Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Next year will be a significant one for one classic comic book title, as Batman: The Long Halloween will turn 25 years-old. Considered to be one of the definitive Batman stories, it has left a legacy, especially as its two creators expanded their collaboration by telling stories featuring iconic superheroes from the two big publishers, not just more on the Dark Knight. In terms of other media, The Long Halloween was one of the comics that influenced Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, particularly The Dark Knight, which took the source material’s presentation of a crime saga and expanded upon it. As we’re approaching Halloween, now would be the time to revisit the comic and see if it still holds up.
Set some time after the events of Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Year One, Batman allies himself with Captain James Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent for a pact to end mob boss Carmine Falcone’s reign over Gotham City, bending but never breaking the law. However, when a mysterious killer named “Holiday” murders people on holidays, one each month, Batman races against the calendar as he tries to discover who Holiday is before he claims his next victim.
As someone who prefers Year One to The Dark Knight Returns (though I would consider both as masterpieces), I appreciated writer Jeph Loeb’s continuation of Frank Miller’s depiction of a city ruled by criminals and the corrupt. Through the lens of three protagonists – Batman, Gordon and Dent – you see how their lives, both personal and professional, get complicated over the course of a year — from our eponymous hero, whose millionaire alter-ego finds himself entangled with the mob, to the police captain trying to sustain a stable family life when he returns home from the horrors the city throws at.
Perhaps the one character that undergoes the most dramatic transformation is the righteous D.A., and this is even before becoming Two-Face. Although the book serves as a build-up to that disfigurement, the pressures of the job get the better of him and no matter his good intentions, the city will ultimately get him down and he has to compromise. A few alterations aside, you can see how this influenced Aaron Eckhart’s performance in The Dark Knight, and although I prefer the split personality that was established in Batman: The Animated Series, the story of Two-Face will always be a tragic one.
Although The Long Halloween makes good use of the greatest rogues gallery in all of comics, including a Hannibal Lecter-like reinvention of the Calendar Man, the story is more about the gangsters than the supervillains. Despite the Godfather caricatures within the crime families that are warring with each other, there is a three-dimensionality in their relationships — most interestingly between Carmine and his son Alberto, who just wants to be in the family business.
Taking place after Year One, the story that Loeb and artist Tim Sale present isn’t attempting to recreate the grounded leanness of said title. With the likes of the Joker, the Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter, Tim Sale is able to deliver grand set-pieces where the theatrically-defined characters are drawn in an exaggerated style, from Batman’s extensive cape, to the Joker’s abnormally large teeth. As the story leans towards film noir sensibilities, there is a great balance towards Gregory Wright’s coloring and a strong emphasis on pitch-black shadows.
From our heroes fighting off the evil that rules Gotham, along with the numerous participations of supervillains, the whole book is held together by the central mystery of the Holiday Killer, depicted through the repetitive visual use of two black-and-white pages in each issue: one page featuring six panels showing the murders and the next page is a splash featuring the bloody aftermath. Although there are numerous suspects, even if the climax gives us an answer of who Holiday is, there are still red herrings that further deepen the mystery.
The central mystery that drove The Long Halloween was so successful that Loeb and Sale would repeat the formula with the sequel Dark Victory, and years later when the writer did Hush with Jim Lee. Although the quality of those later titles isn’t as good, The Long Halloween remains a seminal story for the Bat that is worth revisiting before we get to see the two-part animated film adaptation next year.