COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: "The Long Halloween": One of Batman's Finest Outings
"I believe in Harvey Dent." —Gilda Dent
Belief is all that we have in this world. Gilda states her belief in her husband Harvey Dent, Gordon states his belief in law and order, and of Gotham, but most important, Batman states his belief in Harvey Dent, and his city, alongside his crusade. Batman's whole crusade is based on his obsession with eradicating crime, and his belief that one man can make a difference. If anything, it shows that if we didn't have belief, we would go mad.
Being a big Batman fan, when friends of mine often ask me what Batman stories that I would recommend to newcomers, it can be a complicated answer since Batman has had plenty of excellent stories over the years. I could mention Alan Moore's seminal work Batman: The Killing Joke, or Frank Miller's Batman: Year One (which I far prefer over his much lauded The Dark Knight Returns), or Grant Morrison's remarkably odd Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. I could also mention Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Joker (though I guess that's not really a Batman story, is it?) or Scott Snyder's run on the character. There are so many others, but an easy choice for recommendation is always Loeb and Sale's The Long Halloween.
Batman: The Long Halloween (1996-97) is a 13 issue miniseries from Loeb and Sale, who had gained some renown from their previous collaboration on Batman: Haunted Knight. The Long Halloween follows the Dark Knight as he teams up with Jim Gordon and new District Attorney Harvey Dent to solve a new case involving a serial killer who goes by the name of Holiday. We soon begin to see the toll that it takes on their lives, relationships, and even their sanity at some points.
To call this comic a good Batman comic is too faint a praise for this book; it is good crime fiction. Loeb and Sale have a grasp on the crime genre that is replicated by few other creative duos. I could certainly make the argument that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are far more inventive with the genre, but Loeb and Sale come close in terms of the closeness of their working relationship. Many people have noticed over the years that The Long Halloween has notable similarities with Francis Ford Coppola's crime epic The Godfather, and I can certainly see that from certain lines in the book to the shadowy, gothic atmosphere that pervades both works. I'll quote my good friend Alan on this one and say that they both take a sip from the same creative well. It is funny how The Long Halloween was influenced by cinema, as The Long Halloween has been cited by Christopher Nolan as a seminal influence on his own Dark Knight movie trilogy. It has been cited by Nolan as one of his favorite Batman stories, though sadly Nolan didn't lean into the detective aspect of Batman's character as much. Matt Reeves, though, seems to have taken a note from this with his upcoming Batman film adaptation, which I anxiously await.
What makes The Long Halloween so inventive is its take on the criminal underworld, and its exploration of how normal criminals such as Carmine Falcone or Sal Maroni would react to new 'super criminals.' The way that Loeb builds tension throughout the story of the comic proves just how great of a writer that he can be. He also takes a note from Frank Miller's Year One and makes Gotham City into a more realistic, grounded city, while also never failing to capture the theatrics of the Batman mythos, creating a careful balance between these two tones that keeps The Long Halloween from faltering entirely, though sometimes Loeb can get lost with one tone over another. Much of the tension from the series shows how these super criminals begin to drive Gotham into a further state of insanity, and how Batman's appearance has now attracted more insanity to Gotham, rather than giving Gotham a sense of hope in order to end their state of constant misery and struggle.
Much of the tragedy of the book comes from the fall of Harvey Dent, who gradually begins to lose his mind from the stress of the case of the Holiday Killer, the tensions at his home, as well as his burgeoning obsession to take down the Falcone/Maroni crime syndicate, which eventually leads to his transformation into Two Face. Much of the tension that is built throughout the story, aside from the criminals and the so called 'freaks' who are now running amok in Gotham, is Harvey's deteriorating sanity and once he's doused with the acid at the trial, it's a breaking point for Harvey that he can never come back from.
Tim Sale once again manages to show himself as one of the best artists in modern comics with this book, bringing a pulpy, yet also gothic tone not unlike one of my other favorite artists, Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame. While I do have issues with Sale's anatomy at times, I do think his idiosyncratic flare continues to have me intrigued, and bares comparison to few others like Mignola, Steve Ditko, and Gabriel Ba. His style remains evocative and moody throughout the run of the series; he never gets too wacky and keeps you immersed in the tone and atmosphere of the series. It just shows the power of an inspired artist.
Of course, there are issues that pervade throughout the book. Loeb has a knack for filibustering characters into his books when unsure how to keep the story moving along. It's not as bad as in some of his other works and it mostly works. It does rear its head at times in ways that I felt was unsatisfactory: his depiction of Scarecrow and Mad Hatter, especially when they team up is also lacking. He basically makes them into bumbling, nursery rhyme-quoting buffoons, and as someone who really likes Scarecrow, that was quite disappointing to see. Sale's design of the Joker is also odd (see image below), with his anatomy occasionally reminding me of my least favorite comics artist, Rob Liefeld. Also, the story in that issue is lacking. While not horrible, it feels a bit out of place in this mostly serious, grounded saga. The final twist is also lacking; while it works thematically in exploring how this new age of Gotham has driven its residents mad alongside the 'super villains' and our heroes, it doesn't quite work when put under intense scrutiny. It leaves me to believe that Jeph Loeb doesn't always know how to wrap up his stories; like with Ken Levine, he relies more on twists that make the story more complicated than a more natural conclusion. Nevertheless, most of these complaints are mere small gripes in comparison to the heaps of praise I level at this series.
In the end, The Long Halloween showcases the excellence that we can get when a writer and artist duo who are profoundly good at their crafts team up and both complement each other beautifully.
If you want to find The Long Halloween, the best bet would be your local comic shop, or you can find it at this comixology link