The Downfall of Harvey Dent
Wes Van de Water
Argumentative 2010 Honorable Mention
Professor: Joseph Willis
One of the interesting character dynamics in Batman: The Long Halloween is the relationship between Batman and District Attorney Harvey Dent. While initially the two men join with police officer Jim Gordon and set out as a team to protect Gotham and take down the mob, Harvey takes a tragic spiral into madness and becomes no better than the criminals that he resented. This is tied in large part to a close-held jealousy that Dent holds for Batman. Dent despises his own inability to take on organized crime without wading through bureaucratic red tape, whereas Batman is free to engage criminality as he sees fit as long as he stays within certain acceptable parameters. This jealousy; coupled with Dent's family history of mental illness, causes Harvey to fail in his attempts to toe the line that Batman does, and ultimately results in his fall from grace.
Early on in the story, the trio makes a pact to bring down a mob lord known as "The Roman." This panel conveys many things in a very subtle way. Even compared to the rest of The Long Halloween the colors in this frame are particularly subdued. Everything is a varying shade of gray, which adds to the grim and somber feeling of the situation, but also shows that things are not entirely clear. In a very real sense, the three men are walking a very fine line in a morally gray area. Dent admits that Batman is free to step beyond certain boundaries that Gordon and he are limited by. Batman is able to function beyond the scope of the strict law to do what is necessary. It is important to note the position in which the men are standing. Batman is in the center with Gordon and Dent on either side. The two men help function to keep Batman in line, and to make sure that while he deviates from their method of fighting crime, he must be kept in check. Both Gordon and Dent realize that Batman could be extremely dangerous if given completely free reign. Also, the dark side of Dent's face, the same side that would later become the scarred portion of Two-Face, is facing away from Batman. This indicates that Batman is oblivious to the future danger that Dent will pose, in much the same way that he is unable to see that side of Dent's face.
The next page shows a conversation between Dent and Gordon after Batman leaves. Gordon tells Harvey that at one point he thought Harvey to be Batman. The panel of interest is the following panel where Harvey states that he is happy with who he is. The lighting on Harvey's face is very typical of how he is depicted throughout the story; with the left half obscured in darkness. This is a recurring and very poignant aspect of foreshadowing that indicates that Harvey is lying to Gordon. Like the first panel, the colors are very subdued and use only varying degrees of gray. Not only that, but Harvey's eyes are looking to the left, into the darkness. All of these subtle elements points out to the reader that Harvey is not content with who and what he is. He is looking to the shadows, or to Batman's realm, in a longing way. This shows that in all reality, he wishes that he could be more like Batman
The direction of his gaze is also a hint that in his mind he is already taking a direction away from Gordon and deeper into the darkness. However, Dent lacks the same degree of discipline and strength that Batman possesses, which allows him to better straddle the line between chaos and order as well as right and wrong. A balance that, regrettably, Dent is unable to ever truly find.
Dent's envy of Batman begins to gradually turn into resentment towards his masked cohort. This is punctuated later in the story by an encounter that Dent has not with Batman, but with the Joker. At this point, Harvey and his wife Gilda have lost their home in a retaliation bombing by the mob. Harvey purchases a new house as a surprise for Gilda. Upon entering their new home, Gilda goes upstairs and Harvey sees the Joker tampering with their Christmas tree. A brief fistfight ensues and Dent is dropped by the Joker. The comment that Dent is good, but "no Batman" is a backhanded compliment from the Joker which carries with it the notion that Dent is not strong enough to be someone like Batman, and therefore incapable to defeating the Joker.
Along with this, Harvey is taken down by a kick to the groin. While this is a dirty tactic, it is likely something that would not have caught Batman off guard. This leaves Dent with the thought and mocking challenge that he would need to step it up to become more than just a public official fighting organized crime. While the encounter is brief, it is a crucial step in driving Harvey to his fate of becoming Two-Face. He actively seeks a way to do more than just jump through the hoops to remove criminals from his city and the speed of his descent begins to quicken from this point.
Another critical turning point for Harvey comes from a visit to his insane father. The nature of this visit is not fully given to the reader, but Harvey tells Gilda that his father is "still crazy as ever." He is also holding a two-headed coin that used to belong to his father. In this panel, the entire left half of Dent's face is concealed in shadow. In Fig. 2, even though his face is in shadow, we are still able to see his left eye, here in Fig. 4 we can see neither of Harvey's eyes and the shadows are creeping across the right side of his face as well. From Harvey's comment we learn that mental illness runs in his family. Because of this, Harvey is more prone to falling victim to mental illness himself.
The way in which Dent is holding the coin is interesting as well. It is not unlike the way that the creature Gollum in The Lord of The Rings fawns over and obsessively stares at The One Ring. The coin becomes an object on which Dent fixates and eventually uses as a supposedly just and impartial means of deciding the fate of others.
His body posture is also slightly unusual for a grown man. On one hand it is similar to a deranged creature obsessed with a small object, but it also not unlike a young child finding comfort in a favorite toy or other object of intrinsic worth. This and the shading in the panel show that Dent is conflicted about where he is and also that he is slowly but surely beginning to lose his grip on his own self identity and even his sanity.
By the end of the story, Harvey has almost completely lost himself in the madness of Two-Face. Gordon and Batman finally catch up with him, but he has already killed Falcone, or The Roman, and his former assistant Vernon, who was paid off by the mob to sabotage Harvey. At this point, we see a panel very similar to Fig. 1, but it is also quite different in many regards. Now, Two-Face, or Harvey, is flanked by Batman and Gordon on either side. In much the same way that Harvey and Gordon tried to keep Batman in line, Batman and Gordon are now seeking to contain Harvey to keep him from inflicting any more harm. He has gone from being a voice of reason to a deranged killer and has completely spiraled out of control.
Even the division of his face is curiously placed. The mangled half faces toward Batman as if that was the part that attempted to go where Batman dwells, but he was unsuccessful. This also indicates that Dent's envy of Batman and desire to become more like him is what resulted in his psychological fall and breakdown. In this panel, the coloring is of particular importance. The colors are clear, well defined, and the details are vivid. Especially when contrasted with Fig. 1, it shows a large degree of clarity. It is only at this point, after it is too late for Harvey and those that he killed, that Batman and Gordon see the truth. Had they been able to discern the true nature of Dent's predicament, perhaps the crisis could have been avoided or, at the very least, diminished. But now that everything is resolved, the gray fog of uncertainty has cleared away, and Batman and Gordon find themselves both in their proper place, seeking to get Harvey under control and restore order to their city.
Because of Dent's jealousy of Batman's freedom and capacity to fight crime in a more literal sense, the good man that Harvey started out as is lost to the shadows of madness and is consumed by a hatred of perceived injustice, criminal tolerance, and his own skewed desires to deal out punishment. Even though he has the best of intentions at the onset, Harvey fails in his quest to emulate Batman and fight fire with fire. This, coupled with his underlying mental instabilities, results in the emergence of the coin-flipping killer that is as much of a threat to the good of Gotham and his friends as the crime lord he set out to destroy.