COMICS REWIND: ‘Batman: The Long Halloween’

Reading The Long Halloween, you might notice some eerie similarities between it and Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight.  The book came about 12 years before the film, and served as a heavy influence on what has become known as a comic book cinema masterpiece. Conceived as a continuation of the Batman: Year One storyline created by none other than Frank Miller, it is without a doubt the most acclaimed and most well known of the Batman collaborations between writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale, and it arguably revitalized Batman in the ’90s in the same way Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns revitalized him in the ’80s. In an age when the world of major comic books seemed all about the muscles and breasts under tight outfits, all about the grand gestures of superhero death and disfigurement, The Long Halloween presented an ambitious noir tale of crime, intrigue, murder and shadows in Gotham City, a study of how power and madness corrupt and how far one man can be pushed.

And if that doesn’t convince you, The Joker gets to star in a Christmas issue.

As The Long Halloween opens, Batman is still young, and his journey is only getting harder. The eccentric criminals that seemed like mere gimmick-laden hoods before are gaining power and influence. They’re becoming bona fide supervillains, and if Batman is to defeat them, he must become more of a superhero than ever.

For the moment, he has help. As Gotham’s gallery of rogues gains influence and the Falcone crime family (headed by Carmine “The Roman” Falcone) continues to rise, Batman forms a powerful triumvirate with the determined Captain Jim Gordon and the ambitious District Attorney Harvey Dent. But even as this alliance begins to pay off, a new threat emerges. A mysterious killer begins picking off high profile victims, once a month, tying his murders to holidays.  Dubbed “Holiday,” the killer is more than just someone with a bloodlust; he or she is the key to Gotham’s crime web.

The Holiday murders are perhaps the most satisfying thing about The Long Halloween, if only because they give The Dark Knight something more to do than just pummel supervillains and toss them into Arkham Asylum. With this case, The World’s Greatest Detective really has something to sink his teeth into, and that – combined with the innumerable threats from both the mob and a host of villains – makes for one of the most harrowing adventures of Batman’s career.

Even more fascinating, though, is the corruption of Harvey Dent, a transformation that Batman must watch and ponder even as he’s struggling to reverse it. Loeb makes it more than the origin of the villain called Two-Face. He takes it to the next level. In his eyes, Harvey Dent is not just a man. He’s the hope of Gotham, the shining knight that could overtake even Batman as the city’s protector, and Batman’s chance to see what he’d always hoped for: a brighter future for the city that cost him so much. If you’ve seen The Dark Knight, you know how that works out, and though Nolan’s vision of the tale might have been flashier and told from a more epic viewpoint, Loeb’s might actually be more poignant.

And even when all of that gripping storytelling is done, you still have the wonder of  Tim Sale’s art to ponder. He does Batman like no one else. His Dark Knight is identified by the elongated ears on the Bat-cowl, the giant form cut with muscles and set with a kind of slack scowl. His Joker is a figure with skeletal limbs and massive, crooked teeth. His Catwoman is the sleekest of them all. It’s not the world of Gotham like you’re used to seeing it, but that makes it all the more fascinating.

The Long Halloween is easily one of the best Batman stories every told. It’s a landmark book, part Dark Knight adventure, part retelling of The Godfather, by two of the most influential comic book presences of the Modern Age.

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