about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

The Origins of (the Origins of) Harvey Dent in "Batman: The Animated Series"

Honestly, I could devote a whole separate fanblog just for the Harvey Dent from the various DC Animated Universe properties*, from B:TAS all the way to today, as that version of the character still manages to endure in fandom.

At first, I thought about doing like I did with the Who's Who posts and just writing about EVERYTHING there is about Harvey over fourteen daily posts in an event which I was going to call Two Weeks of Two-Face in the DCAU. Of course, I soon realized that such a project would not only be overload for everyone involved (especially me!), but it also wouldn't do the character justice. And if anyone deserves justice, it's Harvey Dent. /I see what I did there!

For a whole generation, the DCAU Two-Face was the definitive version of the character. Sure, the Nolanverse owns the current generation, but B:TAS seems to still have a healthy following nonetheless. At the very least, I'm certain that the DCAU Two-Face will continue to be more popular and influential than, well, any version from the comics. I dare say that'd be true even if we lived in a better world where comics would be as popular and well-known as cartoons and movie (*weary sigh*). But even as a fan, I never gave much thought about just WHY this Two-Face was so great, much less the work that went into making him that way, until I discovered the actual B:TAS writer's bible on World's Finest Online, the single greatest resource for all things DCAU and beyond.

Reading that writer's bible, you can see that so much of what made B:TAS in general so brilliant was no accident. It wasn't just that a handful of smart writers tried their damnedest to tell great Batman stories. These people had a vision, and set themselves with high standards right from the outset. Even though many of those plans in the bible were changed or scrapped before the first episodes even made it to air, the importance of that foundation cannot be understated, and you may be surprised just well the greatness of that show was planned from the outset.

Which, naturally, brings us back to Harvey. Before we look at any of the DCAU episodes, comics, toys, merch, Happy Meal boxes, and so on, let's look at the roots of Two-Face in the DCAU--the design, the groundwork, the plots, the voice, and more--as we examine what was planned... and what was changed.

Note: All Writer's Bible images taken from World's Finest Online, I site I will be linking to and drawing from many, many, many times in the posts to come. Other images found elsewhere.

Source: Batman Animated by Paul Dini and Chip Kidd, scan taken from the superherohype.com forums

This was Bruce Timm's original concept art for Two-Face. While I like this drawing an awful lot, there would have been nothing remarkable nor distinctive about this Harvey Dent before the scarring. Like so many takes in the comics, he would just be another standard handsome man. It's a very classic, if generic, take on Two-Face.

So thank the animation gods that Bruce Timm, came up with a different design, one which made Harvey look distinct in his own right even before the scarring. But where did Harvey get that design? Was it based on anybody or influenced by anything? For years, my Henchgirl and I both assumed that Timm simply must have been drawing from Chris Sprouce's Harvey from Eye of the Beholder:

Really, look through the comic yourself, and you can see the DCAU Harvey throughout, mainly in the shape of his head, that chin, and of course, the lips. But no, it's highly unlikely that Eye of the Beholder was in any way an influence. For one thing, the comic came out in 1990, around the same time as the writers were developing this show. For another, writer/producer Alan Burnett outright said that he hadn't read Eye of the Beholder, and thus many of the shared ideas were purely accidental.

But that doesn't discount Timm, who designed Harvey. I mean, surely Bruce Timm could have read that comic even if Burnett hadn't, right? Well, even if Timm had (which I personally doubt, for reasons I'll go into below), EotB has never been credited as an inspiration, and we must therefore assume that it's all simply a freaky-bizarre coincidence.

So what DID inspire the design of Timm's Harvey Dent?! According to writer Paul Dini in the must-own book Batman Animated, Timm based Harvey on old-timey actor Ralph Bellamy, a prolific actor who appeared in everything from His Girl Friday to Trading Places. Also, a movie with 80's hip-hop trio the Fat Boys. But we don't like to talk about that. That said, if that factoid hadn't come straight from Dini, I would have chalked this up to another fan rumor, since very few pictures of Bellamy I've seen resemble DCAU Harvey. The sole exception that I've found this this, and even it's a bit of a stretch:

Even if Bellamy was the basis, Timm's design was tweaked enough to stand on his own, personifying the writers' intentions to present Harvey Dent as a fully-formed individual character in his own right, rather than just a handsome hero who would only become recognizable after the scarring.

