Friday, June 3, 2011

The Long Halloween

originally written 10/09/2010

This has been a Batman comic I’ve lusted after for a long time, and I was finally able to take it off my amazon wishlist after J got it for me. It’s strange, because I haven’t read Batman comics for a long time, mostly because I have read all the ones available in all the libraries nearby!

The two previously mentioned Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale collaborations are among my favorite comics in general, but The Long Halloween is the one with all the hype, and it really seemed now was the time to acquire it—we’re heading into Halloween territory. As I read it and soaked in all the beautiful, mind-boggling panels, I realized what a debt The Dark Knight (especially in the way it interpreted Harvey Dent/Two Face) owed to TLH, and in turn what I debt I owed to Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and most especially, Cillian Murphy for making me absolutely obsessed with Batman Begins in 2005. If I had blown it off as just another action film, I never would have rekindled my childhood enjoyment of Batman: The Animated Series, never would have started reading graphic novels of all kinds (but predominantly Batman), never would have written the Scarecrow/Joker fan fics that are still among my most “highly acclaimed,” never would have dressed up as Harley Quinn, and never would have been published in The Mythological Dimensions of Doctor Who. Life’s funny, isn’t it?

Back from my wanderings down memory lane . . . It was a surprise for me to discover in the foreword that neither Loeb nor Sale were really that keen on mobs until comics legend Archie Goodwin asked them to follow in Frank Miller’s footsteps post-Year One. Re-reading my reviews of Dark Victory and especially Catwoman: When in Rome, I assumed the mob element with the Falcone family and others to be deeply ingrained in the Loeb/Sale partnership. The real shame is that I read both stories before TLH, as it spoiled the mystery and dramatic reveal: who is Holiday, the killer who strikes Gotham on every major US holiday (roughly once a month), culminating in thirteen issues of a year-long comic? Is he (or she) crime boss Sal Maroni (memorably played in TDK by Eric Roberts)? Zealous District Attorney Harvey Dent? Carla Falcone, sister to mob boss Carmine “The Roman”? All the frightened public, and hard-working Captain Jim Gordon, know is that it isn’t an assortment of Gotham’s weirdoes, all of whom make an appearance and are just as scared of Holiday as the rest of Gotham. Batman, fairly early in his career, wants desperately for Holiday not to be his friend Harvey Dent and is curious about Catwoman’s connection to the whole thing.

Like Loeb/Sale’s previous efforts, each chapter is prefaced with a stunning, design-esque print based on each holiday. Also, I still prefer the way Darwyn Cooke draws Selina Kyle and Catwoman. Neither is the Loeb/Sale Joker my favorite, though his Christmas appearance brought back fond memories of the B:tAS episode as well as my own “Christmas with the Joker.” Each new spread brings awe to the reader; Sale’s concept of using space and black-and-white to fill it is highly accomplished and very effective. It makes nearly every page a work of art rather than a narrative. But Loeb’s contributions aren’t for naught, either. Gilda Dent, Harvey’s child-like wife, is a far cry from career woman Rachel Dawes (though, to be fair, the Loeb/Sale Batman universe is set somewhere in the ‘30s-‘40s-‘50s)—but she is interesting, especially compared to (Mrs.) Barbara Gordon and, later, Janice Porter. There’s a really awesome section during the April Fool’s Day chapter where the Riddler imagines for Falcone who Holiday might be, intercut with Alfred and Batman speculating on the same problem. It might seem incongruous for the Scarecrow to appear on Mother’s Day, but the explanation is that Jonathan Crane killed his own mother. Finally, there’s some unexpected pathos in the form of Sofia Gigante, Falcone’s daughter with whom he is surprisingly cold (I was surprised to find out that Sofia was Maroni’s one-time lover!). Finally, Gregory Wright who did the colors should at least be mentioned for his fantastic job.

You have to credit the two, they leave the murderer out in plain sight on a number of occasions, and I’m sure eagle-eyed readers would have caught it at the time. In TLH, Harvey Dent fakes his own death in a similar stunt to Jim Gordon doing the same in TDK; the courtroom scene with Maroni and Dent is somewhat similar to that in TDK, but the age-old explanation for Two Face’s existence—Maroni throwing acid in Dent’s face—smacks of the hysteria and silliness that created the Claude Rains Phantom in 1943. Valentine’s Day brings a surprise visit from Poison Ivy, who seduces Bruce Wayne/Batman in a Lilith-like fashion that both echoes an episode of B:tAS and Poe’s many tales of deadly sirens; it’s up to Catwoman to save him in an overdue role reversal. The Riddler’s appearance is rather muted in comparison to the great work they do with him in When in Rome.

I would recommend this graphic novel to anyone, especially someone who has never read a Batman comic before. I think it’s a strong introduction to the world told in a narrative style with eye-popping graphics.

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