Batman: Haunted Knight is a bit of an enigma on “the shelf”. It was technically written before The Long Halloween, but its point in the Batman continuity is left vague. Mistah J has it filed as occurring after The Long Halloween. After reading it, I tend to agree with his placement, if for no other reason than that this trade makes referene to Two-Face, and Two-Face’s origin is told in The Long Halloween.
Why do I bring this up? Because Mistah J and I had a fairly detailed discussion about this very topic. A few months ago, I never would have thought I would ever be debating the location of a story within a particular comic’s continuity, yet here I was having a pretty in-depth debate on that very topic. How far I’ve come in a few short months. Mistah J thinks I should change the description in my blog title, claiming I’m not really a “new reader” anymore. Maybe he’s right.
No matter what, it doesn’t take a veteran reader to tell that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have created some pretty epic Batman stories. This particular collection features three specials they wrote, long before we were graced with The Long Halloween. Each issue was released as a Halloween special with its own unique story.
Now, I’ve already made it pretty clear that I greatly prefer overarching storylines to your typical self-contained issue. What’s presented here is a strange combination of both. Each story is contained to one issue, and yet there is a wider theme uniting all three. The idea of fear is present in each story, be it in a literal sense via Scarecrow’s fear gas or Bruce Wayne’s deeper, more latent fear of someday being forgotten. Although each comic features its own resolution, the character progression intertwines the stories to help the reader get a better understanding of Batman’s character.
Generally I would discuss the stories themselves here, and they certainly can’t be belittled. There are several literary references that I was positively ecstatic to read about. What I want to focus on here, though, is how the artwork impacted the presentation of these stories.
In particular, I want to address Tim Sale’s full-page spreads. I’m generally a fan of splash pages, as they usually depict a crucial moment of a story and often feature a lot of action. Sale uses the splash page in a different fashion, yet it still remains highly effective.
Rather than use the splash page to show a lot of action or perhaps a large number of characters, Sale makes use of it as a means of a “big reveal”, providing a dramatic introduction to whichever particular villain is being featured.
The scarecrow’s appearance, featured in the first story in the collection, is eerie and startling. With lightning flashing behind him as Gordon is startled by this unexpected appearance, Scarecrow’s emergence into the scene is perfectly befitting his character. The fact that this panel takes up the entire page only increases its drama, allowing the reader to sense how frightening such an event might be.
The second story in this trade featured The Mad Hatter, a character I admit I haven’t read all that much about and am not overly familiar with. It’s not difficult to see where he draws his inspiration from though, something that Loeb and Sale make a direct allusion to within the comic:
This massive image, taking up two full pages of the comic, is a direct reference to the actual artwork found in the original Lewis Carroll book, as seen below:
My familiarity with Alice in Wonderland endeared me to this story, and seeing the artwork pay homage to the original story made me very happy. I love that the comics borrow stories from other literary sources, twisting them and making them all their own (I’m looking at you, Fables). I love it even more when those comics pay tribute to the stories which inspired them. With this panel, Loeb and Sale did so extremely well in my opinion, making this one of my favorite images in the trade.
The final story in this collection featured a spin on the classic Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. In this version, Batman is visited by three spirits not on Christmas Eve, but on the night before Halloween. Here his “spirits” appear as some of his greatest foes, with Poison Ivy serving as the ghost of Halloween past, while The Joker acts as the ghost of Halloween present:
This panel, another “reveal” for a character, fits Joker’s personality so well. From the numerous smiling jack-o-lanterns surrounding him to his casual, patient smirk, this panel just feels Joker-ish, perfectly depicting his character with no explanation or extraneous dialogue needed.
One of Sale’s most subtle “reveals” is shown on the last page of the trade as Bruce Wayne, frightened by the images revealed to him during the spirits’ visits, decides to make a concerted effort to rejoin the world as a man, and not just as Batman:
Although not a new character per se, here we see the emergence of a new version of Bruce Wayne, and the use of the splash page increases the effect of such a transformation. No longer is Batman the focus of the story. Instead, Bruce learns the importance of leading a life without the mask. While I doubt this epiphany will be long-lasting, it was nonetheless very powerful.
Given how well these three specials were written and drawn, it’s no surprise to me that The Long Halloween soon followed. Loeb and Sale pair very well together, with each complimenting the other’s work perfectly. I know I have a few more of their collaborations coming up on “the shelf”, and I can’t wait to see what they do with different Batman characters.
And as though I didn’t already like them, they continue everyone’s favorite: Sassy Alfred.
Sassy Alfred is my favorite thing ever. Someone should just make a comic about Alfred being snarky and sarcastic all the time, making quips about Batman’s outfit or threatening to quit if he doesn’t stop tracking mud into the Batcave. I would read the heck out of that thing.
Come on, I can’t be the only one…