I've always found the change of posture between both models to be rather interesting, but I've never been able to figure out what it means. If you folks have any ideas, I'd love to hear 'em. I'd be willing to believe that the postures mean nothing, that this was just how Timm's designs turned out, but I don't know for certain. After all, a great deal of thought went into the B:TAS universe and characters before a single script had been written.

Which brings us back to the Writer's Bible. Let's take a look at their overview about Two-Face, and how he should be written:

While the writer's bible reveals that they understood Two-Face's status as the show's most tragic villian, that same status would eventually be undermined by their iconic take on Mr. Freeze (who wasn't as nailed-down in the original plans). A decade later, in the pages of Batman Animated, Paul Dini himself would describe Freeze as "easily Batman's most tragic foe." Yes, he said pretty much the exact same thing, only for Victor instead. Of course, Dini would say that, seeing as how he wrote the best Freeze episodes himself. I still think Harvey beats out Victor in the Sad-Off, but that's a whole other rant. At least from the outset, Freeze was still meant to be a criminal, where Harvey was intended to be the tragic figure who fell from grace. Erm, no pun intended.

More importantly, the writer's bible (WB? WBible? Wibble?) also reveals their intent to show Harvey AS Harvey Dent in several episodes rather than just jumping straight into the Two-Face origin. While the show-runners apparently thought that they were the first to come up with this "unique" idea, Frank Miller arguably got there first with Batman: Year One, which showed Harvey as a sane, calm, heroic supporting character and ally to Batman without any hints of upcoming tragedy. But as with EotB, I don't think that even a book as popular and now-definitive as B:YO was at all influential to the creation of B:TAS.

(I'm gonna go on a tangent here, but I'll come back around to Harvey again, I promise.)

Take, for example, this very recent interview with Bruce Timm, where he talks about how he always saw Jim Gordon as an ineffectual background character, and how Timm always used to view the Commissioner as "just some old guy" whom "Batman would occasionally consult." People, this is a god among Batman creators who actually thought this way about Batman's single most important supporting character.

Look, I know that view on Gordon used to be true, but it sure as hell hasn't been the case for the past twenty years at least, and it certainly wasn't the case in Miller's B:YO. So what changed Timm's mind about Gordon? What made him realize what we comics fans have known for decades? It was reading the script for the film adaptation of B:YO. Not the comic from 1987, mind you. The adaptation from late 2000's. This means that all the way up until the past few years, Bruce Timm--mastermind of B:TAS--was basing his knowledge on much older comics, while ignoring even the best contemporary comics of his era.

Between that and Alan Burnett having never read Eye of the Beholder before developing Two-Face: Part One, I strongly suspect that the writers didn't really read new comics, and were mostly influenced by the pre-Miller, Bronze Age comics. This isn't a criticism, mind you. Hell, we're all the better for it, since the Bronze Age is justly considered by many to be Batman's own Golden Age. What's most important was that they didn't just want to carbon copy that era, but rather to build upon it with depth in terms of character, emotion, and theme.

Which brings us back to Harvey. The Bronze Age was the era that brought Two-Face back from obscurity, but while they still treated him as a tragic figure, we never actually got to see the good man that Harvey Dent was before the acid. We don't really know what was lost in the transformation beyond the fact that he was a law-maker and crime-fighter who used to be allies with Batman. From what we see in the writer's bible, that Bronze Age version of Two-Face was largely going to be the one in the show, only with added scenes of D.A. Dent and Batman being allies and kinda-sorta friends.

Of course, as fans of the show know full well, those plans were scrapped in favor of Harvey and Bruce being best friends. Batman and Harvey rarely interacted, but Bruce and Harvey hung out all the time, teaming up for charity events, talking about their personal lives, and even just hanging out at clubs. Now, this too wasn't an original idea, since the awesome Batman newspaper comic strip from '89-'91 was the first to explore the idea of Bruce and Harvey being best friends long before the scarring:

But then, it seems that NOBODY read the comic strip, so it was just a happy accident that the writers came upon the same idea. And thank goodness, because it was a great decision. Making Bruce and Harvey best friends heightened the emotional weight of their sagas, adding greater poignancy to whenever Batman and Two-Face clash.

