Overview: Batman ‘89 picks up where the Tim Burton Batman movies left off and sees Billy Dee Williams’ Harvey Dent transform into Two-Face.
Editor’s Note: This collected edition includes all six issues of the miniseries Batman’89, which had its first issue released in August 2021 and the final issue released in July 2022. This review focuses on the story as a whole rather than the individual issues that made up the limited series.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Batman ’89 begins on Halloween, high up in a skyscraper restaurant in Gotham City. Harvey Dent has dinner with Sergeant Barbara Gordon. He asks for her hand in marriage when, suddenly, a bridge blows up. A gang of hoodlums dressed up like Joker’s goons (from the 1989 Batman movie) use the ensuing chaos and looting to try to steal two armored trucks via helicopter.
Batman arrives, communicating with Commissioner James Gordon via a device on his glove. While Batman stops the theft of the armored trucks, Harvey escorts Barbara out of the restaurant. A Joker goon steals her purse, and Harvey pulls a gun on the goon. He uses his trademark two-headed coin to threaten the would-be thief with death.
The next morning, Harvey pays a visit to Bruce Wayne. Harvey tells Bruce about his theory that Batman is actually a personal hit squad of “Batmen” working for Jim Gordon, and he asks Bruce to back him against the commissioner. In the background, news reports come in that the National Guard has been deployed to Gotham City in lieu of the previous night’s armored truck attack.
Bruce tells Harvey that he agrees with the district attorney, but he also goes a long way back with Jim. After Harvey leaves, Alfred Pennyworth tells Bruce that Harvey may have a point when it comes to the escalation of violence. A frustrated Bruce reminds Alfred that if he thinks he’s doing more harm than good, he’ll quit being Batman.
On the way to Burnside, Harvey calls Barbara, who fills him in on what’s in the evidence locker for Batman. The two are working together to bring order to Gotham and remove the city of unwanted vigilantes.
As Batman ’89 continues in the predominantly Black community of Burnside, Harvey meets with a mechanic named Jerome Otis, who was the father figure who gave Harvey his two-headed coin. Harvey butters up Jerome before asking him to help in his crusade. Later that night, a man by the name of Reverend Cecil Culp holds a press conference and demands a vote of no-confidence in Commissioner Gordon.
Later, Bruce sees the Bat-signal light up the sky. It hasn’t been used in six months, and Bruce suspects someone else is behind it. It turns out that Harvey Bullock and Harvey Dent are waiting for Batman, and there are snipers in a building nearby. Batman relays all this information to Gordon, who tells him that Bullock smells blood in the water. Gordon also reveals that he has an estranged relationship with his own daughter. Before ending his conversation with Batman, Jim tells the Caped Crusader to stay off the streets because the National Guard has orders to bring in Batman, dead or alive. Jim then destroys the headset he communicates with Batman on.
Batman sees trouble in the streets of the Burnside neighborhood. He follows a thief to his apartment and discovers the thief stole diapers and food for a baby. Before Batman can press the individual, a voice calls to him on the fire escape. When Batman goes to investigate, he’s attacked by someone dressed in Robin’s signature dark green and yellow. Batman is left dangling from the fire escape when National Guardsmen show up.
Batman blinds the National Guard with a flashbang and then escapes. The guardsmen, despite being blind, open fire. They wound four people and kill the man who was just stealing diapers and essentials. Batman, haunted by this event, tells himself that he truly screwed up.
The next day, Harvey Dent arrives at Otis’ garage. He has a favor to ask of Otis’ employee, a boy by the name of Drake. He wants Drake to examine some pieces of the Batmobile, but Drake refuses to help the police. We also learn that Drake is the one who was wearing Robin’s colors the previous night.
Representatives from Burnside join Harvey in the garage, and they talk about political action. The representatives are upset with Harvey as, with Harvey riling up the heat against Batman, he’s brought suffering to Burnside. A second person died from the shooting the previous night. Shortly after, Harvey Dent is seen speaking to a crowd in Burnside, rallying support for his cause.
As Drake leaves, he catches some boys wearing Batman’s symbols robbing a local store. Drake quick-changes and then reappears, taking down the thieves. He asks Burnside community members to guard the store, and it’s in this scene that we learn that Drake is Robin.
Batman ’89 continues at Wayne Manor as moving men deliver a giant penny. It saved Batman in the opening theft of the armored trucks, and Bruce wants to have it moved to the Batcave. Bruce also tells Alfred about how guilty and horrible he feels, having contributed to the death of innocents.
After Dent’s speech, Harvey tells Barbara that he looked out over that sea of faces and felt at home in Burnside again as if it reminded him of his roots and who he was. It was refreshing. As Harvey details all the interviews he has lined up, he’s accosted by Harvey Bullock, who calls the district attorney two-faced for his speech about inequity.
Later, Bruce meets with representatives from Burnside and Harvey Dent, detailing his plan to fund the college education of every school-age child in Burnside until he runs out of money. After the meeting, Bruce hears a loud crash on the way back to his car.
