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411 Comics Showcase: Batman: The Long Halloween

August 26, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

We all have our favorite comic book story. The one that sticks with us long after we’ve read it, the one that we keep coming back to, the one that made us fall in love with the artform. Maybe it was an iconic moment, or an epic concept, or just one panel or bit of dialogue that really stuck in our minds. I’ve got several favorites: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Watchmen, Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals, and Secret War all stick out in my mind. Not to mention great runs like Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing, Perez and Wolfman’s New Teen Titans or the earliest Spider-Man and Fantastic Four comics. But my absolute favorite as a 13-issue maxi-series written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale (an artist I was lucky enough to meet at Rose City Comic Con last year).

Batman: The Long Halloween is a story that takes place very early in Batman’s career, functioning as a sort of “Year Two” for the character. Indeed, I always find myself recommending those two to readers who want to get into Batman; Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s run establishes the central character better than any other run, but The Long Halloween does a phenomenal job of building his world in compact fashion. While the main story focuses on Batman, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent’s war on organized crime, the story gradually introduces us to Batman’s rogues gallery; Catwoman, the Joker, Poison Ivy, and the Riddler all feature prominently, while several others make guest appearances. It also serves as the definitive origin for Two-Face, as we see Harvey Dent’s tragic fall from Gotham hero to deranged villain.

As you can probably surmise from that description, The Long Halloween serves as a major influence on 2008’s The Dark Knight. Indeed, many scenes and concepts are lifted entirely from this book, including the highly marketed “I believe in Harvey Dent.” What I’ve always found fascinating is that that famous movie line is based on a famous comic book line that is a tribute to another famous movie line. The Long Halloween homages both of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films several times. This includes its opening page, a direct tribute to the iconic opening shot of the first Godfather and this famous “I believe in America” line, with Bruce meeting mob boss Carmine Falcone and declaring “I believe in Gotham City.”

You can’t see it very well here, but certainly any fan of Coppola’s masterpiece is going to recognize what’s going on here. The line becomes arc words for Bruce in the story as he lets us know the things and people he trusts; his city, Harvey Dent, and the Batman. Bruce is the narrator for the story, and Jeph Loeb has always been one of my favorite Batman writers. He has a knack for making sure that Bruce feels human; damaged and driven, but never overly brooding or hostile the way someone like Frank Miller might write him. Batman sometimes gets lost in his own book, playing second fiddle to more interesting characters, but Loeb always keeps Bruce in focus and makes sure this is a Batman book first and foremost.

The main story focuses on a “Holiday Killer”, someone who goes on a murdering spree through the Falcone and Maroni crime families, always killing on Holidays. Batman battles Solomon Grundy in a sewer on Thanksgiving, goes toe to toe with the Joker on Christmas and New Year’s Day, and gets intoxicated by Poison Ivy on Valentine’s Day, just to give you an idea of how things play out. But the main supporting cast are Dent, Lieutenant Gordon and Catwoman. Jeph Loeb has always seemed to have a fondness for Bruce’s relationship with Selina; she’s a major focus of Hush, a similar anthology series with artist Jim Lee, and she was the focus of another project with Tim Sale, When in Rome. I also happen to have a strong affection for Selina, and it’s one of many reasons The Long Halloween has always stuck out as a favorite for me.

Perhaps the longest lasting impact that this book had on me was how it affected my tastes in comic book art. Tim Sale’s style is something that looks almost garish, about as far from George Perez and Jim Lee as one can get. To the untrained eye, one might even think it is bad art. But as one progresses through The Long Halloween, you start to realize how Tim Sale’s style establishes a mood that heightens Jeph Loeb’s narrative. As Jim Lee put it, “Tim Sale could create tension in a kitchen”, and that takes a lot more skill than creating a compelling superpowered brawl. I have sought out most of Jeph Loeb’s collaborations with Sale, with the various color-themed Marvel books being the standouts (Spider-Man: Blue,, Daredevil: Yellow and especially Hulk: Grey).

But I’ve also developed a preference for art that stands out from the pack; if I can recognize an artist’s signature style, be it Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Chris Samnee, John H. Williams III, Francis Manapul or whoever, I am much more likely to be interested in the work than if someone is trying and failing to be George Perez. A great artist can make good writing great and great writing legendary, and that is definitely the case with The Long Halloween. I can’t imagine the book any other way.

Special Project Announcement
While I enjoy focusing on one character or storyline at a time, it does mean that I go through characters very slowly. As such, I think it might be helpful to create an easy access reference for who my favorite characters are and where they rank; starting in October, I will be compiling a list of the Top 50 DC Heroes, the first of a series of four lists. However, before I start the project, I want some input from the readers regarding something that DC has a knack for doing. Should the list include anti-heroes like Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, etc., or are these characters better suited to a villains list?

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