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REVIEW: DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES TWO-FACE
By Thomas Wheeler

In the 1970's, the action figure world was resoundingly dominated by a company called Mego. Their success was based on the creation of a series of basic, well-made, 8" bodies, to which any number of heads and cloth costumes could be attached, and then acquiring virtually every pop culture license in existence.

Mego turned out figures for Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Starsky and Hutch, the Wizard of Oz, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Waltons (!), and any number of others, and most notably, they were the only company, with the exception of a few costume sets for Ideal's Captain Action, to ever produce action figure product for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics at the same time! A kid in the 70's could have Superman take on Spider-Man, Batman take on Captain America, Mr. Spock take on Dr. Zaius, and then have Starsky and Hutch show up and arrest them all for disturbing the peace, and every one of these figures would be entirely compatible with all the others.

Small wonder that Mego is highly regarded even today. There are Mego Conventions, a very comprehensive Web Site called MegoMuseum, and a company called EmCe Toys has been reproducing several of Mego's old licenses, including Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, with great precision relative to the originals, even as they're developing new ones.

Mattel finally decided to jump on this bandwagon, and has been producing a Mego-esque line, right down to the packaging design, called "Retro-Action Super-Heroes", with cool action figures from the DC Universe, including quite a number that Mego never got around to.

Arguably, Mego's "bread and butter" was their super-hero line. Dubbed "World's Greatest Super-Heroes", it certainly lived up to that, with all of the heavy hitters from both DC and Marvel. Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Green Arrow, Captain Marvel (officially dubbed "Shazam!"), and others, were joined by Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and the entire Fantastic Four, and others. That's pretty much the A-list from both companies. Interestingly, they never did the X-Men.

Of course, heroes need someone to fight, and Mego figured this out not far into the line. DC got the lion's share of the bad guys, and of those, most of them were from Batman's corner of the DC Universe. Four of Batman's baddies made it into the Mego line-up, including the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman.

It struck me, even in the 70's, that there was a fairly prominent face missing from that crowd. Or maybe, I should say, two faces. Or maybe I should just say -- TWO-FACE.

Now, there are a number of figures that Mego historians will tell you were in the works, from both DC and Marvel, that Mego just never got around to for one reason or another. Green Lantern, the Flash, Doctor Doom, Bruce Banner (yeah, like we really need a skinny guy in purple pants). But the only other Batman villain on this particular list -- is Mr. Freeze. Okay, he's decently prominent, but apparently, Mego had no plans to do Two-Face. Precisely why, I don't know, unless it had something to do with the same reason why Two-Face never appeared in the 1960's Batman TV series, despite the fact that there was a proposal to have Clint Eastwood play the character -- he was considered just a bit too gruesome for the "kid-friendly" tone of the series. Similarly, in the 1970's, toy companies weren't thinking about collectors.

Fortunately, these days, Mattel IS, and their Retro-Action Super-Heroes line has dealt with the glaring omission of Two-Face's absence from the original Mego line, by making him part of the second assortment of these cool figures, which also includes Batman, as well as Aquaman and his arch-enemy, Black Manta, someone else who Mego never made.

I'll admit, as soon as I heard that Two-Face was to be added to this series, I was probably a little more enthused than some fans might have been. Granted, I've always found Two-Face to be an interesting character. But there's a little more to it than that, for me. Back in the 1970's, I customized a handful of DC and Marvel characters for my Mego collection. Of these, the best was probably my Wonder Man figure, from Marvel's Avengers. Now, I did try to do a Two-Face, using a putty-like substance for the facial features, and -- well, being of an age where, while I did know how to sew, I didn't really know how to go about acquiring material, and I knew that Two-Face was not dressed in traditional super-hero garb, so I ended up trying to duplicate his suit -- out of felt.

The result was -- less than impressive. The face looked -- well, even worse than the actual Two-Face, and the suit looked like a horrible laundry mistake involving vast quantities of sweater fuzz. Fortunately in this case, my preservation of photographs from my younger years has been somewhat sporadic, the figure no longer exists, and there are no visual records of him.

Needless to say, the opportunity to acquire a professionally made, Mego-type Two-Face is abundantly appreciated, and maybe I can finally put to rest the memory of that self-made fiasco.

So, who is Two-Face?

Introduced in Detective Comics #66, on August of 1942, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Two-Face is District Attorney Harvey Dent, who went insane and became a crime boss after a criminal that Dent had put on trial threw acid in his face, hideously scarring the left side of his face. Two-Face chooses to bring about good or evil based on what he perceives as the random chance of a clip of a two-headed coin, one side of which he has scarred much like his own.

