WTF, DC? Batman: The Long Halloween

Batman The Long Halloween Independence Day

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:

Batman The Long Halloween Bruce Wayne is a FriendBatman The Long Halloween Warehouse Money

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.

Ice Cream Sandwich Women's Equality

Also, the killer can be guessed in the first book. And the twist is over the top in its far-fetched stupidity.

The Long Halloween Denouement

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.

Batman The Long Halloween Visuals Batman The Long Halloween Visuals 2 Batman The Long Halloween Visuals 3

Can you see what’s happening in this panel?

Batman Long Halloween Scarecrow

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:

Batman The Long Halloween Rogues

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:

Batman Annual 14 Cover Batman Annual 14 Dent Gordon Batman Meeting Batman Annual 14 Harvey Dent Two-Face

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:

Legends of the Dark Knight 1 Legends of the Dark Knight 2 Legends of the Dark Knight 3

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.

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6 Responses to WTF, DC? Batman: The Long Halloween

  1. Remi VL says:

    I feel the same way about Loeb’s other big Batman story, the way-overhyped Hush, but have to mostly disagree with you on this one. Long Halloween is easily one of my favorite batman stories, and having re-read it lately, still stands as strong as ever. As a retailer, it’s also one of the few stories that I hear any negative comments on (you’re one of the first), as it mixes all the best parts of Batman in one not-too-complicated package. Lots of actions, lots of villains (who are all being introduced, as opposed to being forced in), the crime/gangster/noir side. It’s a pretty perfect story.

    That being said, I do agree that everyone should read the first few years of Legends of the Dark Knight, especially the first 5 issues, Shaman. (which is out of print in TPB format, but easily found in single issues for cheap!)

  2. Rich says:

    The Long Halloween is like the M. Night Shyamalan version of Eye of the Beholder.

  3. Never read Long Halloween, but I really want too seeing that it’s follow up, Dark Victory, got me back into comics along with the Dark Knight Rises.

  4. My problem with The Long Halloween is this: Jeph Loeb. I find his story telling to be very weak, unless he’s retelling things that already happened. Going into the past, visiting already known and established characters, he can shine a light on those story aspects well, because some one already did that and the reader uses that to fill in the blanks. When it comes to new and original story ideas… well… Love it or hate it, TLH does a great job of showcasing the Rogues and Batman’s world. On the other hand, Loeb worked on new stories in Hulk and look what we got for it:color pallet swaps and cliches. This is the same writer who used Ultimates 3 to make that world look just like the standard Marvel Universe, then complained it was too similar, and thus did his best to erase the whole thing with Ultimatum.

    I am really not a fan of Jeph Loeb..

  5. Gokitalo says:

    For the record, and I’m heading into major spoiler territory here…

    Gilda wasn’t the killer. She was a classic example red herring. Steve Higgins (who used to post on Graphic Content with Chad Nevett a few years ago) figured out the real identity of Holiday a few years back.
    http://www.vacuumboy9.com/tlh/alberto.html

    Of course, you could argue that it’s simply a “fan theory,” but it fits much more neatly than Gilda’s confession. Moreover, the trade paperback collection of “The Long Halloween” shows a “deleted scene” where Carmine Falcone actually sees Alberto Falcone’s body shortly after he is supposedly murdered. Few fathers could mistake their own son for someone else– Carmine knew Alberto wasn’t dead.

  6. Donald says:

    Gothic better than the Long Halloween? I have never heard those words uttered before. In my opinion…there is nothing remarkable at all about Batman: Gothic.

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