Retro Review: Batman: The Long Halloween

In my opinion, this is the greatest Batman story ever told.

Let’s go back in time a little bit. It was 2002, I had just turned 17 and was Christmas shopping when I went into a Sam Goody (remember those?). I was checking out all the store had to offer when I managed to see toward the back, on the shelf with a few random books, was a Batman graphic novel that I had never seen before – Batman: The Long Halloween. Having just discovered many of these popular Batman stories (Year One, The Killing Joke) but never heard of this one. The cover (and Batman in the title) was enough to earn my $15, so I walked out of the store with a gift for me and me alone. Sorry, family. I took my new purchase home and read it in less than a day. 13 years and 25 reads later, the book remains my favorite Batman story ever.

My original copy

Written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale (arguably the greatest team in comic book history), the series ran from 1996-1997 and followed the team’s three Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween specials. If you haven’t read the story yet (for whatever reason), it takes place not long after Year One, expanding on many characters first introduced in that tale. Batman is quite comfortable patrolling the streets of Gotham at night, taking out those superstitious and cowardly criminals. Meanwhile, on the other line of justice, District Attorney Harvey Dent is on a mission to rid the city of the feuding crime bosses that run the town. The two, and Jim Gordon, create a triumvirate of justice to stop it all at nearly any cost. However, someone else jumps at the chance. A killer named Holiday starts whacking members of the mob on, well, holidays. The plot thickens, everyone becomes a suspect and Harvey Dent changes forever.

The Long Halloween has always fascinated me for its depth. It’s a big story full of characters, character development, mystery, action and even romance, which I’m never really huge on, but here it counts. Up to this point in Batman’s history (57 years), we’ve only ever heard of Harvey Dent pre-accident, and never seen him in action. Frank Miller gave us a taste in Year One but here, his career explodes, making him the center of the story and the downfall into madness. As told in The Killing Joke, the Joker had one bad day, then flipped. Here, Harvey had months before finally giving in, making it that much more tragic. He’s a good man, husband and lawyer trying to do what’s right. But what will that take?

That’s a big focus of Jeph Loeb’s story. In issue one, the trio meet to make a deal to take down Falcone and all of his connections but to not cross that line that separates the good from the bad. Loeb really dives into the personal lives of Dent, Gordon and even Bruce to show us that they are all human, and are losing a lot in this quest. Gordon: his son growing up. Dent: his marriage. Bruce: his confidence that Batman is making a difference. Ultimately, all three of them lose Harvey to Two-Face. So much time and energy is spent on taking down the mob the right way that it may just be the crazies that have it figured out. Harvey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Holiday is the glue that brings the different pieces of the story together. All is well in the criminal world until Carmine Falcone’s nephew is murdered on Halloween. This happens to also be on the night Dent burns all of Falcone’s dirty money in a warehouse making him suspect #1. But if not him, who is bold enough for such an act? The following month, five of Falcone’s men are shot, his bodyguard on Christmas night, and his son, Alberto, on New Year’s. Seems one-sided, right? Loeb is right there with us, asking all of the right questions, deepening the mystery. Would Dent really cross to the other side? Could Falcone’s chief rival, Sal Maroni, be behind the killings? That’s likely, until HIS men are slain on  Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, and his dad on Father’s Day. Could the mob men just be taking each other out? Is Dent still a likely candidate? Yes and yes, or at least Loeb wants us to think so. He even spends an entire issue, “April Fool’s Day,” going back and forth between Batman and the Riddler recapping everything we know this far and who the likely suspects are. Does this bring us closer to the reveal of Holiday? Not at all. In fact, it only proves it could be more people than we first imagined.