Originally, Two-Face was one of many gimmick-based super-villains that Batman faced in his early years, basing his crimes around the number two -- such as robbing the Gotham Second National Bank on February 2 at 2:00 AM. In his autobiography, Kane claims to have been inspired to create the character based on the 1931 film version of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

In later years, writers have portrayed the character's obsession with duality and fate as a result of schizophrenia, bipolar and multiple personality disorders, and a history of child abuse. He is established as having once been a personal friend and ally of Commissioner James Gordon and Batman.

Interestingly, given the character's modern prominence, Two-Face only made three appearances in the 1940's, and appeared twice in the 1950's, not counting a couple of impostors. By this time, he was dropped in favor of more "kid-friendly" villains, although he did appear in a 1968 issue of World's Finest. Writer Dennis O'Neil brought Two-Face back in 1971, and it was then that he truly became one of Batman's arch-enemies.

In the 1980's, writer Andrew Helfer revised Two-Face's origin, making Dent to appear more of a tragic character, with a backstory that included an abusive, alcoholic father, and early struggles with bipolar disorder and paranoia. This story also served to establish the fact that the pre-accident Harvey Dent was a major heroic figure working as one of Batman's earliest allies.

Although Two-Face has traditionally been shown as fully aware of the actions committed as Harvey Dent and his villainous persona, in events related in the Nightwing title, a new twist was added to the character: Two-Face and Dent now appear as a stereotypical case of split personality, two different men cohabitating a shared body, as evidenced when he asks Nightwing to protect an old acquaintance of his, a witness in a mob trial, from a hired gun that is ultimately revealed to be Two-Face himself.

As to his modern biography and some of his history in the comics, Dent was elected as the youngest district attorney ever to serve Gotham City, at age 26, and is nicknamed "Apollo" for his clean-cut image. He is elected about six months before Batman emerges.

Dent, Commissioner Gordon, and Batman forge an alliance to rid Gotham of crime boss Sal Maroni, who is murdered by Carmine Falcone's son Alberto. Falcone has corrupt assistant DA Fields disfigure Dent with sulfuric acid. Two-Face gets his trademark coin from his abusive father, who would employ the coin in a nightly "game" that would always end with a beating. This would instill in Dent his lifelong struggle with free will and his eventual inability to make choices on his own.

Eventually, in Arkham Asylum, the doctors attempt to wean him off the coin by replacing it with a die, and later a tarot deck, giving Dent multiple options. The treatment fails due to Dent being unable to make decisions. Batman returns the coin, telling him to use it to decide whether to kill him. Dent tells Batman that the coin landed scarred-side down, and lets Batman leave safely, but the next scene shows the scar face up, meaning that Dent inexplicably allowed Batman to live, due to it being April Fool's Day.

After the Gotham Earthquake seen in "Cataclysm" and "No Man's Land", Dent briefly aids the rescue efforts, with the support of Gotham police officer Renee Montoya, who convinces Two-Face that he doesn't need to constantly flip his coin. He has already made the decision to help, he just needs to follow through on that decision as far as possible.

Later, however, Two-Face reverts to his criminal ways, and carves out a portion of the ruined city for himself, much as other criminals in the city have, and takes up residence in Gotham City Hall, maintaining a relatively sophisticated lifestyle. His empire is brought down by Bane, in the employ of Lex Luthor, who destroys Two-Face's gang during his destruction of the city's Hall of Records.

In a one-shot book, "Two-Face: Crime and Punishment", Two-Face heads a crusade against Gotham City, culminating in the capture of his own father to humiliate and kill him on live television for the years of abuse. The story reveals that despite his apparent hatred for his father, Dent still supports him, paying for an expensive home rather than allowing him to live in a slum. At the end of the book, Dent and Two-Face argue in thought, with Two-Face calling Dent "spineless".

By the time of the storyline "Batman: Hush", Dent's face has been repaired via plastic surgery, and the Two-Face persona apparently eliminated. Nevertheless, he is not above taking the law into his own hands. In the story arc "Face the Face", which was part of the "One Year Later" concept which followed the Infinite Crisis, it is revealed that, at Batman's request and with his training, Dent has become the protector of Gotham City in most of Batman's absence of nearly a year. Dent comes to enjoy the new role, but his methods are seemingly more extreme than Batman's.

