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The Haunted Knight
Batman: Long Halloween - Jeph Loeb
Member Name: Jake Speed
Batman: Long Halloween - Jeph Loeb
Advantages: Superior Batman story
Disadvantages: The ending maybe
Batman: Long Halloween is a graphic novel by Jeph Loeb with art by Tim Sale and was originally published in as a 13-issue comic book series in 1996/97. The story picks up soon after the events of Batman: Year One (Frank Miller's classic account of the origin of Batman and his early days fighting crime). As ever, Gotham City is a dangerous and complicated place for our brooding hero. Corruption is rife and it seems that only Gotham DA Harvey Dent, police Captain Jim Gordon, and the billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne are immune to the bribes and threats of Gotham City mob boss Carmine "The Roman" Falcone. Falcone puts the squeeze on Bruce Wayne (he is unaware of course that Wayne is secretly Batman) at the beginning of the story to launder money for him but the billionaire refuses. When Bruce Wayne urges Gotham City Bank board members to rebuff Falcone too, he seems to be successful but the bank president he replaces is gunned down by Falcone's nephew Vito. Harvey Dent has also had his share of run ins with the Falcone mob and has recently been the victim of a beating. After an investigation of Falcone's penthouse, Batman is alerted by the Bat-Signal and finds Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent waiting on a rooftop for him. The three men make a pact to end the grip Falcone has on Gotham city - even if it means bending the rules. Meanwhile, a mysterious serial killer named Holiday (because he only strikes during famous national holidays) is going about his grisly business and picking off members of Falcone's crime syndicate. Batman must put his famed detective skills to the test to solve the mystery and - as if all of this wasn't enough - his future rogues gallery of supervillains is starting to fall into place and make themselves heard.
This is one of the better Batman graphic novels although not in the same league as Year One or The Dark Knight Returns (probably the best Batman graphic novel of all). Loeb and artist Tim sale had produced some Batman Halloween tales previously and were asked by DC to work together on a story that would follow on from Year One and focus on the gangster elements of the city and the murky politics and corruption that plagues the town. Long Halloween is most famous though for exploring the descent and transformation of Harvey Dent from District Attorney and friend to Batman and Jim Gordon to the insane Two-Face, a hideously scarred villain who is left with a split personality after an acid attack. The arc for Dent is nicely done here and I like the way he is portrayed in shades of grey even before his transition to bonkers villain. This is an important part of the character and see how much Dent has to endure on his path to villainy. This graphic novel and the depiction of Two-Face in particular was a huge influence on Christopher's Nolan's The Dark Knight and there are one or two scenes that seem to have been lifted from that film. He's drawn superbly too and looks very horror film. Frank Miller was of course a huge influence on Long Halloween not only because he encouraged them to elaborate on the universe he had created with Year One but also because of his Sin City series of comics. Like Sin City, Long Halloween has a real film noir atmosphere (murder scenes fade to black and white) with a highly stylised retro thirties atmosphere. Batman himself is drawn as a mythic almost supernatural hero enveloped in a huge billowing cape. Panels where he casts a shadow or waits in profile are superb.
The start of the book actually feels like a homage to The Godfather with anachronistic gangsters holding court at a swanky event that Bruce Wayne attends. It's wonderfully illustrated and I love the use of shadows on walls through the book too. There is a very Nosferatu panel and also some fantastic silhouettes of Batman. The look inside the crime family is very well written and even seems to anticipate things like The Sopranos. There are a slew of famous guest stars here too although they are never allowed to take over the comic or divert us from the core of the story too much. Selina Kyle aka Catwoman pops up more than once. In the classic tradition, we are never quite sure if Catwoman is a goodie or a baddie. Maybe she's a bit of both. The Joker is here and rather piqued that the Holiday killer is stealing the limelight (he plans to kill the residents of Gotham with his laughing gas in his usual inimitable fashion) and The Scarecrow makes an appearance too leading to a frightful encounter for Batman when the Scarecrow's deadly nerve toxins force him to relive the murder of his parents, the very event that made him become Batman in the first place. Poison Ivy also features in the book and attempts to use her own brand of persuasive potions on our hero. This is a rare case of the story and the art meshing and both serving as strengths rather than one letting down the other. Look by the way for zombie supervillain Solomon Grundy in some sewer panels. It was a nice touch to include this character.
I liked too the inclusion of The Calendar Man, a most puzzling villain who Batman comes to believe knows a lot more than he is letting on. The noir approach works well here the and the book constantly drops clues our way as we become drawn into the hunt for the Holiday killer. The colours are muted to create a rich sense of atmosphere and dread and you feel like the artist really captures the spirit of Gotham City. A foreboding place that is both beautiful and ugly. I think the key to the story is the brotherhood between Batman, Gordon and Dent at the start. They have to become monsters to combat monsters and in the end it consumes one of them too much so he can't cope anymore. Gordon and Batman know how to bend rules without breaking them and stick to a code but Dent is pushed to breaking point. I think this is a superior Batman story and a great read if you are a fan. Definitely somewhere around the top table of Batman graphic novels, maybe just on a chair at the end reaching for a cheese roll and a can of Vimto. I think you might be disappointed if you expect a pure sequel to Year One directly in that style but if you are fond of Sin City and enjoy the more anachronistic noir approach to superheroes then you should enjoy this quite a lot. It's a long graphic novel too so you don't feel as if you've been short changed when it comes to the length and number of pages. Possible criticisms? Well, the ending won't please everyone and the gangster types are unavoidably caricatures but I enjoyed this approach myself and thought that was the whole point. Gotham City gangsters in the Batman universe would be a trifle over the top I'd imagine.
Long Halloween is one of the better Batman graphic novels and recommended. At the time of writing you can buy this for around a tenner.
Summary: Very good
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