In the introduction to The Long Halloween, director Christopher Nolan says, “The Long Halloween is more than a comic book. It’s an epic tragedy.” David S. Goyer, who shared writing duties on Nolan’s films Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises says, “It is cinematic. I think that The Long Halloween stands out as probably the most ambitious Batman story that’s been told. It certainly feels like the most densely plotted.” Goyer goes on to say that the major influences within Batman lore are Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, Neal Adams’ darker ’70s-era tales, and The Long Halloween.
Substitute Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke for The Long Halloween and I might agree with Goyer’s statement.
You can see The Long Halloween‘s influence all over Nolan’s Batman films: Carmine Falcone, the phrase “I believe in Harvey Dent,” the meeting between Batman, Dent, and Commissioner Gordon, the big pile of mafia money set aflame in a warehouse, and Batman convincing Catwoman (who must suffer from the same poor hearing and eyesight that afflicts Lois Lane) that Bruce Wayne is a friend:
Nolan and Goyer are correct in stating that The Long Halloween is incredibly cinematic, evoking a film-noir take on the Caped Crusader, all dimly-lit rooms, underworld figures, and a central mystery begging to be solved.
And yet…the central mystery seems rather simple: gimmick killer Holiday is wiping out Gotham citizens once a month, with deaths on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, et cetera, until we get to August, at which point the narrative passes over the less-deserving National Ice Cream Sandwich Day and the decidedly unsexy Women’s Equality Day to focus on the “Roman Holiday,” which is less a calendar date celebrating our Italian friends than it is a figurative anytime-occasion to revel in schadenfreude.
Also, the killer can be guessed in the first book. And the twist is over the top in its far-fetched stupidity.
In The Long Halloween‘s defense, people love this book (including talented auteurs like Nolan), but I think it’s one of those Batman R.I.P.-style love-it-or-hate-it things. Dense plotting and stylized noir-ish visuals can quickly tip over into lazy writing and sub-Sin City art. Tim Sale’s work is either incredibly unique and moody or it’s remarkably simple and frequently takes a Rob Liefeld approach to design.
Can you see what’s happening in this panel?
That’s Batman addressing the Scarecrow, in a panel seemingly designed to provoke the involuntary physical response of squinting at it in order to make out what exactly is going on.
Speaking of Scarecrow, what seems like Batman’s entire Rogue’s Gallery is trotted out for guest appearances with only the flimsiest of justifications. “He couldn’t have been working alone” is used an excuse repeatedly, when something as equally plausible could’ve been used instead (“There’s ice in his glass. Penguins live on ice….I’ll go visit the Penguin to see what he knows, which will be nothing!”). Whenever Loeb includes a story beat involving the Joker, Poison Ivy, or whatever other villain happens to be wandering by, the seams in The Long Halloween begin to show.
Say cheese, Bat-villains:
And holy crap are the thematic tie-ins to that month’s holiday laboured as hell (the Mother’s Day/Father’s Day ones are particularly strained). If you’re looking for a less-cluttered version of Harvey Dent’s transformation from principled lawyer to villainous Two-Face, Andy Helfer’s “The Eye of the Beholder” from 1990’s Batman Annual #14 offers an equally compelling take for a fraction of the cost:
The Long Halloween is a continuation of Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One, prompted by editor Archie Goodwin’s suggestion to Loeb that he explore the story of Year One‘s mafia figures.
This is where fans of The Long Halloween might disagree with me most vehemently (and they’re more than welcome to), but Batman: Year One was a near-masterpiece, and putting The Long Halloween next to it is like reading Frank Miller’s Spawn/Batman right after reading The Dark Knight Returns and realizing Spawn/Batman is meant to take place in the same universe.
If you’re looking for a continuation of the Batman: Year One setting/storyline, the ’90s-era Legends of the Dark Knight (at least in the first few years of its run) captures the Year One look and feel pretty well:
And issues #6-#10 of Legends are Grant Morrison’s stellar Batman: Gothic! While it’s doubtful The Long Halloween will ever stop being one of the most lauded Bat-stories in existence, I’d argue that there are worthier tales if you’re willing to ignore the (undeserved?) hype and do a little digging.