Color Coded: Harvey Dent (“Batman: The Animated Series”)

Harvey Dent in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Pretty Poison"

Harvey Dent in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Pretty Poison.” Photo credit: Warner Bros/batmantheanimatedseries.wikia.com)

After a Twitter call-out for Color-Coded ideas, I was given a really good one, which jogged up old memories of me being duped and confused by this character. That character is Batman: The Animated Series’ Harvey Dent.

Harvey Dent’s design is a lot like Lex Luthor’s design in that they both look like there were some conscious decisions being made about how the characters’ racial presentations might play to different audiences. Both characters have a more “ambiguously ethnic” look, particularly where the lips are concerned–no other white guys in Batman, save for women and the Joker, are drawn with lips (even though everyone has them in real life).

Whereas there’s a paper trail as to why Lex is designed the way he is (he was modeled after Telly Savalas, who played popular TV detective Kojak in the 1970s), there is no reasoning left by the animators as to the backstory of Harvey’s design. I don’t know if the team was similarly inspired by Kojak, but regardless, Harvey and Lex are definitely characters that seem cut from the same cloth.

Harvey’s racial ambiguity might also something that’s used to mark him as different from others. Similarly to Lex’s racial ambiguity, Harvey’s looks could have been subconsciously used as a marker to let audiences know that it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see him and that, like with Lex, it might not be under the greatest of circumstances when we meet him again.

In any case, these are just my thoughts on Harvey; I don’t know what kind of conscious or subconscious intent was put into his character design. But I do know that Harvey’s ambiguity speaks to the limited amount people of color are in animation, in this case animation from 20 years ago. There weren’t any regular black cast members or cast members of other races on Batman: The Animated Series, and when there were non-white characters, they were usually shown in stereotypical light, such as when Batman goes to Japan after being summoned by his master, Yoru Sensei, and when a ninja (Kyodai Ken, Batman’s past rival in Yoru Sensei’s dojo) attacks him in Gotham. Even Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia, as cool as they are, are a mixture of Middle Eastern and Asian stereotypes. Probably the only reason Harvey stood out is simply because there’s a dearth of racial representation on the show in the first place.

But, just for the sake of complicating things even further, I must point out that in the original Batman live action film by Tim Burton, guess who played Harvey Dent? None other than Billy Dee Williams. The fact that Williams played the live action version of the character lends some credence to some fans’ idea that the animated Harvey might be, as this post is called, color-coded.

Billie Dee Williams as Harvey Dent is dressed in an expensive coat with red carnation as decoration. He's also wearing a grey scarf, purple and white pinstripe shirt, and purple and blue patterned tie. He has a cigar in his mouth.
Billie Dee Williams as Harvey Dent. (Credit: Warner Bros./ 1989Batman.com)

What do you think about Harvey Dent? Give your opinions in the comments section below! And if there’s a character you feel is color-coded that you want me to write about? Let me know on Twitter @moniqueblognet or @COLORwebmag!

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