Of all of Batman’s rogues Two-Face is easily my personal favourite although I confess that my interpretation of the character owes more to his portrayal by Richard Moll in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ than any of the comic books. However of the few comic appearances made by the character that I have read, I must say that the story ‘Half an Evil’ is certainly one of my favourites and one that I come back to time and time again. Originally published in 1971 this was during the now famous run of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, the men who brought Batman back from the depths of camp that the 1960’s Adam West show had taken it to and to new, strange but brilliant Gothic territory. The stories had much more of a supernatural flavour and Batman took on the role of the ‘Dark Detective’ that the animated series would perfect in the early 90’s.
The plot itself sounds like something that could very well have appeared in a 60’s Batman TV episode with Two-Face plotting to steal the treasure from a sunken ship wreck but where this short story succeeds is in two places, atmosphere and the presentation of Two-Faces character. The opening spread immediately tells you what you’re in for and is perhaps the most striking piece of art in the entire story, with batman crouching in the broken branches of a tree, his cape blowing in the wind, watching the wreck of a ship glide silently through the murky waters. It really is a striking piece of art and Batman as he appears here is extremely different to the Batman who appeared in the 1960’s, Adam West’s Batman would never be seen crouching in a ghostly looking tree overlooking a swamp. The ship wreck gives lends much to the story and reflects well the Gothic supernatural air previously mentioned that was prominent during this area. What is perhaps most brilliant is that despite the fact that the story has no supernatural elements I still keep coming back to that word to describe the tone of the story, a mix between a hammer horror film and a film Noir, simply brilliant.
Of course, although the story has no supernatural element it does have Two-Face and perhaps this stories greatest achievement is taking a simple villain with a gimmick of being obsessed with ‘Two’s’ and ‘Pairs’ and concentrating on the horror of a man who has not only been scarred once but twice and that he now rules his life by fate, with a coin deciding whether he commits good or evil acts. The subtle use of the word ‘must’ in the phrase ‘The coin has decided! The evil part of my nature wins...and so Two-Face must strike!’ demonstrates that in his mind he has no control over what he does and that’s the true tragedy of his character. This is summed up at the climax when a tramp, who has inadvertently become involved in events on the ship, has his life threatened after Two-Face sinks the ship in a plan to kill Batman. Whilst fate had decided that Batman should die it had said nothing for the tramp and he finds himself forced to return to save the tramps life.
Neal Adams also makes the excellent decision of getting Two-Face out of his ridiculous costume that he had worn in appearances prior to this. It must be remembered that this was years before the character began wearing the wonderful black and white suit that I believe was introduced in Batman: The Animated Series (please correct me if I’m wrong here) and instead dressed in an awful Green/Yellow suit that may have suited the campy 60’s stories but would have been completely out of place in this much more Gothic tale. Adams instead puts Two-Face in a simple White-Shirt for the one scene where he is not aboard the ship, and a Wet Suit for when he is. As there is nothing campy or out of place (the Wet Suit is a simple black design) with either of these costume’s it Humanises him just that little bit more. We sympathise with him because he doesn’t look like a super villain, just a man with a scarred face. True the old costume does show up for one panel, but it’s a flash back so it simply serves to remind us how much better he looks here! All in all I really enjoyed this story. Whilst the plot may be a little thin on the ground it succeeds through art and character and epitomises the ‘Dark Detective’ feel these 70’s Batman comics had that would later be taken to a wonderful extreme by the Animated Series.