There are certain narratives that have had such a profound impact on my tastes that I feel compelled to revisit them just about every year. There are certain books, movies, television shows, and comics that helped lay the foundation for my narrative sensibilities, and have become fully ingrained in my being. I talk about Batman a lot on this site, primarily because I have a weekly series where I read random issues of Detective Comics. But, that whole project revolves around me reading issues for the first time. I don’t get to talk about defining Batman stories that helped get me into the character, and serve as the basis for my understanding of the character. And I think a big part of that is that I by and large regret the books that formed that initial opinion. Growing up my main exposure to Batman were the 90’s films (which are a mixed bag, to say the least) and Batman: the Animated Series, which remains possibly my favorite use of these characters in any medium. But, comics weren’t exactly a source of Batman for me. I didn’t grow up anywhere near a comic books store, and what few comics my local grocery store sold rarely included DC comics for whatever reason. So, my main introduction to the comics side of Batman came about when I started finding bound collections at bookstores, which just so happened to coincide with high school.
Also known as the period of life where a person is their most intolerable. I threw myself into the world of Batman, specifically looking for stories that were dark, violent, and preferably included the Joker. And my tastes have changed from that, to say the least. As I’ve gotten older these books that provided by basic understanding of Batman, things like Hush, Death in the Family, and the Brian Azzarello Joker comic have aged like milk for me, and now feel like embarrassing reminders of the person I was. And yet, there’s still one comic from this era that I’ve held in esteem.
The Long Halloween.
When I was first researching Batman, looking for the best way to get into the character, I would frequently see this book listed as one of the greatest Batman stories of all time. And it clicked for me. I loved this comic, and for years considered it one of my favorite comic books of all time. I check in on it every few years, tossing myself back into the strange world that Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and company created. It’s gorgeously illustrated, tackles a very interesting side of the Batman mythos, and was possibly the book that most influenced my obsession with actually seeing Batman solve crimes through deduction.
And yet, there’s been a backlash against this book. I’ve seen plenty of people whose opinions I respect hold this book in contempt, and have generally been unable to wrap my mind around these complaints. It’s remained a wonderful piece of comics fiction, and a book that brings me a lot of joy. But, I decided to reread it last week, just because it’s been a while and I wanted to check in on it. And I enjoyed it. However, when I started thinking about if I wanted to write about the book, some thoughts started percolating. I found some of these complaints and critiques finally making headway into my mind, and it’s been a weird feeling. This may end up being a very strange article, but I found myself with a lot of feelings after rereading the Long Halloween, and wanted to try and work through them.
The Long Halloween builds off the success of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, telling a story about the early years of Batman’s career, and how he came to become the hero we know and love today. Batman’s been around for a few years at this point, he has a relationship with both Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent, and spends most of his time trying to take down the various mobsters who are carving Gotham City up. Primarily Carmine “the Roman” Falcone. The three men decide to form an alliance, willing to break some of their principles all in order to bring Falcone and his crime family down. But, the night of Falcone’s nephew Johnny’s wedding, which happens to be Halloween, things are forever changed. Because a mysterious assassin kills Johnny and leaves a pumpkin behind. Everyone begins investigating the murder, both the heroes and the mobsters, when Thanksgiving roles around and another group of gangsters are killed, this time being found with a cornucopia. Gotham has a new serial killer.
The rest of the series spans over an entire year in Gotham City while everyone is gripped by a new killer, who is being known as Holiday. The mysterious killer murders one member of the Falcone crime family every month, on the day of that month’s biggest holiday. The killer leaves behind the murder weapon each time, and yet there’s never enough evidence to begin a real investigation. And this mystery drives Gotham into chaos. Falcone being lashing out, threatening a gang war with any rivals that he perceives may be responsible for Holiday, even crossing a line he’d never crossed before. Up until the events of this story the mobsters held the “Freaks,” the various Batman rogues that we know and love, in contempt. But, he finds himself put in positions where he needs their help, and begins working with them, bringing them more and more into the limelight. And it’s not just the mob who find themselves pushing past their beliefs. Batman and Dent find themselves becoming more jaded than ever before, especially Harvey. He ends up reaching the point of no return, considering some truly heinous behavior. And it all culminates when Harvey is horrifically scarred during a trial for one of the Holiday suspects, having him become Two-Face. And, after a solid year of murders, the Long Halloween comes to an end after Dent himself brings about the death of Carmine Falcone, tossing out a series of confusing revelations about the true identity of the Holiday killer. Harvey is lost, Batman is jaded, and the Freaks has officially superseded the Mob to become Gotham City’s biggest threat.
The Long Halloween is a comic that meant a lot to me. Means a lot. It’s huge, sprawling story that takes Batman and his various allies and puts them in a position where they’re forced to solve an impossible crime while showing how much Gotham can change in a year. We get to see a cavalcade of Batman supervillains, some incredibly solid Batman action, the story of one of my favorite Batman villains of all time, and some of the most stylized designs the characters have ever had. I loved the book, and I continue to love it. It’s a weird story, examining a fascinating aspect of Gotham City lore that I hadn’t ever really seen before. The idea that Batman used to fight generic gangsters, and now fights insanely colorful supervillains with their own bizarre gimmicks is strange. And the way that this film tackles that conundrum is really fun. This comic explores an event that irrevocably changed Gotham City, moving it from a town run by oppressive mobs to a town run by gimmicky terrorists.
And yet, there are some major issues with the book. There’s a lot I love about this book, but there are some things that I’ve been able to overlook in the past that become more glaring with each read. This book doesn’t make sense. They give us three possible identities for the Holiday killer, and never seems to explicitly explain what happened. And, I don’t really need to have plots completely laid out for me, making everything obvious. But when you’re telling a murder mystery you should probably have an understandable solution. And this book doesn’t do that. Which means it’s missing closure, and ends up failing at being a successful narrative. It’s a story that borrows, or flat-out steals, a lot from the Godfather, it gets bogged down with a long of talky scenes that end up meaning very little, it has some incredibly weird choices for the villains, and it just doesn’t make sense. It’s full of gorgeous art, fun set pieces, and succeeds in making an interesting mystery. And all of that is used to cover up a lot of flaws which makes the story make no sense.
So, do I still love this comic? Well, kind of. This reread of the comic was really the first time I’ve ever really been able to accept the flaws. Before they were all pushed aside by all the things I love about this film. The entire time I was reading it, I was enthralled by it, but shortly after finishing it I started to think more about it, and had to recognize the flaws. They became more glaring. This isn’t a perfect story. It has issues. And yet, I still love it. And, I think a major factor in that feeling is the role that it holds in my nostalgia. This is a book that I have very fond memories of, that I spent a lot of time discussing with friends in college, and that helped build the foundation of my tastes when it comes to comics. I can now accept that it isn’t as good as I used to think, but that doesn’t take away the feelings I have for it. I suppose you could say that my nostalgia has blinded me, but I prefer to think that I’m just appreciating something I loved when I was younger. This is a book that means a lot to me, and has been a rock that I’ve built a lot of my narrative tastes upon, which means that it’s always going to be important to me. It’s not a book that I may recommend to people as much, or if I do it’ll be with the caveat of the flaws, but I can compromise some of my tastes to accept the fact that I love this book.
Batman: The Long Halloween was written by Jeph Loeb, penciled by Tim Sale, leterred by Richard Starkings, and colored by Gregory Wright, 1996-1997.
Categories: Back Issues