Collects: Batman: The Long Halloween 1-13
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciler: Tim Sale
Inker: Tim Sale
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Letterer(s): Richard Starkings, Comicraft
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You know the system doesn’t work. That justice can be decided like the flip of a coin.
The Long Halloween is a perfect Batman book for someone new to comics. You don’t need to know anything – just that Bruce Wayne is a rich guy who dresses up in a bat-suit to fight criminals. Part of what’s great about this book is how accessible it is. It helps that the story is wholly engrossing and exciting; there’s a reason The Long Halloween is touted as one of Batman’s most enduing and popular tales.
So, what’s it about? Well, The Long Halloween takes place early in Batman’s career, shortly after the events of Year One. He’s already tangled with a number of nutty foes, like the Joker, Poison Ivy, and the Riddler. Mostly, though, his war on crime still concerns mobsters that have infected Gotham City for decades. Namely, Carmine Falcone, Sal Maroni, and their respective families. A good portion of the book’s drama surrounds them, and it’s here the story begins.
The Long Halloween covers a lot of ground. Batman’s alliance with Captain Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. His relationship with Catwoman. Gotham City crime families falling out as costumed crazies start to take over. Then there’s the tragic heart of the story: Harvey Dent’s fall from grace. We see Harvey as a driven lawyer set on ending organized crime and corruption. He shares with Batman and Gordon the belief that justice in Gotham often exists outside the law. Following closely Harvey’s crusade alongside these two men makes his transformation at the end of the book all the more heartbreaking. And believable.
But all of this – the mobsters, the rogues, Dent – is secondary to the story’s main mystery: a killer known as Holiday carrying out murders on Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, etc. Across 13 issues, the mystery unfolds masterfully. As I mentioned, a lot is packed into this story, but writer Jeph Loeb crafts a cohesive, yet undeniably epic, crime drama. The resolution is both surprising and satisfying.
Batman himself gets some great moments here. One of the scenes that sticks with me is the first meeting between Gordon, Dent, and Batman on the GCPD roof. After Batman darts off into the night, the other two find Falcone’s ledger just sitting there. Harvey looks stunned, and Gordon says, “Don’t ask.” It’s great. I also love the conversation Bruce has with Alfred about his father in the Father’s Day issue.
Even though I love this book, I have some problems with it. First, the Godfather references can be a bit much. It gets to a point where Loeb basically rips off scenes from the movie. I get that he’s writing a gangster crime drama, but The Godfather is low-hanging fruit and Loeb snags all he can without abandon. I also think too many of Batman’s rogues are in the book. It’s cool to see them, sure, but their roles are tangential at best – it feels like Loeb was padding out the pages, only including them because of their popularity.
Finally, a word on Tim Sale’s art. People either love it or hate it. I hear words like “beautiful” and “expressive” as much as “ugly” and “disfigured” when his name comes up. I’m somewhere in the middle. I usually like Sale’s style, but sometimes it doesn’t work for me. His Joker, for instance, I find ridiculously exaggerated. The huge toothy grin and pencil thin figure look way too cartoony for the grounded crime drama Loeb and Sale are going for. The Joker can still be scary with normal human features.
I’ll say this though: Sale’s Batman looks amazing. A supremely tall man, all muscled and grizzled, with a flowing, Gothic cape and long bat-ears – this is what I see when I think of Batman. I also have to mention the coloring by Gregory Wright. His stark, muted tones give this book a wonderful noir feel. Some panels have just two or three colors with lots of shadow. One of my favorites features Gordon, glasses in hand, looking out of his office window on a rainy night.
It’s easy to see why The Long Halloween is so popular. It’s a grounded, accessible take on Batman wrapped up in a fantastic mystery. I’d read it once before, and reading it again, knowing what happens, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a page-turner if there ever was one. Along with Year One, this is the Batman book I’d recommend for someone new to his stories. And even if you’re a longtime reader, it has lots to love.
Next: Loeb and Sale follow up their acclaimed story with Dark Victory.