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Batman: The Long Halloween

– By Jeph Loeb (Writer) & Tim Sale (Artist); 2011

thelonghalloweencover

Summary from Goodreads

Taking place during Batman’s early days of crime fighting, this new edition of the classic mystery tells the story of a mysterious killer who murders his prey only on holidays. Working with District Attorney Harvey Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon, Batman races against the calendar as he tries to discover who Holiday is before he claims his next victim each month. A mystery that has the reader continually guessing the identity of the killer, this story also ties into the events that transform Harvey Dent into Batman’s deadly enemy, Two-Face. This edition includes original 13-issue series as well as four additional story pages cut from the original series, which are presented fully colored and restored to their place in the story.

Overview

Originally published by DC Comics in 1996 and 1997 as a limited series run, The Long Halloween is the follow-up to three Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Specials (later collected as Batman: Haunted Knight) by the same creative team. In terms of continuity the book follows Batman: Year One, continuing the early days of Batman’s career as a vigilante. While Haunted Knight takes place between the two it is not required to follow what’s going on.

This story is one that Christopher Nolan particularly drew from when creating The Dark Knight Trilogy, though most noticeably in the case of the first two films.

The Story

On the cover and in the introduction, a conversation with Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, Nolan identifies The Long Halloween as “more than a comic book. It’s an epic tragedy.” These words ring true in the tone of the story, though I don’t believe it traces the downfall of a singular character as classical tragedies do, but of a more of an idea.

The story takes us through a years’ time in Gotham City, where crime lords struggle to hang on to their empires, costumed villains wreak more and more havoc, and cryptic murders go continually unsolved. Our “triumvirate” consisting of Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, and Batman swear to take crime boss “The Roman” down, but as the situation unravels each is tested and wonder at the price victory. Along with this they try to discover the identity of “The Holiday Killer.” Each chapter is broken up by holidays throughout the year, centred around each killing and the events unfolding around them.

At its heart this is a gritty, noir crime story, with the superhero elements adding a manic twist to the formula. It serves as a transition for Batman, compared to Year One, from combatting the mob and street thugs to costumed maniacs and super-powered beings. What I liked about how they handled this was we never go through an origin story for these villains — with one exception — focusing instead on what Batman has to deal with about them.

The involvement of each villain is woven into the story in such a way that they don’t feel like they’re trying to steal the spotlight. Even The Joker, prominently featured in the “Christmas” chapter, is simply a part the story rather than a key player. It’s discussed how these characters’ emergence may be a symptom of Batman’s presence, and that issue is clearly underlining the story, but I like that it didn’t become the focus. Their presence is downplayed but important. In this fight between the law and the criminal underworld these villains keep popping up, becoming a problem both sides underestimate. It doesn’t spell it out, but it was clear to me that as “The Roman” empire, this madness is what will rise.

Where Year One is important for dealing with Batman’s root origin, The Long Halloween far exceeds it for me as a tale of a Batman in his early days. I still got the sense of his inexperience and it’s a stripped down, more grounded version of the character, but he feels more comfortable in his role this time around. Despite his imposing, more competent presence, we also see a lot more of his vulnerable side, though typically while he’s Bruce Wayne. At the end of the day he is human, after all, and susceptible to forces many of his villains are known for, as well as his own feelings as he deals with loss and misplaced trust or intuition.

The Art

Tim Sale’s illustrations strongly evoke the noir feel, making great use of shadow and muted colours. There are a lot of stylized touches that were used to great effect as well, such as each time the Holiday killer strikes. These scenes play out like their own vignettes: sound is no longer indicated and colours fade to black and white save for those used for stark contrast like red. The way this segments these moments from the story while at the same time blending with events as they are unfolding gives them more weight, making the killer’s continued evasion of capture all the more impactful.

While a more grounded illustrative style, Sale does not does shy away from grotesquely exaggerating certain characters, stylistic touch I enjoy. Most notably is The Joker’s grin and jawline, which is pointedly inhuman with impossibly elongated teeth. I found this to be a similar case for Batman who sometimes looks inhumanly muscular. I’m not sure if this is a reflection of the style of the times or Sale making Batman look more intimidating in contrast to Bruce Wayne.

Extras

This 2011 edition of The Long Halloween includes the interview with Nolan and Goyer already mentioned as its introduction. Additionally, four story pages that were cut from the original series have been added, fully coloured and restored into the story. Since this is my first time reading it I am not certain what specific pages these were. The back of the book includes sketches of various covers from the series’ run.

Final Thoughts

While there are many great tales of the Batman and his extensive gallery of rogues, this is one of those stories fans of all levels owe it to themselves to read. It’s not perfect, there are some plot elements that I found to be a little too vague and not perfectly fleshed out, but I loved it all the same. It’s considerably thicker than most comic book volumes, but the pages just seemed to melt away. I couldn’t put it down.

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