That said, the writers originally had whole different reasons as to WHY Batman and Two-Face would clash on a regular basis. Those who remember the show will recall that Harvey's transformation came at the hands of mob boss Rupert Thorne (another Bronze Age callback!), and his subsequent career as Two-Face was one of revenge against Thorne. But originally, the B:TAS writers intended to put Harvey's obsession on Batman instead!

Here, check out the plans for the original Two-Face origin episode, as outlined in the writer's bible. It's plotline #6, which is, of course, the second on the page, right after the plot that hints about Talia's "other plans" for Batman. Her sexy, sexy plans:

As you can see, about the only bits that were present in the completed episode were the raid and the possibility that overwork was a factor in Harvey's snapping. In fact, if you read all the other episode descriptions here and in the writer's bible itself, you'll notice that most of the episodes sound very different from what actually made it on screen. While the writer's bible emphasized the importance of giving the villains motivations beyond money or power, the actual plots here sound more like fodder from the actual comics: "pull heists, hunt Batman, and/or KILL ALL THE GOTHAMITES!"

In Harvey's case, a vendetta against the Batman is a better motivation for return appearances than revenge against Rupert Thorne, the mobster who would be behind Two-Face in the actual episode. Look, I prefer the Thorne origin, just as I love the Moroni origin, but in both cases, there's little cause for Harvey to stay a criminal other than "Welp, I'm ugly and therefore evil now!" As we've discussed here, Harvey still needs that motivation, and while the "KILL THE BAT!" one works well enough, there has to be something better. There just has to be. Otherwise, what you're basically left with is no better than Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face in Batman Forever, since he had the exact same motivation.

Haters gonna hate.

Also, like the Two-Face of Batman Forever, there's nothing in the original B:TAS plans to indicate any kind of internal struggle between "good" and "evil" sides. In keeping with most classic versions of Two-Face, he was still going to be a single personality, just one twisted by generic madness and obsession. It seems like the EotB concept of a secondary personality festering underneath the surface for years on end was introduced way later, possibly by Burnett himself while writing Two-Face: Part One.

It's a good thing, too. B:TAS Two-Face just wouldn't have been the same without the amazing vocal performance (er, performances?) by the man cast to voice Harvey Dent: Richard Moll.

Before we talk about Moll's performance, there's something I should address: I keep seeing mentions in a couple wikis that Al Pacino was originally offered the role of Two-Face, but turned it down. However, I'm finding absolutely nothing to substantiate this rumor. Also, these wikis seem convinced that Harvey's line in Two-Face, Part II, "For the next five minutes, I'm in control!" is a reference to Pacino's Dog Day Afternoon, when I'm fairly certain that 1.) Pacino never uttered those words in the film, and 2.) it's clearly meant to be an Outer Limits reference, a-duh. I suspect that this was a BS rumor started somewhere between the original Godfather plans and the fact that Pacino was Scarface. Can we finally bust this myth?

Either way, as we all know, the role actually went to Moll, best known as the seemingly dim-witted bailiff Nostradamus "Bull" Shannon on the silly sitcom Night Court.

Anybody remember if this show was any good? The episodes I watched back in the day seemed cheap and very standard for sitcom-level, laugh-track humor.

While Moll was enjoyable enough as Bull, neither his role nor the show itself are exactly what would come to mind when casting Harvey Dent. What fewer people know is that Moll spent his pre-Bull days playing villains a series of gloriously awful B-movies such as Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, The Sword and the Sorcerer, and Dungeonmaster, the trailer of which has to be seen to be believed:

Incidentally, this is the film that originated the Adam-Savage-popularized meme quote "I reject your reality and substitute my own!" Between that and this trailer, The Dungeonmaster pretty much looks like the greatest movie of all time.