Upon Batman's return, Dent begins to feel unnecessary and unappreciated, which prompts the return of the Two-Face persona. During the course of the story, Dent's frustration is compounded by a series of mysterious murders that seem to have been committed by Two-Face. When Batman confronts Dent about the murders, Dent refuses to give a specific answer, detonating a bomb in his apartment and fleeing.

Despite escaping physically unscathed and retreating to a motel, Dent suffers a mental battle with his Two-Face personality. Although evidence is later uncovered that Dent did not commit the murders, it is too late. Prompted by resentment and a paranoid reaction to Batman's questioning, Dent deliberately re-scars half his face with nitric acid, becoming Two-Face once again.

Subsequently, he was part of a new incarnation of the Injustice League, was among the villains exiled to another world in the mini-series "Salvation Run", and most recently, has been at odds with Gotham's latest district attorney, Kate Spencer, and was subsequently driven out of Gotham by Jeremiah Arkham.

Although Two-Face has no super-powers, Harvey Dent was one of the best attorneys in Gotham City, highly intelligent and proficient in nearly all matters pertaining to criminal law. He has retained this knowledge. He is dependent on his two-headed coin for making all major decisions, believing that chance is the only real law of the universe. During the "Face the Face" storyline, it was revealed that Batman has trained Dent extensively in hand-to-hand combat and detective work, something that Dent was already reasonably proficient at. Two-Face is also proficient with a wide range of weaponry, and is considered an expert marksman.

Two-Face has appeared throughout modern DC animation. He was one of the main villains in the third Batman movie, played by Tommy Lee Jones. The role was originally intended for Billy Dee Williams, who played Harvey Dent in the first two movies, but new director Joel Schumacher wanted Jones. In the 2008 "The Dark Knight", Two-Face is played by Aaron Eckhart, in a far more gruesome visage than Jones.

So, how's the figure? Really spectacular. I think it is abundantly fair to say that if Mego had made Two-Face back in the 1970's this is very much what the figure would have looked like -- which, of course, is Mattel's intention with these figures, and they are quite readily expanding the cast well beyond what Mego did. Figures for Green Lantern, Sinestro, Lex Luthor, and Black Manta already exist, and figures of Flash, Captain Cold, Black Adam, Cheetah, Martian Manhunter, and even Darkseid are in the works. None of these individuals were ever turned out by Mego.

The figure stands 8" tall, just as it should. Mattel has created a body design that is not quite identical to the original Mego design. That design is currently in use, by EmCe Toys, for their Star Trek and other licensed products. One has to assume that, although Mattel reportedly received assistance from some of the people also working for EmCe to design these new figures, all of them longtime Mego fans, they weren't able to entirely duplicate the body design.

The design is still a good one, although it does have the moderate peculiarity of very narrow hips. This tends to make the characters in the spandex set look like they have rather odd bodily proportions, but Two-Face gets past this thanks to his wardrobe.

Two-Face has never been one to wear some sort of super-type costume. A fair number of Batman's enemies don't. The Penguin prefers formal wear. The Joker generally wears a suit where the basic particulars -- shirt, trousers, vest, jacket, etc -- are all present, even if the style and colors are pretty outrageous. The Riddler tends to alternate between a suit and a spandex costume. Catwoman's been something of a clothes-horse over the years.

Two-Face, generally taking the role of a crime boss and more often than not avoiding the cosmic-level adventures (although there was one bizarre story where he briefly teamed up with the Justice League back in the 70's), wears a suit.

However, as one might expect, even Two-Face's less-than-super wardrobe has its distinctive side to it -- or maybe I should say sides. The left side of the suit is always a different pattern than the right side. This includes the shirt and even the necktie, which one must assume is a clip-on since I can't imagine what it would take to design a conventional necktie that would perfectly split itself down the middle top to bottom after being tied.

As for the suits themselves, they've always been shown to be a fairly traditional cut and design, nothing outlandish about them compared to what the Joker wears, for example, except for the bifurcated status. Two-Face either learned how to sew at some point in his life, or he knows a good Gotham tailor that owes him a whole lot of favors.

Since this Two-Face figure is based on a classic interpretation of the character -- that is, as if it came from the 1970's as much as possible -- the suit reflects what Two-Face tended to wear back then. Since that time, Two-Face's wardrobe has tended to be a bit more extensive, although generally maintaining the double-sided split. But in the 70's, he was most often seen in a suit where the jacket and trousers on the same side of his body as the unscarred side of his face were a plain orangeish-tan, the shirt white, and the necktie gray. The suit on the scarred side was purple with criss-cross lines, the shirt was blue, and the necktie red with even tighter criss-cross.

