A review of “The Long Halloween” comic book series

“The Long Halloween,” written by three times award winner Jeph Loeb, drawn by Tim Sale and lettered by Richard Starkings, is a continuation of the Legends of the Dark Knight series and was a big part of the inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Movies.

Released 1997, it tells the story of a heroic triumvirate who pit themselves and their integrity against the Gangster bosses of Gotham City, principally the Roman family.  That triumvirate are; Commissioner Jim Gordon, District Attorney Harvey Dent and the Dark Knight himself.

As they grapple with a well organised underworld and Police corruption, Batman and Catwoman find themselves suddenly involved in the same scraps, and out of nowhere a vigilante killer starts shooting crime figures dead, on different public holidays, and leaving the weapon and a holiday memento at the scene to signal their presence.  With good guys and bad guys desperately trying to unravel the identity of the holiday killer (named “Holiday” appropriately enough), the ‘freaks’ join the fray, including the Joker, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter, all with an interest in the killer, be it stopping him because they resent the loss of limelight (the Joker) or relishing the distraction the shooter brings so they can advance their plans.

Through it all District Attorney Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon and Batman fight to stay sane and whole and defeat the evil without resorting to evil and corruption themselves.  Sometimes this evil and corruption will take a tangible, physical form, such as Ivy’s crawling, trailing, vines (there’s a superb image in the book where they seem almost to grow out of Bruce Wayne) and sometimes it’s the temptation to pursue dark paths to achieve good objectives, which Catwoman seems to symbolise for Batman with her seductive whispers to him for them to team up.  Dent’s is the most tragic corruption and you can see how Nolan took this and ran with it in his “The Dark Knight Returns.”  The birth of “Two Face” is shocking, even if you know what is coming, and the physical disfigurement echoing the spiritual one is a powerful image.

The art work is bold and powerful, with the colouring bound by stark black lines, and single frame dramatic images occasionally faded to negative colours splashed with blood red.  All this accentuates the ‘noir’ feeling of the story.  Batman is bound by a powerful musculature, dwarfing any screen representation, and Catwoman also is defined by a powerful, athletic physicality. The ‘freaks’ are larger than life and powerfully grotesque, from the giant Solomon Grundy to the long freakish limbs and teeth of the Joker.  Lettering is bold and emphatic, with a more subdued italicised style for Batman’s interior monologues that form part of the narrative.

I have two editions of this story.  “Absolute Batman:  The Long Halloween” is like a dvd box set with extras, an A4 hardback in a box case, with interviews with Christopher Nolan, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, and a feature on the covers, with a commentary.  Not to mention the original proposal notes for each edition.  It’s a wonderful publication, great to immerse yourself in.  The second is a rendering wholly in black and white to accentuate the ‘noir’ themes, called, quite understandably, “Batman Noir:  The Long Halloween.”  This is a striking visual representation but unnecessary.  It’s an experiment that I feel did not need to be published.  The noir themes do not need overstatement.

But if you are a fan of comics or superheroes or Batman, the films or the books, you can’t afford to miss this landmark tale.

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3 thoughts on “A review of “The Long Halloween” comic book series

  1. Nice article. Long Halloween was the definitive Batman story for me for a long time for maby of reasobs you mention (and Sale’s frankly incredible art). The noir style, the noble heroes fighting corruption in their city and in themselves, and the wonderful integration of classic criminals with the traditionally more colourful Batman rogues. I also enjoyed the mystery at the heart of the book.

    What did you think of the Loeb/Sale follow-ups Dark Victory and Catwoman: When in Rome?

    Like

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