Review – Batman: The Long Halloween
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Colourist: Gregory Wright
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Release Date: 1996 – 1997
Today I am glad to be reviewing Batman: The Long Halloween, as it is one of my all time favourite books. It is a 13-issue limited series created by the dream team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. It incorporates an entire year of Batman’s war on crime in Gotham, where we see the Dark Knight go from fighting the mob goons that were his adversaries in Year One, to having to adapt to battle some of his most recognisable, harder to handle foes.
Reading and reviewing Batman: The Long Halloween 25 years after the first issues were published, it is still a thrilling ride through the insanity of Gotham City’s twisted underworld. As I see it, The Long Halloween is one of the greatest detective stories ever written and is definitely my favourite Batman story ever told. There are an abundance of twists in this gripping whodunit story and it consistently keeps the reader unable to predict what is coming next.
Although a comprehensive collection of Batman rogues gallery make appearances throughout the story, this is more of a crime novel that just happens to be set in Gotham city involving these larger than life characters than it is a traditional Batman story. Jeph Loeb cleverly uses national holidays as chapters to take us through the year and I’ve always thought that this is a phenomenal way to structure this story. This is because of the way that spotlights the transitions and evolutions that both Batman and his comrades, as well as his villains go through in the book.
Loeb’s writing style is brilliant in The Long Halloween, the way that he sets up tension, the way that he hints at twists to come and the nature in which he portrays the Dark Knight are all remarkable. The first time that I read this book I could not put it down, frantically turning the pages to get to the major reveals, which is the sign of any great detective story.
I have since revisited it many times over the years and have really come to appreciate just how clever the layout and setup is for all of these ground-breaking revelations. The way that Loeb lays the foundation for each reveal, results in a great deal of reread value. This is owed to the fact that once you know all of the twists in the story, you start to notice more and more clues the more that you reread the book. In my mind, this is the sign of a true virtuoso when it comes to writing mystery.
We also see the tragic origin story of Two-Face in this book and we see what was once an effective force for good, – the partnership of Batman, Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent, – decimated and turned into a deadly rivalry. Loeb manages to make Dent’s fairly drastic transition from an upstanding man of the people, to a disfigured psychopath manage to feel believable and authentic. A plot point that could easily have been mishandled and have felt jarring in less deft hands is instead well executed here.
Another testament to Jeph Loeb as a writer is how well he is able to handle all of the multiple moving elements of this story. The Long Halloween deals with so many characters and plot components, that it could so easily become a sloppy mess. Yet, Loeb manages to keep it tight and ensure that the reader is never lost or wondering what is going on. He juggles a fairly complex plot with a multitude of parts with a total sense of ease, making the writing feel effortless and natural.
Tim Sale’s uniquely captivating art compliments the writing in a big way. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an artist most suited to the story being told. This is evident to the point that when viewed out of context, Sale’s unconventional take on character design and art style can seem off beam compared to what Batman readers are used to. However, in the context of the story, I never even questioned the sometimes caricature-esque design of these familiar characters while reading. All of it just worked perfectly for the story taking place.
It is also mostly down to Tim Sale that each chapter manages to feel uniquely distinct, though Gregory Wright’s use of colour also helps to put across the changing of the seasons and the passage of time in a big way.
The art in the book also really helps give this story’s version of Gotham tons of meticulous texture and plenty of rich personality. I also enjoy how Sale draws Batman, making him feel like an imposing wraithlike presence in certain scenes whilst still managing to make him feel more worn down and human in other scenes as and when the plot requires. Personally, I also love the long ears on the cowl but I know that is a contentious subject in certain circles of fandom.
One thing that I really appreciated upon going back to review Batman: The Long Halloween, was how genre-spanning it was. It contains elements of noir crime drama, melodramatic mystery, some light horror and great tragedy. I can’t actually recall another Batman story that comprises all of these themes as well as it is done here.
Ever since first reading the book almost ten years ago, I now make it a point to read it yearly at some point between Halloween and Christmas and for one good reason; because it is one of the greatest comic book stories ever written.
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