Last year, Warner Bros. Animation began a new animated DC continuity starting with Superman: Man of Tomorrow and earlier this year, we got Justice Society: World War II. With this cel-shaded animation style becoming the new norm for the direct-to-video animated features, it is interesting to see how this style has incorporated the grim streets of Gotham City with the first half of the two-part adaptation of a seminal Batman comic book that is now twenty-five years old.
Based on the thirteen-issue storyline by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, The Long Halloween is about the mysterious killer named Holiday, who murders people on holidays, one each month. Working with District Attorney Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) and Captain James Gordon (Billy Burke), Batman (Jensen Ackles) races against the calendar as he tries to discover who Holiday is before he claims his next victim, whilst the trio try and take down Gotham’s notorious crime boss Carmine Falcone (Titus Welliver).
When it comes to these direct-to-video adaptations of iconic DC storylines, the quality can really vary. On the upside, you have The Dark Knight Returns, which made the smart decision of adapting Frank Miller’s comic into two parts. And on the downside, you have Batman: Year One, which tried to be too faithful in maintaining that comic’s loose structure that plays around with time. In the case of The Long Halloween – at least in its initial part – it falls somewhere in the middle.
The first worry with the source material is that it’s a sprawling crime epic that takes place over a year with multiple characters, not just members of Batman’s iconic rogues gallery. So the decision to split the story into two parts is the correct choice. With the central mystery of the Holiday Killer, there is a clear through-line about where the narrative is going, with plenty of scenes that comic fans will remember, such as Batman’s visit to Arkham Asylum to meet Calendar Man (voiced with such chillness by David Dastmalchian).
Although the animation doesn’t recreate the exaggerated illustrations by Tim Sale, it is attempting to capture the film noir look that defined the 1990s animation series. Although there are some action sequences – the standout being Batman fighting a group of Triads, each with their set of weapons – for much of The Long Halloween, there is a surprising sense of restraint with a greater emphasis on atmosphere than spectacle. Michael Gatt’s musical score sends a chill down your spine.
Due to its moody tone, the film’s biggest problem is the lack of an emotional core, despite the numerous attempts of one. Whether it is our eponymous hero, whose millionaire alter-ego finds himself entangled with the mob; the police captain trying to sustain a stable family life when he returns home from the horrors the city throws at; or the District Attorney whose life is becoming fractured from his marriage and possibly mental state, these moments are so fleeting that they never strike a chord. Most likely these elements will pay off in the next film, but until then, you are left emotionally cold.
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!