It turns out that one of the thieves dressed in Batman gear the previous night followed Drake back to the garage. The gang wants revenge, and they’ve torched Otis’ garage.
Bruce grabs a regular mask from his car and heads toward the scene of the crime. He’s stopped by Catwoman (Selina Kyle), who has rounded up the criminals and marked them. She’s been following Bruce.
At the garage, Otis tries to rush back in but is stopped. Drake is in there somewhere. Harvey Dent rushes into the burning garage but falls after a railing breaks.
Still, Harvey prevails, saving Drake and gaining even more traction and national coverage. Harvey is a hero, and one year later, he’s governor. Barbara Gordon, meanwhile, replaced her dad as commissioner during that time. Then, everything falls apart. The world goes black, and Harvey is in pain. When he wakes, Drake and Bruce are dragging Dent from the burning garage.
Harvey climbs to his feet, and the crowd around the fire is horrified. He then collapses, and the paramedics take Harvey away. Barbara rides with them. After having spoken with Bruce, she’s worried that Harvey inhaled too much sulfuric acid.
Meanwhile, Harvey Bullock asks Bruce for a statement. The press also converges on Bruce, championing him as a hero who saved Dent. Drake doesn’t get the same treatment, though he does point the police in the direction of the arsonists, who have since been locked up in a dumpster.
At the hospital, Bruce talks to Barbara about convincing Harvey to accept Bruce’s offer to pay for a team of plastic surgeons. Barbara doesn’t think Harvey will go for it.
Meanwhile, Harvey is haunted by a vision of himself from another universe. This vision explains that each time an event happens, the universe multiplies, with each possible scenario playing out in another dimension. This other Dent tells the deformed Harvey that he can literally split the universe in two with something as simple as a coin toss.
When he wakes, Harvey asks for his coin. He files off one side, scarring it like his face. He said doing this will give the coin power.
Elsewhere, Batman meets up with Catwoman. The two kiss and Selina tells Bruce about her business venture of putting wealthy criminals behind bars. When Bruce questions the legality of it, she tells him that he doesn’t know the criminals he associates with or that the armored truck heist was something much deeper than a simple heist.
Later, the people of Burnside march for justice when they find out that the captured arsonists might be freed. Harvey Bullock leads riot police against them, planning to break up the march. He’s thwarted when Robin drops a bunch of paint on him, then arms the protestors with spray paint cans. A fight breaks out, and someone tosses a lit gas can, which explodes.
Meanwhile, Alfred tells Bruce about a phone call from Drake Winston. The name rang a bell, and it turns out there’s a history there.
At the hospital, Two-Face escapes. He’s searching for his true destiny, as he believes he’s being kept alive for some reason unbeknownst to him.
Drake meets up with Bruce at Wayne Manor. It turns out that his ancestors were forced to sell their automotive company to Bruce’s ancestors way back. Drake tries to convince Bruce to fess up to what he saw so that the arsonists can be locked away for good. When Bruce refuses, Drake pretends to hurl acid at Mr. Wayne. This causes Bruce to leap into action, which Drake uses to prove that Bruce is Batman. Drake then reveals that he’s Robin.
While talking over details of a new computer security contract with Selina Kyle, Barbara Gordon gets word that Harvey Dent has escaped the hospital. She and some police officers head back to her home, where Harvey looks at police files on her computer.
Harvey escapes the police and sets up headquarters in an abandoned subway station beneath Burnside. It was supposed to connect Burnside to the good jobs in Gotham City, but it was never finished. Meanwhile, Bruce shows Drake the Batcave, and it’s here that Drake picks out a motorcycle.
As Batman ’89 continues, Two-Face finds one of the goons hired to steal the armored truck. This goon lets Harvey in on a secret about the Joker gangs. There is no real gang. One group is a bunch of nihilists and punks who dress up as Joker for the amusement of it. There’s another class of criminals who wears Joker’s colors as camouflage. It’s this second group that Two-Face wants to meet, as he has a job for them.
At Barbara’s apartment, Commissioner Gordon drops by. He’s looking for Harvey too, and he asks her about the information that Harvey took from her computer. Barbara pushes back at her father, who admits to his own shortcomings. He tells her he’s also resigned.
Four explosions rock Gotham. Four subway stations surrounding the Gotham City police station have blown up, and in the resulting melee, Two-Face and his newfound army loot the station. While his men destroy the station, Two-Face sneaks off to the evidence room.
Gordon rushes to the rooftop of the GCPD and switches on the Bat-signal. Batman and Robin split up. Batman takes the Batmobile, and Robin takes the Batcycle.
Atop the GCPD, Two-Face and a goon attack Commissioner Gordon. Batman shows up, dispatches the two would-be attackers, and gets Gordon to safety down on the ground. Gordon tells Batman that Two-Face is most likely after the armored truck heist evidence.
While Robin takes out a sniper across the street, Two-Face comes to and rushes down the stairs of the GCPD. Along the way, he gets into an encounter with Bullock. Bullock takes a gunshot to the gut.
Outside the GCPD, Two-Face encounters Batman and Gordon. Using Batman’s own gadgets that have been collected by police evidence, Two-Face stops the Caped Crusader. He then takes Gordon hostage, threatening to kill Gordon if Batman follows them down into the subway.
