about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

TWOsday: The Complete History of Harvey Kent, the Original Two-Face!

Let's go back to where it all started: August 1942, with DETECTIVE COMICS #66.

While Bob Kane gets too much credit for everything Batman, it seems that Two-Face was entirely his creation, taking the look from this poster of Spencer Tracy's JEKYLL & HYDE film, and giving him a coin-flipping gimmick originated by George Raft in SCARFACE. Bill Finger then ran with the idea, and the two introduced a startling new villain for Batman's Rogues Gallery: Two-Face, AKA Harvey... Kent?

Yes, as you might know, Harvey's original last name was Kent, presumably changed to Dent so as to avoid any connection with Superman. What's more, the first Two-Face story was a cliffhanger in a time when most superhero stories were standalone. What's more more, it actually ended up being a trilogy, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end of Harvey Kent's career as Two-Face!

It's one of the earliest examples of a complete story arc told in multiple parts from the Golden Age, one that cemented Two-Face from the outset as one of Batman's greatest foes, not to mention his most tragic.

And I can pretty damn well guarantee you that the saga of Harvey Kent doesn't end the way you'd expect! As an epilogue, I've included a never-reprinted, little-known postscript to the life and career of Harvey Kent, the original Two-Face.

Let's start by taking another look at this panel from the first page:

Now there's a nickname we rarely ever seen used for Harvey: "Apollo." I imagine it seemed kind random when it appeared briefly at the end of THE LONG HALLOWEEN, with many just taking it as a poetic term of endearment rather than a reference to the original Harvey's original nickname. Really, it's just one step away from calling him Gotham's White Knight.

The story wastes no time, taking us right to the trial, as Batman takes the stand! Ah, the Golden and Silver Ages, when Batman could be a fully deputized member of the police force, and his testimony could hold water in a court of law!

Y'know, when I was about thirteen and first read this story, I thought the "Dr. Ekhart" bit was referenced with Lieutenant "Think about the future" Eckhardt in Burton's BATMAN. Of course, if they were to use "Dr. Ekhart" in comics today, I bet most people wouldn't remember this comic and think it was some other reference entirely...

But alas, Ekhart is unable to save Harvey, thanks to a reason that instantly dates the story in such a way that also directly notes a real-life horror that we saw little of in comics at the time:

... where did you get those mallets, Harvey? Did he just have random gavels in the house, in case a judge might come by?

Fly your queer flag proudly, Harvey.

It never fails to amuse me how he's wearing a split suit ever since the bandages came off. Based on how the art itself changes to give the purple side a pattern in the last panel, I have to wonder if that was just colorist!fail, and Kane intended it to be a normal suit up until the big reveal.

The career of Two-Face takes off, but you might notice one big way that the Harvey Kent Two-Face is different from any Two-Face we've known in any version of the character. I'll actually discuss this later, but see for yourself:

But the bus heist is interrupted by Batman, who tries appealing to Harvey's sanity (by referring to him by his last name repeatedly, something which we never seen Batman do with Harvey Dent):

Two-Face orders him men to kill Batman, and in the resulting battle, one of the goons accidentally kills another henchman. Two-Face thinks Batman is killed, and escapes with the surviving gang members back to the hideout, but no one is happy, least of all Harvey himself.

... damn!

I know I'm biased in my love of the character, but am I the only one who's struck by the complexity at play in those above scans? Especially from the Golden Age, a time when a villain gets thrown into a vat of acid (and dies rather than getting deformed and/or super-powered, as we all know is what happens in real life) and the hero can grimly assert, "A fitting end for his kind!"

This is the earliest example of Two-Face displaying a particularly twisted sense of justice, right down to how it's not right for the gangster to be killed on the "good side." What's more, even in this simplistic era where simply getting acid in the face is enough to drive a good man into a full-blown criminal mastermind, Two-Face is the rare villain to actually have a philosophy, a higher set of driving ideals than greed, power, or evil.

The story climaxes in an epic battle at a movie theatre (a double feature, naturally):

And when Batman and Robin arrive to thwart him, the ensuing battle scene is so damn cinematic, it's a wonder that it's never been adapted for an episode of the animated series.

Really, everything about this story--from the Chaney-like grotesqueness of Two-Face to the story's serial nature--feels like one of the most cinematic of the classic Golden Age Batman adventures.

The robbery botched, Batman finally confronts Two-Face at the bisected hideout:

And thus we have one of the rare cliffhanger endings in a Golden Age comic! It seems kind of silly that the second part wasn't in the very next issue, but the issue after that, DETECTIVE COMICS #68, where things pick up right where they left off...

