Saturday, June 1, 2013

Detective Comics #68 (October, 1942)

Here we have Two-Face's first cover appearance and it is just an awesome cover from Jerry Robinson (and Bob Kane). It doesn't actually depict an event in the story, but it's pretty damn cool regardless.

"The Man Who Led a Double Life"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: We begin where we left off in August's issue,with Two-Face's coin standing on edge in a crack in the floor after Batman asked him to flip between turning himself in and continuing his life of crime. As we return, Two-Face puts the coin back in his pocket and leaves the matter undecided, because he never flips twice on the same decision, so now fate must decide.
And at that moment an overeager policeman bursts in trying to save the Batman and shoots Two-Face in the chest. Batman admonishes the rookiee for his hastiness as Two-Face dives out a window to freedom. The bullet stuck the coin in his pocket and so he wasn't injured (I am almost sure that wouldn't work in real life) and because it struck the scarred side Two-Face takes that as his decision -- to continue his life of crime!
He gets another gang together and resumes his coin-flipping crimes. The coin comes up clean, they rob a doubles tennis match in the daytime and give the loot away to charity. The coin comes up scarred, and under the cover of night Henry Logan, the "match king", is kidnapped!
The Bat-signal blazes in the sky and soon the Dynamic Duo are accompanying Commissioner Gordon to Logan's home, which is filled with match-stick models of the Eiffel Tower, great ocean liners, etc. Turns out Logan was not kidnapped, but rather his double was, who he hires to attend social functions so that he can remain with his hobby.
Soon, Two-Face calls with the ransom instructions, Logan must meet him at an abandoned barn to receive the double, no tricks. That night at the barn, Two-Face turns the double over, who is embraced by his wife. Except the double has no wife! Logan and the wife remove their disguises to reveal Batman and Robin, and BAM fight scene!
Two-Face makes off on a motorcycle (a two-wheeled vehicle aha, aha, aha), with Batman in pursuit. Two Face manages to knock Batman out by throwing his coin at his face (jeez, really, Batman?) -- but he cannot bring himself to murder a man who was once his friend, and so lets him leave. Two-Face begins to feel regret over his life of crime.
Batman and Robin return the double safely to Logan.
The next night, Two-Face finds himself wishing he could return to his fiancĂ©e, Gilda, and live an ordinary life as a couple. And so the next day a car drives up to Gilda's house carrying Harvey Kent, his faced completely normal and handsome once more! Harvey and Gilda have a tearful reunion, with Harvey explaining that a miracle of plastic surgery healed his face but that she mustn't touch as the flesh is still raw. That night, they share a candlelight dinner, but sometime goes horribly wrong -- the heat from the candles melts the wax make-up over the left side of Harvey's face, revealing that he is indeed still the hideous Two-Face! Desperate, vulnerable and afraid, Harvey tries to explain his deception to Gilda when The Batman bursts in the door! 
Harvey is convinced that Gilda was merely lying about loving him, and this had all been a trap set by Batman, and he escapes before Gilda can explain she had nothing to do with it! Turns out Batman had figured Harvey would return to Gilda sooner or later and had been watching the house. Now Harvey thinks Gilda betrayed him and will never trust her again.
Harvey returns to the mask and make-up shop that supplied him with the wax mask, and blames them for its failure under heat. Two-Face and his men therefore set the shop aflame. After it has burned down, the mask-maker laments that he has lost his livelihood, while his young son vows revenge.
Two-Face's gang takes on a new member, "Getaway" George, a driver from Chicago, but Two-Face is afraid it may be the Batman in disguise. He flips on it and decides to give George a chance. Their next job is robbing the policemen vs. firemen charity baseball game, which of course Batman and Robin are playing in as honorary policemen (which seems really unfair and bizarre and I'd be pissed if I was a regular cop, but whatever). 
Two-Face shows up to steal the $50,000 receipts, but Robin is ready for him and attacks his men. Cornered, Two-Face takes the mayor hostage until he can make it to the getaway car. George gets him back to the hideout but Two-Face is convinced that someone must have tipped off the Batman, and that George must be the Batman under make-up. However, some face smearing later it is revealed that George is actually the mask-maker's son (duh), who then used his inside position to tip off the Dynamic Duo! Batman bursts in and knocks out Two-Face!
Captured, Two-Face is brought to jail, remarking on the irony of being double-crossed by one of his own men. Batman believes his double life is over, now he is merely Harvey Kent, Prisoner, but Two-Face declares there are two sides to every story, and that Batman can bet he'll escape, double or nothing!
My Thoughts: The second half of the Two-Face story continues the high quality of storytelling of part one by and large. Some of the actual crimes and incidents are a little repetitive but Finger clearly loves doing the double/two gimmick crimes and coming up with him, and the scenes between Two-Face and Gilda really break things up and add way more depth to the story than we almost ever get in a Batman comic. Two-Face has only two appearances thus far but already he's a way more developed character than Joker, Penguin, or Catwoman (or heck, even Gordon, really). There's just a lot of great subtle moments like the villain's regret for his lifestyle and his unwillingness to kill his former friend and so on and so forth that make it clear how unique and interesting Two-Face is as a character even in the Golden Age. These are good comics, people.
The Art: Good work from Kane and Robinson here. I just love the way Kane draws Two-Face, it's fantastic, and the art really helps sell the drama in a lot of places. Two-Face was more or less Kane's invention and you can tell he really enjoyed drawing the character. He's definitely the most Chester Gould-esque villain so far in a Rogues Gallery that is very much inspired by Gould's Dick Tracy. (Eventually a Two-Face rip-off character named Haf-and-Haf would appear in that comic strip in 1966, so you know you've made it when the guy you're most inspired by starts ripping you off!) Probably the best moment in the story is when Harvey's make-up melts off. Great horror.
The Story: Once again I'm amazed by how much Finger fits into thirteen pages without feeling rushed at all. We wrap up the cliffhanger, establish Two-Face's new schemes, kidnapping the double, the interlude with Gilda, the mask-maker and son, the final heist and the come-uppance. These could all be their own issues today, yet they all feel like they have their space to breath and the variety makes a short story feel longer. Finger clearly is inspired writing Two-Face, just as Kane is drawing him. My only caveat is that Finger begins to lose sight a bit of Harvey doing good when the coin comes up clean (although we still see him giving to charity) and we also lose some of the cool playing off Harvey's status as former D.A. that we got last issue (for example now that Harvey's in jail I'd love to see what his trial is like!). But that's okay, because the tortured, two-faced nature of the character is definitely still intact. This original take on Two-Face and how he works is still, after all these years, among the best, most complex, and most satisfying. Here's to Finger and Kane!
Notes and Trivia: Two-Face captured and placed in jail,