For whatever reason, Batman seems to garner more iconic series than most heroes. Maybe because his character’s psychological complexity really brings out the best of writers. Maybe because his shadowy aesthetic is so attractive in feeding the dark side of our brains. Whatever the reason, many of the considered “greatest” comics of all time are Batman related: The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, and The Long Halloween.
Notably inspiring Chris Nolan in making The Dark Knight, The Long Halloween, written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale, is back! Picking up roughy a year after the original Long Halloween, this special issue pits a grittier, more experienced Batman against Calendar Man with the help of…Two Face?
The OG Long Halloween is one of, if not the most visually striking Batman comic of all time. There’s something special about the way Tim Sale rendered Gotham and the sordid cast of Batman characters that’s iconic. Paired with Jeph Loeb’s “throw everything in but the kitchen sink” approach, series like Long Halloween and Dark Victory are gorgeous to behold.
However, if one were to make a criticism of Long Halloween, one could say it’s overstuffed. Just about every Batman villain or anti-hero finds their way into the series and it can be difficult to plow through the 13 issues because the central mystery is so crowded by extraneous scenes and details.
So a huge plus in regards to this special is how lean it is: we’re given a very specific villain who has a specific plan that Batman can hone in on. Granted, I quite enjoy the meandering, shaggy-dog approach to Long Halloween, but if you’ve been kept from enjoying the OG work because of its plotting, this Special is all the more for you.
However, there’s plenty of great stuff for fans because this is an excellently written and illustrated work, functioning as both a solid Batman one-shot AND a continuation of an iconic tale.
What’s almost surprising is how brutal Batman is here. Having grown cynical, especially because of Harvey Dent’s turn, Batman gives no pause before pummeling criminals into submission and making risky deals with devils. But there are grace moments that remind us why deep down at the end of the day Bruce is dedicated toward bringing good will to good people. Robin, while a small player, helps bring out the positive, paternal aspects of Bruce, as does Chief Gordon.
Without giving anything away, we return to the relationship between Harvey Dent and Gilda. Honestly, at times it’s oddly touching…despite the couples’ less-than-honorable morals. No matter what they do, we get it deep down, because the depths we humans plumb for love never ceases to surprise.
The biggest problem with this issue lies with its villain, Julien Day, AKA Calendar Man. While the OG was stuffed with villains, Calendar Man was a stand out, in large part because of his chilly demeanor akin to Hannibal Lecter. It was also clear Tim Sale had a lot of fun illustrating the stark visuals associated with Day. Sadly, Day’s presence is jacked up here, where he takes an almost cult leader status that culminates in an underwhelming conclusion and tacked-on explanation for his crimes. I would have almost preferred a predictable villain like the Joker or Riddler.
Tim Sale’s art does not disappoint with his stunning art deco, chiaroscuro style reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series. Familiar Long Halloween motifs are back, where pages with murderous intent are in black and white, and every once in a while we’re given a striking full-spread page to accent a beat.
A compositional master, Sale fluidly and powerfully uses worm and bird’s eye views. While many artists struggle to figure out the right mix of details per panel and page, Sale’s pages are minimalist but far from bare. Also: the way Sale fills and expands space with shadows is second-to-none.
And the colors? Brennan Wagner’s palettes are bold in their monochromatic vigor. The opening scene is painted in moonlight blues, enhancing the gothic visuals, reminding us of Steranko. Batman is cloaked in grays, blacks, and purples, but they’re startlingly punctuated with simmering oranges and reds that hint at Bruce’s guiding anger. Two Face’s inner rot is reinforced by contrasting pinks and greens.
Do I think the line-work could be tighter and less smudgy at times? Sure. But the grim, haunted noir vibe we fell in love with back in the day continues here.
Overall, The Long Halloween Special is a triumphant return to an iconic tale that works as a standalone issue of Batman goodness and an eerie, worthy continuation of The Long Halloween saga. While many creative teams diminish over time, Loeb, Sale, and company are still hitting comics out of the park.
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