And thus we get something of a retread of Two-Face's original crime spree, with him carrying on committing acts of good and evil, depending on how the coin comes up:

I think the single greatest aspect of Two-Face that we've lost since this trilogy is that he actually would commit acts of charity if the coin came up clean. These days, if the good side comes up, it's usually, "Okay, I won't kill you," or "Okay, I won't kill you this way, but I'll still do something equally as bad because mine is a rigged game of evil hee hee hee!"

But then, in the subsequent Harvey Dent Two-Face stories, the acts of charity are done away with entirely in favor of crime based on the number two. It's no wonder that he's written so simplistically and focused on gimmicks, but it's a damn shame nonetheless.

I wish Harvey Dent could be written more like Harvey Kent. Kent was purposely written to be Jekyll and Hyde, existing simultaneously. Dent is always just written as a Jekyll who became a Hyde, and that's about that.

Compare that with this Harvey, who--even in full-blown Two-Face mode--still longs for a normal life, and makes another stab at it in the next couple pages:

Harvey proceeds to destroy the makeup seller's studio in revenge, and the merchant's son helps Batman to capture Two-Face.

At that point, the story seemingly abandons any hope of redemption for Harvey Kent, or of reconciliation with Gilda, and settles into another "Batman defeats the freakish criminal" story with a typically pat Golden Age conclusion:

BATMAN: "Now you're in jail, Two-Face!"

TWO-FACE: "Not for long! Something-something-number-two-pun, evil laugh!"

And thus, one would naturally assume that the Two-Face stories we all know kicked off from there, but no! Not quite! A year later, DETECTIVE COMICS #80 contained the appropriately titled finale, "The End of Two-Face!"

Our villain escapes jail, rounding up a gang and carrying on a new crime spree. But this time, Batman and Robin aren't the only ones looking for Two-Face...

Whoever could it be? Don't bother making the obvious guess, as we'll jump right to the big reveal, right as Two-Face is about to shoot and kill Batman:

... sorry to interrupt this heartrending scene, but seriously, even Gilda refers to Harvey by his last name? How many wives do that? I guess that's just what happens when you give your character two first names.

And in regards to that last panel, I feel like that hospital needs a visit from Dr. Ball (cue at 0:35):

Anyway. Back to the big dramatic scene:

Ultimately, it wasn't his belief in the law--or the abstract concepts of good or justice or anything like that--that proved to his Harvey's salvation. It was love. His love for Gilda, and hers for him. And sure, Gilda's something of a non-character here: the eternally-suffering good wife who will die for her husband, or die without him. But that's to be expected of the era.

What isn't to be expected is that a villain could be saved and redeemed. Back then, the criminals were either killed off, or send to jail, possibly to threaten Gotham again in a future story. But in giving himself over to the system and serving his time, Harvey Kent got the one thing that most criminals in Gotham never do, the one thing that Harvey Dent will likely never have: a happy ending.

And here's the thing. It actually stuck. Depending on how you look at it.

You see, this wasn't the only Two-Face story of the Golden Age. But it was the last time he was ever referred to as Harvey Kent. By his next appearance, his name was changed to Dent, and he was framed for crimes by another Two-Face (which happened again in yet another story after that), but he stayed healed and sane. That is, until Harvey Dent became Two-Face again, and the saga continued from there.

HOWEVER, DC eventually decided that Harvey Kent never became Two-Face again, by having them continue to exist on Earth-2, the alternate Earth where the Golden Age heroes lived, Batman married Catwoman, and so on. In fact, it was at that very wedding that--in 1981's SUPERMAN FAMILY #211, "The Kill Kent Contract!"--we saw the sole other appearance of Harvey and Gilda Kent.

Lois Lane overhears a plot to have a certain "Kent" murdered at the wedding of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, and thus both she and Clark naturally assume the target is Clark Kent. So at the reception, they have their eyes out, when this scene unfolds:

Way to go, Clark! Give the poor guy a Kryptonian nerve pinch and freak out his wife, that's a good hero! Gotta love classic Superdickery! Man, even when Two-Face can have a happy ending, it still sucks for him!

But aside from that moment, we can safely assume that at least this Harvey and Gilda had their happy ending. Well, at least up until their universe was wiped out of existence in the Crisis. Hey, it's comics. Sometimes, that's about the happiest ending one can hope for.

That said, who knows? Perhaps now that we have the 52 alternate universes, who's to say that the Kents are still around in some form, defying the odds and enjoying their happily ever after? That's certainly what I choose to believe.

On a final note: it's good to be back. I finally have some free time again to dick around on frivolous matters, which means more about_faces in the near future! Hope you enjoy it, and as always, I highly encourage all comments, feedback, suggestions, and ideas! If you have a post you'd like to do, or fic to recommend, or anything like that, let me know via the comments or a DM!
Tags: bob kane and bill finger, gilda dent, golden age, origins, reading list: gilda/grace dent, robin(s), superman

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