Batman: The Long Halloween — a review

 

BatmanLongHalloween

When I learned that at least part of the fourth season of Gotham would be based on the Batman story arc known as The Long Halloween, I decided that it was time for me to finally read it. I was aware that something by that name existed, but I didn’t know much about it. It’s just one of those storylines, like The Killing Joke or Knightfall, that always get mentioned whenever the topic of conversation is memorable Batman stories.

Batman: The Long Halloween was a 13-issue limited series originally published, in comic book form, in 1996 and 1997. This makes it over 20 years old at this point. It was written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Tim Sale. I was aware of Jeph Loeb as the writer of Batman: Hush (with awesome art by Jim Lee), and because of his extensive television work on the programs Lost, Smallville, and Heroes. It was also on Heroes where I first saw Tim Sale’s artwork passed off as that of character Isaac Mendez.

Long Halloween was a continuation of the world created by Batman: Year One, which concerned the beginning of Bruce Wayne’s career as Batman. This is another story arc I never read, although I did see the animated adaptation and liked it. It makes sense that this story arc would appeal to the creators of Gotham as well, since it is also concerned with Batman’s early history, or prehistory, in fact.

One of the first things I noticed about the trade paperback copy I picked up at Books-A-Million (BAM!) was the Tim Sale artwork. My first thought was that I don’t think he’d ever make my list of favorite comic book artists. It’s not that the artwork is bad, because it isn’t. It’s very stylish, and it fits the noir story. Heavy blacks, with a lot of silhouettes. After a few pages, I really wasn’t paying that close attention to the artwork because I was carried along by the story, the central mystery of the serial killer known as Holiday.

Now that I’ve finished reading the paperback, I have to admit that the art fits the story well. It’s moody and idiosyncratic.

Sale still doesn’t make my list of favorite artists, however. His Batman is okay, although his cape often seems to be tattered. His Joker is a ridiculous characature with too many long and irregularly shaped teeth. In fact, every character seems almost like a funhouse mirror reflection of the characters we’re used to seeing. If you’re old enough to remember the Beetlejuice cartoon, you may get this reference: Tim Sales’ Batman characters look almost like charactures of the ones we’re accustomed to seeing, like comparing the characters in the Beetlejuice cartoon to the live-action movie. I suppose that’s a definition of “stylized,” but it’s not my favorite type of comic book art.

I suppose I would have preferred Jim Lee on this book as well. But, I’m reviewing what exists, not what I would rather have.

I see many parallels between this book and Loeb’s work on Hush, both of which chronicle the downfall of a friend of Bruce Wayne. In The Long Halloween, it’s about Harvey Dent becoming the villain Two-Face, which is no spoiler if you’re a Batman fan. There is a noir twist to the story that I won’t reveal here, and it was handled well.

Did I like this story? Well…yes and no. I liked how Batman is shown as a part of the criminal justice system, along with Gordon and Dent. Much of that seems like old news now, though. I realize that it wasn’t always this way. Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer have admitted that their take on Batman was heavily influence by this work. And, of course, I’ve gotten accustomed to Jim Gordon being a central character on Gotham. It’s often easy for me to forget that this wasn’t always the case. Commissioner Gordon has always been around in the Batman mythos, but he used to be a peripheral character at best. Batman: The Long Halloween, and Batman: Year One before it, helped to change that, and influenced later creators who understood the dramatic potential of making Jim Gordon an even more important character. Since I’m reading this TPB a couple of decades after the fact, I don’t really get the full impact of this as a new thing.

Besides that, the story is one which I think I would have appreciated more if I had read it in 13 installments over a longer period of time. A straight read-through doesn’t really put the work in the best light. It can seem repetitive, often redundant, and the Holiday murders just a convenient device to bring more and more of Batman’s rogue’s gallery into the story on a rotating basis. This minor complaint aside, it is still a good story, just lacking in the big surprising moments I would have preferred.

That, coupled with the Tim Sales artwork that is just okay for me, leads me to grade this book a solid B, which is hardly a rave review for something that has influenced so many later Batman creative teams, including the current one on the television show Gotham. I wonder what parts of this arc will make it into this season?

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