a regular by 1971. And as is the case for most DC characters, there are several different backstories that define Harvey Dent, between the era before Crisis on Infinite Earths, the era after, and the days following DC's New 52 reboot.

Related: Casting Two-Face for Robert Pattinson's Batman Movie

In his original introduction, Two-Face's criminal stint was relatively brief. He isn't given much backstory rather than his career as the young and successful District Attorney of Gotham City. In his debut issue, he is prosecuting Boss Maroni--and proves the crime boss is guilty, thanks to Maroni's double-sided coin recovered from the crime scene. Enraged, Maroni throws acid on the left side of Harvey's head, creating Two-Face. When the citizens of Gotham and Harvey's own girlfriend cower in fear of his new appearance, he is driven insane. He keeps Maroni's coin, scratches one side, and flips it to determine his fate as a semi-costumed criminal.

Batman's Long Halloween Changes Two-Face's Story

Two-Face Batman Long Halloween

By Detective Comics #80, however, Two-Face gets plastic surgery, restores his old life, and proposes to his girlfriend, giving up his crime spree. After Crisis, Harvey Dent's story is altered and explained in Batman: The Long Halloween. He has a backstory filled with tragedy and an abusive father. In fact, his father often decides whether or not to beat him via the flip of a coin (suddenly a coin from a crime scene seems favorable). This abuse leads to Dent hiding and repressing his bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, all while he still has the same successful career in law as did his first iteration.

This law career still winds him in front of Maroni and he still gets acid thrown in his face, this time when the mobster believes Dent got Maroni's father killed. Dent becomes Two-Face, now using the coin his own father used to consult to abuse him. This Two-Face is completely reliant on that coin to make any decisions. While being treated in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, doctors replace Two-Face's coin with a die and then a deck of tarot cards, but this just leads the duality-focused villain into a state of inability to make any decisions, even ones in regard to his basic needs.

Comic Criminals Batman Two-Face

Several of Two-Face's plots during this era deal with fathers. It is revealed that he killed Jason Todd's father, leading Robin to resist revenge, and turn him in for the court to decide his punishment in Batman #409. Two-Face holds his own father hostage as revenge for his childhood abuse in one-shot Batman: Two-Face – Crime and Punishment. He plans to kill him, but it's revealed that Dent has been supporting his father financially his entire life. Both Two-Face and Harvey Dent argue with each other over what the abuser's fate should be, and Harvey wins the debate... leading him to try to commit suicide before being rescued by Batman.

As of Batman: Hush, Two-Face's appearance is fixed via plastic surgery and he is out of the life of villainy. Harvey Dent briefly becomes the temporary protector of Gotham City in Batman's absence, but he is driven mad with jealousy when Batman returns and goes insane once more, this time hallucinating Two-Face instead of physically becoming him.

The Modern Two-Face in DC's Universe

Two Face and Batman Fight

Then, 2011 came, and so did the publication-wide DC reboot with the New 52 era. Forget that childhood abuse and instead get to know Erin and Shannon McKillen: the two ladies who wanted to kill Commissioner Gordon's family--and the two ladies who were clientele of attorney Harvey Dent. After breaking out of prison, Erin McKillen brutally kills Dent's wife, Gilda Grace, and scars his face with acid... creating another traumatized Two-Face. Batman becomes desperate to cure Two-Face by the current DC Rebirth era, but the character is still villainous.

In other media, Two-Face is just as active as he is in comic books. The TV series Gotham featured Harvey Dent before his transformation, and he was heavily featured in the 1990s' Batman: The Animated Series, in which is suggested that Harvey Dent was Bruce Wayne's best friend before Two-Face was created. In this series, it is an explosion rather than an acid attack that scars him. Interestingly, that's the same change made to his origin story as the version of Two-Face fans got in director Chistopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, in which half of Harvey Dent's face is burnt to a crisp thanks to the Joker.

In Tim Burton's live-action Batman movie, Billy Dee Williams portrays Harvey Dent prior to his villainous turn, but Williams is replaced by Tommy Lee Jones to bring a technicolor version of the villain to life in Batman ForeverTwo-Face has also become a regular member of DC video games, such as the Batman: Arkham series, Injustice, and five LEGO games. So should Two-Face be chosen as the villain for DC's next Batman film coming in 2021, there will be plenty of backstories, re-writes, and re-imaginings from the character's 77-year-old history to choose from.

MORE: Robin May Appear In Matt Reeves’ Batman Movies Before Nightwing Solo Film

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