Batman The Long Halloween Pt. 1 REVIEW: Young hero's greatest mystery is masterclass in adaptation
Part One of Chris Palmer’s Batman: The Long Halloween begins with title cards pulled straight from the panels of its source material, in acknowledgement of the grandiosity the film knows it must live up to. This film serves a dual purpose of (probably) creating a new DC Animated Universe following Superman: Man of Tomorrow and Justice Society: World War II (the animation style is purposely the same in all three films), as well as serving up a faithful adaptation of a beloved Batman story. Not only does the film achieve this goal (in part one), it slips in character details and enough differences to set itself apart from the graphic novel, while still serving the same story. This film is a must watch.
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween was the first trade paperback I ever purchased from a comic book shop. This led to more books and eventually a plethora of single issues I now re-up on every month. All this to say, Batman: The Long Halloween catalyzed my love of the medium. Outside of myself, the tale is extant in any continuity. Rarely does a story transcend the boundaries of canon in an industry of retcons and reboots, but Batman: The Long Halloween asserts its position alongside other juggernaut stories such as Batman: Year One and Batman: The Killing Joke, both of which tend to remain a constant in any timeline. The film adaptation of Batman: The Long Halloween seeks, and for the most part manages, to live up to what made its source material so influential: characterization, story, and aesthetic.
Jensen Ackles’ Batman is a gruff but young iteration of the character. His interactions with other characters are often staccato, as this version of Batman tries to find a foothold in the fight against organized crime. This isn’t the “always prepared” Batman that often dominates the shelves. Here he is fallible. He can leap from a rooftop and be out of breath. He is also not the “World’s Greatest Detective” yet. Batman can chase the criminals down back alleys all he wants, but none of it matters if he can’t find evidence first. Batman realizes he has more to learn to help his city. The movie does well with displaying these moments of growth, planting seeds for the more experienced Batman we’ve come to know.
Harvey Dent, voiced by Josh Duhamel, is an intriguing character in the movie because of (get this) his duality. Duhamel’s Dent shines with moments of genuine instability that become more and more apparent as the film goes on. He is not a bad man, but he is frustrated that the mob continues to evade justice and as a result finds himself stretched almost to breaking point.
Captain James Gordon completes the triumvirate of justice. Sadly, I felt Gordon did not have much time to shine; however, this makes sense given the larger world in which this story exists. As a continuation of Batman: Year One, Batman: The Long Halloween is more Batman and Harvey Dent’s story, given the former was Gordon’s story. Billy Burke voices Gordon well but barely gets to stretch his vocal chords in the first part of this story.
The choice to divide Batman: The Long Halloween into two parts is a good decision. The story is allowed to breathe and set up looming tension. The story centers on an intriguing time for the Dark Knight. We are about to see the transition from organized crime to Arkham Asylum frequent flyers. Batman’s mission gets more complex and pushes him to become the hero we all know. Aside from the Joker, Part One focuses on organized crime and the Holiday Killer. Who is killing "made men" in Gotham while Batman works to put away the mob? How far will the mob go to fight back and survive? These are all questions we see take shape throughout the film. We all (for the most part) know where this story is going but the film still builds doubt through the ominous music and noir aesthetic.
Gotham is shown in shades of grey. Though this is to be expected (it is Gotham after all), it plays well with the theme of moral ambiguity explored in the film. The skies are constantly leaden with looming dread that connotes the horrors and sorrow to come. Though the film’s animation has nothing on Tim Sale’s original work, the settings and character art embrace Sale’s love of shadows. Darkness seems to be its own character on the streets of Gotham, in a loving tribute to the noir influences in Batman’s beginnings and that Sale brought back in his work.
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is a must watch adaptation that will be a definite gem in this seemingly new animated universe. I give it two bat-thumbs WAY up. Check out Part One now available on Prime Video or VUDU. If you’d like to take a gander at the source material, get it on Comixology or (my preference) your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP!!!
Also, see our COMICS RETROSPECTIVE of The Long Halloween here.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Specials (1993, 1994, 1995)
Batman: The Long Halloween (1996) 13-issue limited series