Loeb and Sale
There isn’t a more fitting review to write a couple of days after Halloween. A while back, I announced my recent expedition to graphic novels. About half of my purchases were Batman-related. My recent obsession with Batman is quite deep: drawings [see them here] and a replay of what is my opinion the best video game of 2011, Arkham City. Reading the Long Halloween was another great way to solidify my love for the Batman universe. Widely regarded as one of the best Batman Graphic Novels of all time,The Long Halloween adds surprising depth to the Batman universe and in Christopher Nolan’s words, “The Long Halloween is more than a comic book, it’s an epic tragedy”. This review is riddled with references to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, as it’s well known that this graphic novel served as inspiration to the writing of that movie.
This is a recommendation piece, so I’ve allowed as minimal spoilers as possible.
Historical Overview and Basic Plot of Jeph Loeb
Written in 1996 and published in 1997, The Long Halloween was written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale. The graphic novel itself received critical acclaim and created two sequels to this series: Dark Victory and Catwoman: When in Rome. The basic plot of Jeph Loeb’s story is written during the early days of Batman’s career where crime mob families are still adjusting to the Dark Knight’s presence. But when a serial killer sparks a mob war between two families, Batman tries his best to get down to the identity of the killer before more people are killed.
The Realistic Batman Universe Adds Depth
While comic books and popular heroes are generally regarded as fiction and what happens between the panels couldn’t really happen in real life, I really like the depth of reality The Long Halloween goes into. Assuming we forget post Batman related media, such as Nolan’s Batman trilogy, most Batman shows and movies were campy and absurd. The four Batman films ranging from 1989 – 1997 demonstrate pretty clear examples of this. The stories, clichéd, are primarily 2 hour stories of how Batman saves damsels in distress and defeating super villains with absurd plots. The Long Halloween puts a darker and edgier tone that served as the inspiration to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. It’s one of the first films to go in depth of how Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent must work together to put away criminals. Batman immobilizes them, Gordon arrests them, Dent persecutes them. While this is naturally assumed, the organization and coordination of the three represent an awesome coalition of an unofficial Gotham task force. Also adding to some realism are the majority of the bad guys. Many of the bad guys in this graphic novel that have a lot of ‘page time’ aren’t actually the usual suspects like Joker or Penguin, but rather crime families in Gotham that are at war with each other. This resonates with the early days of Batman’s ‘career’. The more insane villains make appearances as well, but carry smaller roles compared to the other villains. The idea though that these ‘super villains’are slowly moving into Gotham and replacing the traditional crime families is also very resonant and is explained below.
The Art of Tim Sale
Loeb and Sale As a hobby artist, I paid a lot of attention to the art of this graphic novel. I absolutely loved it. The use of shadows adds such a mysterious effect to the story and is so fitting for the dark tone of the novel. Very noir-ish. Batman is a man of the shadows and the way he is drawn is fitting. I wish I knew more about the artistic vernacular of things I appreciate when I read this novel, but I would be spending paragraphs on describing a certain stroke when there is a singular word for it.
The Inspiration to The Nolan Universe
After reading this novel, I noticed so many references that Christopher Nolan made to this novel in his Batman trilogy. Ranging from the basic story structure to the minor characters, it’s easy to see the inspiration this novel made to both Batman Begins, but even more importantly, The Dark Knight, which is still my favorite movie out of the trilogy. It’s widely known that the Long Halloween is a retelling of the Two-Face origin story, but the way we get there in the movie is just as emotional, if not more, in the graphic novel. I mentioned above about how realistic the graphic novel is and how it’s one of the first books to incorporate the big three [Bats, Gordon, and Dent pre two-face] work to keep Gotham safe. This idea is reciprocated into The Dark Knight to make it more than just a superhero movie, but even a crime thriller due to the intricacy of the capture and persecution of villains. Minor characters and crime families are also mentioned in the Nolan universe that are heavily used in The Long Halloween. Carmine Falcone, who first appeared in 1987’s Batman Year One as a minor character became a major character in The Long Halloween and is used as a villain in Batman Begins, played by Tom Wilkinson.
Freaks vs. Crime Mobs
This is a subsection of how Christopher Nolan was inspired by this graphic novel. One of my favorite parts of Batman Begins was when Gordon was telling Batman about the idea of escalation. When cops get body armor, bad guys get armor piercing rounds. When cops get semi-automatics, bad guys get full automatics. When Batman runs around in a cape and mask…
Warner Bros. The idea of how freaks are taking over the crime rings from crime families is a relevant plot point in The Long Halloween. The same is in the Dark Knight, where the major crime families according to Michael Caine’s Alfred, ‘had to turn to a man they didn’t fully understand’. The Joker’s quote in The Dark Knight, “this town deserves a better classic criminal, and I’m gonna give it to ’em” is definitely a nod to how Gotham is making way for freakish villains being more prominent than crime families. While the more well known criminals don’t make a huge appearance in the story, Joker, The Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Riddler, etc. all make appearances although usually only stick around for 2-5 pages. They’re often incorporated as middle-men for the crime mobs but they seem so able on their own, that it w The Long Halloween could’ve been strung out to be an even bigger book if they focused on each of these characters.
An Epic Tragedy
In Nolan’s words, The Long Halloween is an epic tragedy. I’m not going to give away too many of the details as to why, but the book is surprisingly emotional, likely from the very realistic approach taken by Jeph Loeb. There is a villain in everyone even more-so than the Joker or the head of a crime family. And the execution to find out the mystery of who is the Holiday killer is a thrilling and even heartbreaking experience.
The Long Halloween is definitely one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read [I’ve only read 3 others, but still.] It’s always fun to see the inspiration for great pop culture [Nolan’s The Dark Knight] and it’s spine tingling to see Batman villains when they get their 2-page spreads of pure badassery. Any lover of Batman mythlore or decent crime drama should be picking up this book right now.
Loeb and Sale