Batman: The Long Halloween

Not only did I just read Batman: The Long Halloween, I read the absolute edition.  There are good and bad aspects to reading a story in this format:

Pros:

-You get a beautifully bound hardcover book with especially large panels, making the story that much more immersive.

Cons:

-You have to lug around a huge-ass book everywhere you go

Okay yes, the pros outweigh the cons ten-fold, but still, can’t they make the books a little lighter?? My shoulder would be eternally grateful.

The story itself was nothing short of epic, and yet as I was reading I kept thinking that it felt so different than some of the other really good Batman stories I’ve read recently.

The trade collects a series of issues, all focusing on a new Gotham villain, dubbed Holiday because he/she kills someone on each holiday.  This in and of itself would have been an interesting enough premise to carry the storyline.  What sets this one apart, though, is the fact that Holiday is not targeting innocent victims, but members of the Falcone crime family.

With this we saw a change in the Batman comic.  The hunters now became the hunted.  The untouchables were no longer immune to the grim realities of the Gotham they helped create.  The family feared for their lives, knowing that no one was safe with this mysterious killer on the loose.

Each murder was always depicted the same way: with a full black and white page of panels, no dialogue, with close ups showing the details of the murder:

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This stylistic choice was simple but very striking, and always made each murder feel that much more intense.  It gave the scene a film-noir feel, one which I felt fit the story perfectly.

In order to solve these murder cases, we see Batman teeming up with Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent.  Gordon and Dent recognize that Batman can do things that the law can’t, and so form this alliance in order to use all available resources., even if it means toeing the line between justice and lawbreaking.

Whereas Gordon is more of a by-the-book crimefighter, Dent is much more volatile and unpredictable.  Early in the comic we see Harvey display some rather un-coplike behavior, joining Batman in breaking into a warehouse to burn down millions worth of the Falcone family’s money:

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I must admit, I really thought this action would have greater repercussions than it did.  As it stands, they burn the money and it’s never mentioned again.  I thought there would surely be hell to pay after such a harsh blow.

Then again, there was already so much going on in this comic that there may not have been room to include another side story about this.  Not only is Batman dealing with Falcone, but each issue would also feature a different infamous villain, tied into the story in some way, albeit sometimes in an ancillary fashion.

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Each villain’s appearance always added something to the story, and their inclusion along with the expected Holiday murder made for a story that was both predictable and unexpected.  It’s also a lot to keep track of.

Therein lies the brilliance of this comic.  There is so much going on, but Jeph Loeb so expertly crafted each issue that it all ties together perfectly.  One of the most intriguing examples of this is seen when various characters are mulling over who Holiday may be.  The story is so well developed that practically every character is a viable suspect.  With so many possibilities, I was let dying to know who Holiday was.

The story reaches an exciting climax as the Holiday killer is revealed.  He’s caught by the authorities and shipped off the Arkham Asylum, but the story doesn’t end here.

As a result of a courtroom attack, Harvey Dent has been left disfigured.  This event seems to have sent an already unstable Dent over the edge, as he leaves his wife behind and goes into hiding.  When he finally emerges, his more volatile side has taken over, causing him to seek to stop the Falcone mob through any means necessary, including murder.

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Dent’s actions are extreme, but they’re not completely uncharacteristic.  Loeb wrote Dent so well in this story that it seems he always had a bit of a two-sided personality.  His disfigurement simply led to the crazed side being more prominent.  This made his character so much more believable, while also making him more frightening.  After all, if a good man like Dent can stray into madness, what’s to say the rest of us couldn’t suffer the same fate?

As Harvey continues to seek justice by any means necessary, we see him teaming up with the various villains who had been featured in the story:

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This alone is interesting, as it’s always fun when you get to see the villains working together, especially on such a large scale.  What made this so fascinating though was the way in which the super-villains slowly take power away from the Falcone crime family, the more traditional form of crime in Gotham.  This dichotomy between “standard” criminals and the more eccentric masked villains was very well done, and felt like a  completely realistic addition to the world Gotham has become.

The ending of the trade left me contemplating everything I had read.  It has a rather ambiguous ending, with the story implying that a number of characters could have been Holiday, leaving the reader to wonder who really committed all these crimes.  I have my theories (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the trade yet) and I feel that a second reading would certainly alter my opinions.  Perhaps that’s what makes this comic so great: it lends itself to repeat readings.  I can tell even after reading it once that there are certainly small hints and subtle clues that I missed, and that I might pick up on were I to read it again.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I greatly enjoyed this comic despite the fact that it felt different than the recent Batman comics I’ve been reading.  Upon reflection, I think that might be exactly one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much.  Some of the recent stories have gone for hyper-realism, focusing on character development and increasingly-realistic scenes.  Here, we see a small departure from that in favor of a more classic “comic” feel, with traditional comic representations  and slightly grey-cast panels, feeding that sense of film-noir.  Furthermore, the story itself employs plenty of subtext to keep things interesting, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions, while still supplying enough details to keep you interested.  Clearly I was not the only person to enjoy this method of storytelling, as this book clearly heavily influenced “The Dark Knight” trilogy (in fact, a few scenes in the movies were almost identical to those in the comic).  It’s unsurprising, given how well the story was written.

Mistah J informs me that there is a direct sequel to The Long Halloween coming up on “the shelf” soon. I’m not sure how long I’ll have to wait before I read it, but if it’s even half as good as this collection, I can’t wait.

-Jess

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