Mattel has done an excellent job of duplicating this outfit very much as I expect Mego would have back in the day. The criss-cross pattern isn't present, but that probably would've been a little much for Mego. However, the suit, very neatly made, is the proper colors on both sides, and is an appropriate fit for a suit, vis-a-vis a super-type costume.

The suit is in three parts -- jacket, trousers, and shirt. The jacket has two snaps on the front, the trousers a snap in the back, and the shirt, which impressively does have sleeves that go all the way down, just in case Two-Face feels he needs to remove his jacket before punching somebody, is secured with Velcro in the front, that is concealed by the attached necktie. The shirt is white on one side, dark blue on the other. Even the necktie is two colors, gray and brown, and clearly sewn from two different pieces of fabric, not just imprinted with one or both of the colors. The sewing pattern for this figure must be a doozy.

Two-Face is wearing nicely made shoes, that look very similar to the shoes that were created for other non-boot-wearing characters in the original Mego line, and could most readily be seen on the Joker and Penguin. Interestingly, Dent's right shoe is brown, complementing the orange-tan suit color rather nicely, and his left shoe is black, which goes well with the dark bluish-purple.

Let's consider the headsculpt. It is an excellent rendition of the classic Two-Face of the time, very much in the Mego style. I am convinced that if Mego had made Two-Face, the head would have looked very much like this.

The scarred side of Two-Face's -- face -- has undergone a surprising number of changes over the years. In his early appearances, given the art styles and sensibilities of the time, Two-Face's face was less scarred-looking, and honestly looked more mutated than anything. Some characteristics have tended to maintain themselves, in that the eye tends to look enlarged, the mouth is permanently affixed open, and the hair is rather ragged and unruly-looking. However, in Two-Face's early apparances, the skin color was a sort of grayish-purple. This color would be changed in later years to a rather odd shade of green, for some reason, perhaps intended to represent a decayed or discolored state.

These days, Two-Face's scarred side tends to be an ugly shade of reddish purple, and clearly looks as though the skin has been eaten away as well as disfigured. That probably wouldn't've gone over too well in prior decades.

Since this Two-Face figure is meant to represent a more classic look from the 1970's, the scarred side of Two-Face's face is green, and less eaten away in appearance. Actually, the headsculpt is truly superb. The unscarred side of the face looks very Mego-ish. Just the right amount of facial detail and fair sculpting. Even the paint work is reflective of the time. The scarred side is similar. Although Mego never did anything quite this ugly, the overall design very successfully reflects both Two-Face's appearance at the time, and how Mego would have most likely rendered him had they done so. The paint work is very neatly done.

The body is nicely articulation, fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. The body is unfortunately somewhat loose in the waist and legs. This was not an uncommon problem with Mego figures, and despite the fact that these Mattel figures are designed somewhat differently, it's a bit of a problem here, and I don't know that there's any resolution for it. It's one aspect of Mego that I rather wish Mattel hadn't duplicated.

One thing to note is that Two-Face's left hand is not green, even though that side of his face is, and the character was frequently colored with a green hand, including the package illustration. This may have simply been an affectation on Two-Face's part, since his hand was not scarred.

I would like to note the package design, as well. It is VERY much in the Mego style -- a wide, single colored (and brightly colored) card, with a logo fairly reminiscent of Mego's "World's Greatest Super-Heroes", and images of the available characters inside circles, as well as the DC 75th Anniversary logo, and the figure packaged in a rectangular bubble on the right side. The overall design is definitely a blast from the past as much as the figure.

Two-Face does not come with any accessories. Arguably, the only thing he could have been given, except a gun perhaps, would have been his coin, which would have been far too small. I recall a rather preposterous Two-Face figure, that I think was made by Toy Biz when they briefly had the DC license, that featured a wind-up feature that caused his hand to spin around and around (making Two-Face a contortionist to be able to do something like that), and holding a two-headed coin that, proportionately, was about the size of a large dinner plate. It was really pretty ridiculous. I can live with a coinless Two-Face.

So, what's my final word here? I'm getting a huge kick out of these Retro-Action Super-Heroes. But then, I'm old enough to have had a ton of Megos when I was a kid. And certainly, Mattel has made a vastly superior Two-Face to my rather miserable attempt. Although the only original Mego I have anymore is my Superman, I'm still pleased to finally bring a Mego-esque Two-Face into my collection. And if you're a fan of Mego, and of DC, you'll enjoy this figure as well.

The DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES figure of TWO-FACE definitely has my highest recommendation!