All that said, the best of Moll's villainous performances has to be in the 1986 horror/comedy House, directed by Friday the 13th series veteran Steve Miner. While House pre-dated the release of Sam Raimi's seminal work, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, by a year, House can't help but feel like a very well-intentioned Raimi knockoff, trying to mix humor with horror and often failing at both. That said, it's still a fun and unusual little flick, and you can watch it all now either on YouTube and Netflix Instant.

In House, Moll played "Big Ben," an unhinged soldier in Vietnam who... well, I won't spoil it for anyone who plans to watch the film. But I will say that you can definitely hear both Harvey and Two-Face in Moll's performance.

I'm not sure if it was any of these performances or Moll's appearances on the game show Super Password--where he got to show off his talent for voices--which led to him being cast by the great Andrea Romano. Romano is one of the very most important creative forces behind the entire DCAU, perhaps second only to Bruce Timm as a driving creative force who's been around since the beginning and who continues to drive the animated universe with her casting decisions.

Romano's All-Star Team: Moll towers above Aron Kincaid (Croc), Mark Hamill (Joker), Paul Williams III (Penguin), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Diane Pershing (Poison Ivy) and Arleen Sorkin (Harley).

Romano chose Richard Moll to play not just Harvey Dent, but also the villainous supercomputer HARDAC in Heart of Steel, as well as Dr. Thomas Wayne and the Bat-Computer in Nothing to Fear**. While Harvey was to be his biggest role, the actor's villainous, snarly B-movie voices apparently weren't the driving factor behind why he was picked by Romano. According to an October 1993 interview in Hero Magazine, Moll recounted that he and Romano "fumbled around at first" when it came to finding Harvey's voice.

Echoing Paul Dini's revelation in Batman Animated that they'd originally envisioned Two-Face sounding like Marlon Brando (and how weird would THAT have been?!), Moll said that Romano "wanted me to do almost like a Godfather voice. That was after Two-Face had the acid thrown on him. But after a while, we went back to the good old Dungeons and Dragons voice, the nasty wizard, the messed up voice, y'know, you've got that fravel in there. It's pretty chilling, so I think it works for the character. Once we decided on that, we stuck with it."

And yet again, thank the gods of animation. With the voice nailed down, the designs ready, and a general plan for storylines in the mix, it was now time to let the character live and develop in the scripting/animation stages. And thus, we got both the Harvey Dent and the Two-Face we all know and love.

Still, it's amazing to look back over these conceptual designs and consider how easily things could have gone another way, and how goddamn lucky we are to have gotten the final product we have. It's something for us all (especially me) to keep in mind as we gradually review every single appearance of Two-Face in the DCAU, with all its strengths and, yes, even its flaws.

And there are flaws, make no mistake. Even a definitive take isn't necessarily perfect, and quality doesn't mean an immunity to critical analysis. That doesn't make it any less great, and hell, flaws can even make the greater aspects all the more impressive! Like I said, this is a character who deserves justice, so with this background information in mind, I think we're ready to finally examine the good, the bad, and the ugly that is Two-Face in the DC Animated Universe.

Next time: Harvey's very first (and very brief) appearance in On Leather Wings, followed by a major role in The Batman Adventures comics, which I consider to be the very best appearance of pre-insanity Harvey in the DCAU.

*Honestly, I could write a couple hundred posts just about the DCAU villains in general. I'd love to look at all the Mister Freeze stories, since the DCAU comics fill in the gaps between episodes and Sub-Zero that, combined with his finale in Batman Beyond, make for a powerful tragedy in epic scope. I mean, even more powerful than the one people already know if they've just seen the episodes. The comics, as I was reiterate throughout these posts, are THAT good.

**The fact that Harvey, Thomas Wayne, and the Bat-Computer all have the same voice raises a few questions about Bruce. Did he pattern the Bat-Computer to sound like his father or Harvey? Is he friends with Harvey because the latter sounds like his father? INQUIRING MINDS THAT READ TOO MUCH INTO THINGS WANT TO KNOWWWWWWWW.
Tags: animation, art, batman forever, bruce timm, comic strips, dcau, paul dini, reading list: two-face in the dcau

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