Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns are pretty much considered as the definitive Batman stories across any medium. With them Frank Miller revitalised Batman and took the superhero genre into a dark and contemporary direction. They are both superb and are deserving of the recognition they hold but I feel there is a third definitive Batman story that may not have been as revolutionary as Year One and The Dark Knight Returns but might be better at a storytelling standpoint. In my opinion Batman: The Long Halloween is the best Batman story ever and here’s why.
The Long Halloween is a 13 issue Batman story written by Jeph Loeb and with art by Tim Sale released in 1996 and 1997. The story uses versions of the characters from Frank Miller’s Year One and takes place in Batman’s early years as he, along with Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent, attempt to track down the mysterious ‘Holiday Killer’. The investigation is set against the backdrop of a war with Gotham gangsters Falcone and Maroni and Dent’s transformation into Two Face. Loeb’s writing is spot on particularly with Batman’s narration which is used sparingly to great effect. The tale is perfectly paced with some issues focusing more on characters and motivations while others are more plot and action based. Catwoman also plays a role in the story; she wears a now iconic version of her suit and may be the best written character despite her murky motivations.
At the core of The Long Halloween is a trinity. Batman. Gordon. Harvey Dent. Three men who are the last line of defence against crime in Gotham city, all of whom take different approaches to tackling crime. Gordon is noble and plays by the book, Batman uses violence and fear but refuses to kill and Dent may go even further than that. At the start of The Long Halloween all three are friends and decide to make a pact on the roof of the GCPD (an image later used in The Dark Knight) on how they will never cross the line when it comes to dealing with the seemingly untouchable gangster Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone. In early issues the three of them remind me of the relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy in the original series of Star Trek. The Long Halloween enforces Batman’s need of help but also his fear of bringing others into his world than any other comic series, even those including Robin, which becomes all the more powerful when the story slowly becomes the tale of Two Face’s origin.
One of my favourite things about The Long Halloween is the perfect mix between the more grounded gangsters and crime lords and the classic Batman super-villains. The majority of the story focuses on the Falcone and Maroni crime syndicates and it’s interesting to see Batman take down these types of bad guys. Super-villains do have a big presence throughout the story however such as the Joker who has his own ‘plan’ entirely although it does tie into the main serial killer investigation plotline which drives the whole comic. Characters like Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter and Calendar Man (in a Hannibal Lector type role) all show up but none of them feel like they are being thrown in for the sake of it. They all contribute to the plot in clever ways, never overstay their welcome and are all superbly written by Loeb.
The Falcone and Maroni families and the events that happen to them are highly reminiscent of The Godfather which is no bad thing. Whether it’s the first issue taking place during a wedding or an elderly crime boss dying among his fruit plants, it has homage written all over it without it becoming a pastiche. Not all people feel that way about it though; during my research (yes, believe it or not I do actually do research before I write these blogs) I read an article stating the Godfather references are plagiarism. It was from one of those click bait sites however so I ignored it, the taking of inspiration from other media products is one reason I like The Long Halloween so much. The Long Halloween not only took inspiration from films but gave inspiration to David S Goyer and Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight Trilogy which has Long Halloween imagery all over it.
Year One was an origin story while Dark Knight Returns deals with Batman coming out of retirement. What makes The Long Halloween so great is that it focuses purely, and shows magnificently, Batman in his prime. This shows in his efficiency of combat and detective work and while there are flashbacks to young Bruce Wayne before his parents were killed they are brief and serve a purpose both to character development and plot.
As a fan of crime fiction the major reason The Long Halloween is my favourite Batman story is because it’s a murder mystery. The story hangs on the mystery and actions of The Holiday Killer and the mystery is maintained for a long time which is tough to do without losing the reader and without making the characters seem dumb for not being able to figure it out. A mystery is only as good as its reveal and the reveal in The Long Halloween is fantastic. Along the way we are sent some curveballs without falling into tropes and the ending is ballsy. Not to spoil anything but calling it ambiguous is putting it lightly; it begs for re-read after re-read after re-read and analysis of every masterfully put together panel.
In my opinion Tim Sale draws the best Batman and every panel of The Long Halloween oozes style whether it’s the cityscapes, characters or the black and white murder sequences which are classic film noir and then some. The choice of colour, or lack of in certain scenes, is perfect as is the use of shadow which both hides Batman and the identity of the Holiday Killer and foreshadows the turn of Harvey Dent into Two Face.
What’s your favourite Batman story? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about The Long Halloween on Twitter @kylebrrtt. Like, Subscribe and why not have a look at all the awesome stuff on the site like the many podcasts and blogs. I’ll be back next week so come back then for some more First Time Writing.