Friday, October 31, 2008

Batman: The Long Halloween

Widely praised as one of the best Batman stories ever written, I was a bit underwhelmed when I finally got around to reading Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween. Originally published about twelve years ago over thirteen issues, this detective story pits Batman, Jim Gordon and DA Harvey Dent against a serial killed dubbed ‘Holiday.’ Over the course of the narrative, Dent becomes Two-Face.

The novel is a continuation of Batman: Year One, with the mob gangsters making up a crucial part of the storyline. In their zest to bring down Gotham’s crime lord, Wayne, Gordon, and Dent all demonstrate to the reader their varying notions of justice. The three men debate the lengths they will go to bring the Roman to justice, and enter a pact, agreeing to bend the rules if necessary, but never to break them.

Each issue represents a different holiday, which in itself is an interesting tactic: as the series was originally published, each issue would correspond with that time of year. As time goes on, ‘Holiday’ seems to be targeting first one crime family and then another. But eventually the characters and the reader begin to suspect that Dent is behind it all. The inevitable twist at the end of such noir-ish tales was unsurprising and seemingly inconsequential for the greater Batman universe.

I’m honestly not sure why I didn’t like this more. Perhaps the obvious Godfather styled opening turned me off, perhaps I felt there should be a better emphasis on the ‘freaks’ of Gotham taking over for the mob. The best aspect was the different conceptions of justice the three main characters had, and the insights we got into who Bruce Wayne is as a man, even separate from the Batman person. I don’t recall if the particulars of his own feelings of culpability in his parents’ murders had been detailed before, but that delivered an emotional punch unequalled in many comics.

Sale’s artwork was definitely up to the task, capturing the noir look in a way that few can. However, I do feel that the dominantly brown tones that are emblematic of the Godfather
movies would have served the story better than the blues and blacks common to Batman. Setting this story in the 1930s also might have been a nice touch, though it would obviously have lost a bit of the connection with Year One.

Still, an entertaining, lengthy story that I am sure everyone else will give his or her highest recommendation. I just wished it hadn’t been hyped to me so much; I might have been able to approach it without prejudging.


Allyn said...

I was on the Loeb/Sale bandwagon early; I bought their first collaboration — 1991's Challengers of the Unknown — and thought it was fantastic. Because these were four characters that no one else was using, Loeb and Sale put them through some hell. Literally, in some cases.

I've always thought The Long Halloween was very good, though I think it read better as single issues, not as the massive graphic novel.

However, The Long Halloween (and Dark Victory, which does have more of what you expected — the costumed freaks moving into the vacuum left by the mob) pales in comparison to their Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Specials. "Ghosts" may be their best work together, a taut retelling of A Christmas Carol in which Bruce is visited by the Ghosts of Halloween Past, Present, and Future that packs some psychological punch.

Their work since A Superman For All Seasons hasn't been, for me, up to par with that mid-90s peak. Their Marvel work hasn't worked for me, but I'm cautiously optimistic for Captain America: White, which started off with an intriguing #0 issue a few months ago.

Jon Polk said...

The very conceit of each issue hitting stands near the holiday represented within is an interesting way to create reader/character identification. So collecting all 13 issues means the reader will experience them differently, and renders one of the most fascinating aspects moot.

I will have to look for Ghosts, and at some point I'd like to check out their Marvel work too. Unfortunately, I have so little experience with Marvel characters that emotional touchpoints Loeb might hit upon could very likely fly over my head.

Steve said...

I feel like my reaction when I recently read this was similar to yours-- good but not great, and the mystery got a little convoluted by the end.