I’ve been labouring under a misapprehension for years. I thought Haunted Knight was the final volume of a trilogy that began with The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. So, not long after Jamie gave me Dark Victory, I picked out Haunted Knight to make the set complete. Haunted Knight has no connection to the other two except thematically, as Halloween specials that predicted the good things to come. The really surprising thing about Haunted Knight, whose contents date from the now-distant realms of the mid-1990s, is that Tim Sale—whose style I obviously love; rereading Dark Victory made me gasp in awe—had not yet quite found his feet as a unique proponent of style. Certainly there are many superb panels and spreads in Haunted Knight, made especially so by the swathes of color provided by Gregory Wright, but I was aware as I read it of a nagging feeling that it was going to get so much better in The Long Halloween through to Catwoman: When in Rome.
It can be difficult, if one is fixated on the Sale factor, to remember how damn well Loeb tells a story, which he does in the case of “Fears,” a Scarecrow story. It’s fun, and interesting, and beautifully told—though both the Jezebel Jet storyline and Batman Begins owe this a debt. “Professor Crane isssn’t here right now. But if you’d like to make an appointment--?”
It’s a shame that many versions of the Scarecrow have him babbling nonsense, as this makes him rather indistinguishable from Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter. Now, I didn’t think much of ol’ Jervis until I rewatched Batman: The Animated Series season 1 last year and noted the complexity of a disturbed and lonely, embittered man. “Madness” is more a vehicle for “Babs,” Gordon’s niece who comes to live with him, though it’s unclear whether the moody teenager will grow up to be Batgirl/Oracle. It’s beautifully drawn, but I’m not convinced that Alice in Wonderland would be a childhood favorite of Bruce Wayne’s, even if it gave him a connection to his mother.
As in A Christmas Carol, its avowed inspiration, “Ghosts” leaves it up to reader to decide whether “a blot of mustard or a crumb of cheese” caused the visions that lead to changes. In Bruce Wayne’s case, they aren’t as profound as those that change Scrooge, but it is a fun retread of a familiar motif. Funnily enough, Bruce’s “ghosts” (his father, Poison Ivy, and the Joker) are a prediction of what’s to come—at least in terms of Sale’s drawing style.
I’m pleased to own the collection now, though Haunted Knight was not at all what I was expecting.