BATMAN: You’re insane.
THE JOKER: Has it really taken you this long to notice? (125)
Batman: Year One shows Gotham’s dark knight dealing with conventional gangsters. Batman’s adventures very quickly focus on grotesque and costumed super-villains. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween explores the start of that transition.
Title: Batman: The Long Halloween
Writing: Jeph Loeb.
Art: Tim Sales, Gregory Wright
Someone stalks prominent Gotham residents with criminal ties and leanings, killing one on each holiday and leaving behind a tacky decoration: a snow globe for Christmas, a leprechaun statue for Saint Patrick's Day, and so on. Batman tracks the holiday-obsessed killer while an underworld battle brews between old school mobsters and Gotham’s grotesques. James Gordon, still a captain, and Harvey Dent, crusading district attorney, assist the dark knight. As the story develops, however, Gordon and Batman find their new relationship challenged while Dent finds himself divided.
Sale paints dark comic-book portraits of Gotham by night. His illustrations recall every large city but resemble none of them. I also like his visual allusions to 1940s comics and style. Many panels feature a gray palette and the shadows and window blinds of film noir. Trench coats, fedoras, and double-breasted suits remain popular. Insane perspectives abound. The scene of the coroner watching the Independence Day fireworks, viewed from the underside of a suspension bridge, shows a foreboding city that could only exist in a comic book. Factory chimneys and ancient water-towers and impossibly tall buildings loom across the river. The coroner's car has driven out of the mid-twentieth century and parked on a pier. Hemp ropes and life preservers hang atop weathered wooden support pillars. There's one of those cast iron street lamps. Beneath these shifty characters strike shady deals and cartoon whores ply their trade. Fireworks the color of blood stain grayscale.
The story itself doesn’t feel very original, and not just because we've seen these characters so often. The Long Halloween’s plot and art echo and borrow from a hundred other comics and movies, including Year One (obviously), The Godfather, and Silence of the Lambs. Some of these may be seen as homage—- the dead mobster in the bathtub, for example. Others just seem like pointless thefts. A mobster explains how to cook an Italian meal. A mafioso tends to his tomato plants. The story also gives no really good reason for the Hannibal Lector-style informant who assists Batman on this case. Loeb either needed to develop this angle in a fresh manner, or drop it entirely. Not enough happens with this derivative plot, so it only adds clutter.
The Long Halloween tries to address too much at once: the origin of Two-Face, the Batman/Gordon/Harvey Dent relationship, a serial killer, the insane informant, the decline of Year One’s gangsters, the Bruce Wayne/Selina Kyle relationship,the Batman/Catwoman relationship, the Wayne family’s past connection to Carmen "the Roman" Falcone, and the rise of the grotesques. Nearly every really famous Batman villain appears at least once, in guest-star fashion. Loeb does a fair job, but he’s trying to connect too many subplots and characters.
To his credit, he paces the story well, and these 370 pages, while tortuously plotted, are never plodding. The Long Halloween is a graphic page-turner.
Batman and Alfred are well-written, and Gordon’s a passable echo of his Year One characterization. We also have an interesting take on Catwoman, and I’m willing to wink at how quickly the enterprising Ms. Kyle has bought her way into high society. Other characters have been written to serve the demands of the story. I’m thinking here particularly about the solution(s) to the "Holiday Killer" mystery. The final twist doesn’t quite make sense; the killer's actions have their intended opposite effect, and at some point the killer should have noticed. In addition, we are never shown adequate clues that might have allowed us to uncover the real killer's identity.
While superhero comics make heavy use of conventions, at times the underworld dialogue seems excessively clichéd and contrived.
In the end, your response depends on your perspective. If you regard The Long Halloween as a graphic novel, a sequel to Year One, it may disappoint. However, DC published the story serially, with each issue depicting the events of a specific month. If you approach The Long Halloween as thirteen months worth of comics, collected, then it’s pretty good.