When I came across page 15 in “The Dark Knight Returns,” I was so impressed with Frank Miller’s creative and clever panel layout that I felt compelled to analyze and share it. But before I dive in, I think a bit of back-story will be helpful to anyone who is not familiar with the Batman universe.
Background Info: Harvey Dent was once a fearless district attorney who fought diligently to rid Gotham city of crime, but after half of his face was disfigured by Sal Maroni who threw acid on him during a trial, he became the villain Two-Face. The character of Two-Face has two distinct personalities—good and evil—that parallel the two sides of his face. Additionally, he is known for relaying on the result of a coin flip—the clean side leads to a good outcome, while the defaced side leads to a bad outcome—to make important decisions and to determine the fate of his victims.
Analysis: The first few panels of page fifteen depict workers at Arkham Asylum walking through the halls and discussing the weather as they pass the Joker’s room before arriving at Two-Face’s. The first seven panels are not terribly important in ad of themselves in regard to either content or form, but they gain their importance from drawing attention to, and augmenting, the transition from panel seven to panel eight—the place where content begins to mirror form in regard to the character of Two-Face. The content of panels eight through twelve show a plastic surgeon and a physiatrist explaining that Two-Face has been successfully “cured,” both physically and mentally, and is now going to have his new face unveiled; while the structure of each of these aforementioned panels takes the form of a single image that is split into two symmetrical halves. Here it is important to recognize the deliberate parallelism that Frank Miller creates between the physical split in structure of the panels and the split personality of Two Face. This marriage of content and form reaches its climax in the transition from panel twelve to panel thirteen. In panel twelve, one of the doctors introduces one half of Harvey Dent to the other half, and in panel thirteen he sees his new face for the first time in a mirror. Panel thirteen marks the monumental point where Harvey Dent sees himself as a unified whole—a point reinforced by the complete and undivided structure of the panel.