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How Two-Face represents the duality within us all

Two-Face Comic Coin Toss
(DC Comics)

The two sides found on a coin represent the two paths of a person’s fate when in Two-Face’s hands. It is the game of chance that Two-Face has been playing since the horrible scarring incident that created him. The rules are simple: flip his trick coin, and if it lands on the unscarred side you live.

But, if it lands scarred side up, Two-Face won’t hesitate to end your life.

Two-Face is the disturbed personification of District Attorney Harvey Dent’s inner demons. This in itself isn’t an abnormal phenomenon. Everyone has their own inner demons, hidden away where no one can see. The only difference between Dent and everyone else is that his demons have manifested in his outward appearance. He cannot hide. His evil is written on his face in twisted lips and burnt skin.

Two-Face Scarred Acid
(DC Comics)

 How did he come to be this way? To change personas so completely? Does he suffer from some form of bipolar disorder?

 D.A. Harvey Dent started out as the epitome of all that is good in Gotham City. He had staunch beliefs in what is right and what is wrong, and he fought to make Gotham a better place and to reform its criminals to a life of good. However, his life spins out of control after acid is thrown at him by a defendant during a court case, disfiguring the left side of his face and releasing his hidden dark side. Ever since, Dent has struggled with his two personalities. Sometimes the good side wins. Other times, the evil of Two-Face prevails.

Throughout his many incarnations, Two-Face makes a habit of being a foil to other characters. From the very start, the Harvey Dent/Two-Face character has always been the other side of Batman’s coin. As Harvey Dent, he was the White Knight to Batman’s Dark Knight, working out in the open as opposed to in the shadows but with the same goal of helping Gotham. As Two-Face, Dent is a changed man. He is the complete opposite of both his former self and Batman. Two-Face has no real beliefs of right or wrong, relying on chance instead of morality to make his decisions for him. And these decisions are final. Two-Face does not believe in redemption or rehabilitation, only fate. There is no light for him to fight for, no good to sacrifice for. There is only him and what he wants. He fully embodies the dark scarred side of his coin. He champions chance over choice, irresponsibility over duty, and corruption over justice. With all of these opposing characteristics surfacing in one person, it is easy to see why an obsession with duality becomes the main theme of Two-Face’s life.

But what makes Two-Face such a formidable opponent? Maybe it is because Batman himself trained Harvey Dent in hand-to-hand combat. Maybe it is because he has no set pattern of behavior aside from relying on the flip of his coin, and probability isn’t a guarantee for action. Maybe it is because has vast resources and knowledge about the inner workings of Gotham’s underworld. Whatever the reason, Two-Face continues to be one of Batman’s toughest foes.

Arkham City Two-Face Gun
(Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment)

Two-Face often finds himself in Arkham Asylum. This is a place where all of Gotham’s villains compete in a confinement of madness, and where Two-Face plots his revenge against Batman and all the others who have opposed him. He appears in Joker’s Asylum: Two Face # 1, a one-shot that revolves around another scarred man, Holman Hunt, trying to save Harvey Dent from his alter-ego through peer counseling. Holman, a firefighter, was scarred in the line of duty much like Dent. However, where Dent let his scarring change him, Holman has remained a good guy. Holman cannot get through to him, however, and Two-Face decides to counsel Holman instead. Two-Face tries to prove that, with the right motivation, anybody can turn their back on their good side and abandon their morality to chance. In the end, Two-Face seems to be right, proving that the dark side we all keep hidden is just one incident away from changing us forever.

In direct contrast to this are the issues of Batman where Two-Face becomes the leader of a twisted carnival. In Batman #527528, Two-Face ends up as the boss of the “freaks” in his new vocation of circus performer. He seems to feel somewhat comfortable in the circus atmosphere among others who live on society’s fringes. The difference between him and the rest of the carnival folk is that they do not harbor the same bad intentions and disregard for the world as Two-Face. They are good people; they just look and behave differently from the rest of society. Two-Face’s apparent similarity to them allows for him to become their leader; but in the end, realizing his evil ways, they turn him in and ruin his plans.

Two-Face Arkham City Coin Toss
(Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment)

Two-Face also has a history of trying to work with other villains. In Justice League of America #13 -16 (Vol. 2), Two-Face joins the Injustice League. This group of supervillains is created in reaction to the well-known Justice League superhero group, and they will stop at nothing to gain world dominance. Two-Face was part of this idea only for the short amount of time it lasted. Obviously, due to the fact that the villains’ petty greed can’t hold the group together, Two-Face’s selfish impulses do not make him a reliable partner in any sense of the word.

In Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Two-Face is given a shot at redemption. It is revealed that Two-Face was given plastic surgery. The doctor reconstructs Two-Face’s disfigured half and he becomes Harvey Dent once again. Since he’s been given a clean bill of health from his psychiatrist and his face is back to normal, it is believed that Dent has recovered, but after he holds the city hostage with a bomb his true colors reemerge and it becomes clear that Two-Face is now in permanent control. He can’t change who he is or what he has already become. During his capture, Two-Face merely references his face and says, “At least both sides match.”

Two-Face Hospital Look Right Angry
(Warner Brothers Pictures)

All of this is not to say that there is no empathy to be had for the character of Two-Face. Much like the rest of us, he is neither all good nor all bad. His battles are fought both internally and externally, and sometimes he has a chance to let the good side take over.

In 1997, Two-Face teamed up with Marvel villain Mr. Hyde in the DC/Marvel crossover Elseworlds: Eye For An Eye. Two-Face uses Mr. Hyde as an incubator for an organic microchip, not caring that the process will kill him. Despite their mutual dislike of the other, Batman and Daredevil team up to stop him. It turns out that Matt Murdock and Harvey Dent were friends before the creation of their alter-egos, and Murdock is able to talk Two-Face out of killing Mr. Hyde without any use of his trademark coin. He does, however, make sure that Murdock knows this is the last act of Harvey Dent, and not of Two-Face himself.

Two-Face Comic Coin
(DC Comics)

Through all his incarnations, Two-Face represents the choice everyone has of what path to go down in life. Two-Face wears that choice on his face; it is something he can never escape from once it has marked him. It seems to me he was created to mirror the real world each of us faces every day. People today are constantly flipping an internal coin. Most of us are neither all good nor all bad, and the line between right and wrong is a line we encounter and cross frequently. Two-Face is a manifestation of the inner turmoil that resides within every one of us and the choices we must make. In the end, it is only a simple coin flip that will decide our fate.

About the guest author:

Edgar Rider believes in the art of fast food storytelling. He has been published in Static Movement, Copperfield Review,  Talking Comics, Birmingham Arts Journal,  Scissors and Spackle, Modern Rock Review, and Criterion International Journal.

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About Edgar Rider