Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween marked my first foray into the comic book world of Batman. Had it been a lesser book, my interest in the Caped Crusader might have ended when I flipped the last page. But the book exceeded my expectations on every level and served as a spring board for further explorations of Gotham City and its crime fighting Dark Knight.
It’s not that I’m new to the world of the Bat. Honestly, that would be a bit un-American, wouldn’t it? It’s just that, by time I was a kid, Batman was already an institution that had spread from the comic world into television, toys, coloring books, clothing, and other merchandising avenues. You didn’t have to read Batman comics to know what he was all about. It’s odd to think of it this way, but ubiquity can almost render a thing irrelevant. Or, perhaps, the thing becomes so relevant that it is no longer noteworthy. As I said in my post a few days ago (Rediscovering Batman: A preamble), I’ve known the Bat in just about every other medium except the one where he originated. I don’t know why, but it was time I got to know the comic Batman a bit better.
The Long Halloween is a delicious, noir-style murder mystery that depicts the evolution of Harvey Dent from crusading district attorney to the fiendish, vengeful character Two Face. The Holiday serial killer has Gotham City’s criminal underworld clamoring for justice, while Batman and company attempt to uncover who Holiday is, and why he’s bumping off mob bosses and their associates. The Long Halloween is an inclusive, far-reaching story featuring series regulars like Catwoman, The Joker, The Penguin, Jim Gordon, The Riddler, and even lesser villains from the stable of Batman foes like Poison Ivy, The Mad Hatter, The Calendar Man, Scarecrow, and Solomon Grundy. (And what a great opportunity to plug a buddy’s film. Check out Mattson Tomlin’s non-Batman related take on the nursery rhyme, Solomon Grundy.)
Loeb and Sale hand out little textual and visual clues as the story progresses, and then proceed to use those clues against the reader. The story is a great whodunit that succeeds on confounding the reader and sustaining interest for its entire 370 pages. Repetition in story and visual elements drive home the themes of faith and trust in the face of an undercurrent of stagnant corruption, while introducing the reader to the rogue’s gallery of Batman foes. Loeb’s character dialogue is spot on, and perfectly cultivates the archetypes and stereotypes we’ve come to associate with gangsters, henchmen, cops, lawyers, and superheroes.
The art is bold, effecting a convincing noir-like comic world. Color is used sparingly, serving as punctuation for particularly important scenes and as a means to emphasize recurring themes. I cannot overstate how great Tim Sale’s pencils work with Gregory Wright’s colors to create a foreboding world full of shadowy, pensive, and well drawn characters. The settings are so convincingly depicted I sometimes felt like I was stepping through a door into another, alternate time and place every time I picked up the book. The brooding, blue and black, rain slicked Gotham alleys and streets, and the stalwart, heroic, and villainous characters seemed to breathe and sweat and steam on the pages as though they’d taken on the tactile quality of the real world.
If The Long Halloween is indicative of Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb’s work together as a team, count me in for subsequent trips to the trough. I’ve already got my eye on the sequel, Batman: Dark Victory.
On a side note, Batman: The Long Halloween served as one of a few different sources of inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman reboot, Batman Begins. I’ll be dissecting that film and cross examining it with Tim Burton’s record setting, landmark 1989 film, Batman in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more Batmania.