Part Three of the Batman Reread! In this, I look back on Batman: The Long Halloween.
The Long Halloween was one of the first ‘official’ sequels to Year One. Written between 1996-1997, the book is by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale. A serial killer, dubbed Holiday, is taking out members of the Falcone and Maroni family, Harvey Dent is trying to shut down the mob, and Batman’s rogue’s gallery is causing no end of trouble. There’s a lot going on and it’s no wonder it takes a year to tell.
Normally, I wait until the end to talk about the art but there’s no way for me to hold off with this book. Tim Sale’s art is gorgeous and one of a kind, and everything he draws is dynamic. Even the scenes that are just talking heads are lovingly illustrated and knock your socks off. His Batman is both heroic and demonic and his cape moves in the spirit of Todd McFarlane. I know the art might not be for everyone, some people prefer the realistic styling of Jim Lee and the like, but it’s Sale’s stylized art that truly makes this book a classic.
Which, upon rereading this, I believe even more strongly than I once did. On my first read, this book felt like a great American novel, with clever dialogue and a mindbending mystery. Now, not so much.
Jeph Loeb does a good job with this story but it suffers from his own style. If you read interviews and hear others talk about him, it seems that Loeb likes to write stories without the answers planned out. So, in this book, he’s written a murder mystery without knowing who he’s going to have end up be the killer. When I first read this, I thought the multiple choice answer of the Holiday’s identity was brilliant, because it let me decide who was the real bad guy. Now, I just wish Loeb would have told us, because it seems like everyone was Holiday, which means the character isn’t really important, because it doesn’t really exist.
I also had remembered Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two-Face being more subtle and tragic but on rereading, I was disappointed. It seems like Dent was always an angry and dark character, willing to bend to the rules to see justice. Maybe I’m bringing Christopher Nolan’s White Knight version of the character into the book now, but it does hinder my sympathy for Dent.
Okay, one more complaint. Batman fails. I hate that. I hate it when all the work a hero does ends up being fruitless. Remember how Jim Gordon and the others went to a lot of trouble to save the mayor from the Joker’s shooting in The Dark Knight? But then, in the next movie, the same character is killed off by Bane, making pointless all the work the heroes did! I hate stuff like that.
So, when Two-Face kills the mod boss, while Batman is in the room, I’m angry because Batman didn’t save the day. Holiday is never stopped, even though some people end up in jail for the murders, but everyone he wanted to kill is dead now! At the end, the question is asked if Batman and Gordon did the right thing, but looking back, I’m not sure what they did to help!
It really is Tim Sale’s art the saves this for me. I’ll read countless stories of nonsensical plotting as long as a get a parade of Batman’s villains drawn by Sale. And there are plenty of cool moments that Loeb gives us, many of them ending up in The Dark Knight (the burning pile of money, the pact between Dent, Gordon and Batman). Catwoman is written well here and is one of the cooler parts of the story. I also liked how this book shows the switch in Gotham from normal mob crime to Batman’s more colorful super villains. And if you don’t feel bad during the Mother and Father Day chapters, you need your heart checked.
Also worth checking our is the Noir version of the book. Without colors, the lines pop and you can feel the grit this story has. I still prefer Sale’s art with the dynamic colors, especially since the holidays rely on them, but it’s still great to look through.
Up next, Dark Victory!