Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Two-Face Strikes Again!"

Issue: Batman #81

Cover Date: February 1954

Writer: David Vern Reed

Penciller: Dick Sprang

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Win Mortimer

Synopsis: Harvey Dent, face restored by plastic surgery and having renounced the villainous ways of Two-Face, is walking along a street when he sees safe crackers in a television store. When he charges in to stop them, one of the criminals accidentally lights the explosive he was preparing. While the thieves get away, Harvey is caught in the resulting blast and his plastic surgery is undone. Seeing this as a sign that he was meant to be Two-Face, he lets the flip of a replica of his two-sided coin be the final test. After it lands scarred side up, Two-Face resumes his career in crime by robbing Tarando the clown, Charles Ford the millionaire deep seas diver, and John Benson the actor. While the Dynamic Duo is at first unable to find a pattern, Batman deduces that those robbed were all to an extent men with two faces.

After a successful series of crimes, Two-Face decides it's time to hire a gang, chosen through coin flips of course. His henchmen hired, Two-Face sets off to rob "Chicago Al" Garver, a big-time gambler. Batman and Robin are at first puzzled as to why Two-Face has been spotted in the area of Gotham Point, but Batman once again comes up with the answer, Garver's "poker face" fulfilling the two face motif. They soon arrive at the mansion, following the criminals up a giant replica pool table. The gang releases giant pool balls at them, forcing the Dynamic Duo to dive into one of the runways under the table. The distraction allows Two-Face and his gang to escape, albeit empty handed. The next morning, a headline about a disgraced Japanese envoy (having "lost face") allows Batman and Robin to anticipate Two-Face's next crime. Two-Face is almost caught after leaving his calling card by scaring the face of a statue, but Robin's rope getting cut by a pick-axe allows the gang to get away.

The Dynamic Duo decide to act rather than react, thanks a local Sioux reservation wanting to make Bruce Wayne an honorary chief for his charity work. On the day of the ceremony, a biplane with two-motors arrives, making Batman and Robin think they've caught Two-Face. But Two-Face was prepared for the crime fighters, using the plane's propellers to blind them with sand. They are brought to Two-Face's hideout, where he plans to tie the pair to a giant coin and flip it onto a bed of spikes. Due to the added weight of Batman and Robin, the coin will certainly land on the side they're strapped to. When the coin does flip, the Dynamic Duo land safely and are able to free themselves. Batman and Robin apprehend Two-Face and his gang, telling them that by turning their radios into electromagnets and connecting them to the wires binding them, they were able to repel the spikes and land safely.

Thoughts: While not as good as the previous story, this one is still a lot of fun. You of course have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to an explosion undoing just Dent's plastic surgery and in a way that he becomes Two-Face again, but since this is the Silver Age, that shouldn't be a problem. The gimmick associated with Two-Face is pretty clever, centering around people with double lives rather than theft of objects having to do with the number two. While the diver is a bit of a stretch (especially when compared to the two faces of a clown and an actor), the "poker face" and "losing face" spins on the concept advance it further than simple physical appearance. While one would expect Two-Face to choose two henchmen for his gang, keeping with the gimmick, the three henchmen plus Two-Face still goes along with it. On the henchmen note, I always get a kick out of the caption, "then, as the hoodlum applicants line up, each finds his chance for a job hangs on the turn of a coin." On a more subtle nod to Two-Face, the honorary chief ceremony takes place two days after Bruce comes up with the idea. Given the giant pool table, fight on the giant statue, and the giant coin trap, you would think this was a Bill Finger story, but it was indeed by David Reed. Now it should be noted there are several lines, Robin referring to the Japanese envoy as an oriental and Bruce referring to himself as being made a paleface Indian, that stand out as being racist today. So while the story is an entertaining one, be prepared to come across such lines if you choose to read it.

While Dick Sprang is not given as much freedom to be creative as the previous story, he still turns in great art. The splash page in particular is memorable, with a giant Two-Face head looming over small figures of Batman and Robin. The trails of smoke and the moon in the background recall the panel of the cat temple I previously mentioned. Sprang makes sure Two-Face's office reflects the character, with the number two on the desk on floor, two telephones, two pen holders, and two chairs. The most interesting aspect of Sprang's art in the story are the panels, as he abandons the typical squares for trapezoids when the Dynamic Duo are falling down the pool table runway and when Batman saves the falling Robin on the statue. The most unique panel is during the statue save, where a circular panel of Robin helping Batman up is cut is cut inside of the panel of Batman saving Robin, completing the action. Even in a story without the more creative setting of "The Jungle Cat-Queen," Sprang found a way to make it even more interesting.

This story has been reprinted in the Batman From The 30s to The 70s HC, The Greatest 1950s Stories Ever Told HC/TPB, the Batman in The Fifties TPB, and the Batman vs. Two-Face TPB.

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