With Halloween just a few days away, I thought it’d be a good time to take a look back at Batman: The Long Halloween. Written by Jeph Loeb with art by Tim Sale, this is a classic Batman story with film noir feel. Loeb crafts a masterful mix of hardboiled crime, mystery, and superheroes without making any of these elements feel like they are out of place. Yet despite this expert craftsmanship, there are things in this book that could do with some improvement.
Batman: The Long Halloween was originally printed in thirteen monthly issues, starting in October 1996, and wrapping up the following October. The story follows Batman as he attempts to discover the identity of Holiday, a murderer who is killing members of Gotham’s crime families on holidays, starting with the murder of Johnny Viti, nephew of mafioso Carmine Falcone, on Halloween. Thus begins a yearlong hunt by Batman, Captain Jim Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent. The story takes some wonderful twists and turns as the year progresses, which leads to its eventual conclusion. The final twist is good enough that I won’t spoil it for you, but rest assured that it is one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite a while.
By far the best part of this book was Jeph Loeb’s story telling. In the forward to the edition I own, Loeb says that much of the credit for the book goes to Archie Goodwin, former editor of DC, for pushing Loeb to tell a noir story about the Gotham crime families set in the Batman: Year One time period. If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, Loeb took a good idea and ran with it as hard and fast as he could.
The characterizations of rival gangsters Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni is fantastic. Both men see themselves as legitimate business men and try to conduct themselves as such when in public. They often attend events together and quietly trade barbs even as they rage and plot against each other behind closed doors. Not only are these characters fully fleshed out, but so are the secondary characters that surround them. The only real issue with this is that at times it feels like a few plot points are being taken right from The Godfather. For instance, the opening scene at a wedding and the inclusion of a son who is not involved in the family “business”. While these points take different turns in Long Halloween than they do in The Godfather, I do wish that Loeb had taken the opportunity to write new, fresh material, instead of borrowing from the most well-known Mafia story that exists.
Not only is The Long Halloween a good noir crime story, it is also a solid Batman story. Long Halloween has my two favorite elements of a Batman comic: plenty of costumed villains and Batman showing off his investigative abilities. Batman has always been known as “the detective,”—which is fitting given the fact that he first appeared in Detective Comics—and he is always at his best when he is fulfilling that role. The mystery portion of Long Halloween provides a great opportunity for Batman to test his skills as a detective. While the story doesn’t focus much on this aspect, it is still constantly there, most often expressed through Bruce’s inner monologue.
Of course, what would a Batman story be without his usual cast of costumed adversaries? For my money, no one beats out Batman for the best rogues gallery (That includes Flash. Deal with it.), and Long Halloween has no shortage of them. Almost every major Batman villain gets at least a cameo at some point and others play a much more leading role.
As always, the Joker is present and is more a force of chaos than anything else. He is as clueless about the identity of Holiday as everyone else is, but figures that by killing everyone at a New Year’s Eve celebration in Gotham Square he stands a pretty good chance to taking Holiday out. Joker isn’t too fond of the competition for Gotham’s craziest citizen.
By far the most interesting of the villains is Catwoman. Loeb takes full advantage of the Year One setting and really takes the time to explore the beginnings of this complex relationship. While Bruce is obviously involved with Selina Kyle, Batman has a back and forth with Catwoman which frequently mirrors the interactions between Bruce and Selina. We know that eventually Batman figures out that Catwoman and Selina are the same person, but at least for now it’s really quite interesting watching these two interact, completely unaware of who the other is.
My biggest complaint when it comes to the story involves Harvey Dent. The origin of Two-Face is one of the most over told origin stories in the Batman franchise and at this point, I can really do without another retelling. Admittedly this was written in 1996 and at the time it might not have been so over used, but unfortunately it is now 2013 and the story is played out. Yes, it would have required some things to be done differently, but I feel that showing the darkness in Harvey and using it to foreshadow what we all know to be inevitable would have been far more powerful. It is also odd to me that they always seem to shoehorn his transformation in very near the end of a story. In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight we also see the transformation of Dent, and like Long Halloween it is very near the end of the story. Creators do this otherwise well written origin a disservice by rushing through and not allowing it to fully develop.
When it comes to Tim Sale’s art, I find it to be hit and miss. Sale is a very talented artist, and this story provides several opportunities for him to show off. There are plenty of spectacular double page spreads that really enhance the story. I’m also quite fond of the murder scenes which are done in black and grey, except for the blood and the holiday themed trinket that is left behind (not always in color, but it looks better when they are). While I’m not overly thrilled with the choice of color palette, I freely admit it works with the story and doesn’t take anything away.
There are two areas where I find the art falling short. First is some of Sale’s women. When Sale wants to make a woman look beautiful, like Selina Kyle, then he succeeds with flying colors, making them truly appealing. On the other hand, when Sale attempts to make a woman look ugly or unattractive they just look poorly drawn. Sofia Falcone, daughter of Carmine, more often looks like a poorly depicted drag queen than a woman. I found it distracting and it removed me from the story several times.
My second issue is the inking. Since there is no separate artist listed as inker, one can only assume that Sale was inking his own work. I think that Sale was attempting to use ink to convey a noir feeling, but there are many examples where he takes it too far and the panel becomes confusing. Several times it took far too long for me to figure out what was going on panel to panel when there was no dialogue to help guide the story. Really great art should be able to tell the story easily, without dialogue or narration.
Even with its shortcomings, I would highly recommend Batman: The Long Halloween. It’s a great noir story with superheroes mixed in. While Loeb and Sale have teamed up on other Batman works, this is still the strongest of their partnerships. With this in mind, I’m pleased to announce that we will be giving away an Absolute Edition of Batman: The Long Halloween. The contest begins, rather fittingly, on Halloween (October 31) 2013 and ends at 11:59 pm EDT on Sunday November 3, 2013. See below for entry rules and good luck.
RULES: Please read the rules for entry carefully.
1) Entry is easy: simply comment on this post! Comments must be of some substance. This means no one word posts or gibberish.
2) Unfortunately, entries can only be accepted from persons living in the United States.
3) The winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries and announced on November 4, 2013. Every effort will be made to contact the winning party before the public announcement. The winner will need to provide an address where the prize can be shipped. (However, this should not be included in the comment.)
4) If it is determined that the winner is ineligible (not living in the United States, etc) then a new winner will be chosen at random, and contacted.
5) Failure to comply with the rules listed will result in an ineligible entry.
6) Final determination of eligibility will be done solely by the staff of Therefore I Geek.
7) Seriously, get out there and enter! This is an awesome prize.