While Batman and Robin track down Two-Face, Harvey Dent meets Barbara Gordon in the park. At first, she seems to want to help him, but then she tries to arrest him. Two-Face flees, running back to his lair where Jim Gordon is captive. Gordon pushes Two-Face’s buttons, and Harvey responds by killing the former commissioner.
Batman arrives, and Two-Face brings the ceiling down on them. Batman is knocked out and severely injured in the rubble. Catwoman and Robin arrive, saving Batman, whose face is now revealed, from Two-Face. They drive Bruce back to Wayne Manor.
The next morning, Selina tells Bruce about Two-Face’s plans. Dent has evidence from the armored truck heist. It turns out the bank planned it to cover up federal documents that revealed the bank’s dirty secrets. Some of Gotham’s wealthiest were stealing federal funds. With this information, Two-Face can blackmail many of those in power in Gotham City.
Two-Face goes on a crime spree. At first, he tries to get Carmine Falcone to bow before him. When that fails, he flips his coin, killing Falcone. Then Dent pays a visit to Jerome. Jerome tells Dent that he doesn’t want any dirty money, and in turn, Two-Face’s dark side, much to the fear and anguish of Dent’s good side, kills Jerome.
Two-Face calls an audience with Bruce Wayne, and the two have their final showdown in the Batcave. As Bruce tries to reason with Harvey, arguing for the different outcomes this could have, Catwoman intervenes. Her meddling results in Two-Face’s death. He falls over the edge into the abyss of the cave. Bruce snaps at Selina, and the two fight. Selina leaves.
As Batman ’89 comes to a close, Barbara Gordon gets a package detailing evidence that Two-Face had, including the identity of Batman. The note attached is from someone who wants to help Barbara clean up the streets. It’s from Catwoman, but she calls herself an “oracle.”
Analysis: Batman ‘89 has a lot working for it. It has a terrific opener, one that propels readers back into the Batman world of Tim Burton. Artist Joe Quinones peppers in a milieu of fun references to Batman and Batman Returns. Lawrence, the Joker goon who carried the boom box at the art museum, Prince, and other nods are clear and present.
More importantly, the characterization of Harvey Dent, who was played by Billy Dee Williams in the ‘89 Batman film, is exceptional. In this imagining, Dent is a man literally torn between two worlds. The predominantly Black neighborhood he grew up in, Burnside, is suffering and needing help. In order to do that, Dent must walk in the world of the wealthy elitists, glad-handing, and code-switching to be the “big man.” He loses himself in it, and all around him, there are people calling him two-faced.
Members of his Burnside community call him this. Harvey Bullock spits the term at Dent. Even in the opening dinner scene with Dent, there’s a statue of the two-headed Janus in the background of the restaurant. When Harvey splits, Quinones’ art really sells readers on the idea of the many paths Dent could have taken, of the many choices and worlds this tragic villain could have inhabited.
Two-Face is less of a man with a split personality, and more of a character ripped apart by his own ambition, which takes on a life of its own. It’s a fascinating premise, and at its heart, this characterization of Two-Face is an interesting examination of the dichotomy of politics and the fight for social equity. This storyline is mirrored by Bruce Wayne, who sees firsthand the careless damage Batman can cause when a civilian is gunned down by the National Guard. For a few issues, Bruce grapples with his inability to save all of Gotham, carrying the burden of guilt. This feeds into Bruce’s encounter with this world’s Robin, a boy by the name of Drake Winston who hails from Burnside. In the past, Bruce’s family did Drake’s family wrong, and Bruce wants to further make amends not only for himself…but for his ancestors.
There are many other threads that weave in and out of this Batman sequel. Catwoman comes back as an expert-level hacker who knows all of Gotham’s dirty secrets. Barbara Gordon is the estranged daughter of Commissioner Gordon, caught in the middle between her fiance Harvey Dent and her father. While these are minor subplots, the potential is there, and if a sequel were ever given the go, these would be interesting threads to continue.
As strong as the first four chapters in this collection are, the last two chapters unravel. It feels as if there wasn’t enough time or space allowed to flesh out the many subplots and narrative threads running throughout Batman ‘89. It’s an ambitious project, and perhaps it’s too ambitious.
The final moments of Batman ’89 have emotional resonance, but the roads leading from Two-Face organizing an army to his final battle with Batman are a blur, crammed together to direct readers from point A to Z as quickly as possible. After four fairly solid chapters setting the pieces into place, it’s a mad dash to the finish line, and along the way, we’re left in the dust.
With an extra issue or two, Batman ‘89 could have been incredible. The themes of social justice are both very much Batman and very much resonant with modern times, despite this story taking place sometime in the early 90s. If only there had been a bit more space, this could have ended with the punch it definitely set up in the earlier issues.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with copies of the original issues of this series as they were released, but not of this new edition. You can find this collected edition and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this edition digitally either for Comixology through Amazon or as a physical copy in a hardcover form at Amazon or from Things from Another World.