While Loeb is concocting an enticing mystery, Tim Sale is bringing this world to life with his imagery. The smallest details are creating this noirish vibe that goes hand-in-hand with the mystery it’s creating. That’s just the setting. Add in the characters and their depictions, and you have one of the best looking comics ever. It’s obvious Sale is a fan of the characters, as it clearly shows through on every page. Batman looks huge, but sleek. Dent is a healthy guy who can hold his own. Each villain is a little exaggerated, but perfect to their character. Each member of the mob is clearly taken from the Godfather films. Sale also took some notes from Batman: The Animated Series. This book is dark. Most of the action takes place at night, and at the times it may be set in the day, we are taken indoors with plenty of shadows. Is this a complaint? Nope, it’s perfect.

As we fall deeper into TLH, the stakes are higher. Dent is finally getting Maroni to testify, Falcone is working with Batman’s rogues, Catwoman has a bone to pick with the Falcone family and Bruce is cleaning up a perception that his father worked with the mob. Loeb is juggling many stories at the same time, yet it never feels like too much. Instead, it’s as if a pot of water is boiling and is about to overflow. That is how issue #11, “Roman Holiday,” plays out. A sense of dread haunts every page (great teamwork between Loeb and Sale) until that boiling water (actually acid) is thrown in Dent’s face.

This is when the coin flips for Dent. He loses it, stabs his doctor, and takes off to Gotham’s sewers. Meanwhile, Maroni is shot and killed by Holiday while being transferred to a new cell. Batman (surprise) stops him and reveals him as Alberto Falcone.

Just as good as the first issue was in opening the chapters of all these plot lines, the final issue is just as good at closing them. We deal with the Falcone family’s reaction to Alberto’s reveal, Carmine’s son rejecting him and Arkham’s inmates being released to have a Halloween party at the Falcone home, hosted by Harvey Dent.

My favorite page out of The Long Halloween

Batman, once again, breaks in to shut down the party, but gets his first glimpse of Harvey since the accident. It’s a perfectly drawn scene and is a great emotional payoff for the past 12 months. In one page, we get the death of Harvey Dent and the birth of Two-Face.

The rest of the issue wraps up the story well. Two-Face takes out Vernon Fields (traitor!), then has a reunion of sorts with Gordon and Batman on the rooftop of GCPD to surrender. He’s taken to jail, but the damage is done. Oh, and it appears there was more than just one Holiday killer.

The final few pages of this story really help summarize what this story is all about: the cost of crime. Sure, Gotham has been rid of organized crime, but in the process, has given birth to the madmen. Whereas there used to be “rules,” now there are none. Batman and Gordon have gotten rid of The Roman, but have lost a friend in the process. Was all of this worth it?

That’s the question of Loeb and Sale’s masterpiece. Batman and Gordon feel as if they have found a white knight in Harvey Dent who can bring order to the city and bring it back to glory, but who succumbs to the madness of others. Gee, sound familiar (cough The Dark Knight cough)?

These questions are what makes The Long Halloween the greatest Batman story of all time. Loeb’s deep story, with character development and plot twists only helps bring Tim Sale’s wonderful characters, setting and mood to life… and vice versa. To think, this was their masterpiece in their own Dark Knight trilogy following the Haunted Knight stories and launching the Dark Victory sequel. The duo could have stopped here and they would have been praised for a lifetime.

 

Absolute Edition

The Long Halloween is available digitally, trade paperback, hardcover and even a Noir version. However, spend the money and get the Absolute Edition. It is worth it. The pages are bigger (and more wonderful) and you get a ton of extras, including:

  • An introduction from Christopher Nolan and David Goyer from 2005, while in the early stages of The Dark Knight.
  • A look at the unique DC collector action figures.
  • An interview with the wonderful team of Loeb and Sale.
  • Loeb’s proposal for The Long Halloween.
  • Loeb and Sale’s commentary on the monthly covers.

Dripping with mood, characters and emotion, The Long Halloween is just as engrossing today as it was upon its release 19 years ago. It’s the perfect story for a Batman fan, a Halloween fan and anyone looking for a good story. If you’re out shopping for anyone in the coming weeks, pick it up. It’s the perfect Holiday present.

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