Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Batman: The Long Halloween

I suppose I'm deviating from the Batman Movie Batdown plan just the slightest bit.  Its occurred to me that Batman actually is slightly more than just the movies that have appeared in cinemas, he actually does appear in comic books every so often.  In fact, some comic books that are rather good.  At some point during this Batman adventure I went completely mad and started becoming more than a little obsessed with the Caped Crusader.  Which may be a problem after the 20th when I have to return to normalcy, but until then, I'll breath Batman air, drink Batman water, and run around everywhere talking in the Batman voice.

In 1987 Frank Miller wrote the fantastic comic, "Batman: Year One", which detailed how Batman and Jim Gordon came together to fight the rotting urban slime that was Gotham's underground.  "Year One" was a huge success that masterfully defined the Batman even more than Miller's previous smash hit, "The Dark Knight Returns".  And as with all things, "Year One" needed a sequel.  Unfortunately, this being the world of comic books, there are now approximately fifty seven different sequels* all made by different writers, artists, and in varied styles, tones, and ultimate success.  "The Long Halloween" is just one sequel - the best sequel - written by Jeph Loeb with art by Tim Sale.  Now usually I wouldn't review a comic book ever unless it was either one of the greatest things ever written or one of the very worst, something so amazing that I believe that my little slice of the Internet needs to tell its readers about it, so "The Long Halloween" immediately is that good to pass that standard.  Its just that special that I cannot ignore it.  And neither could Master Christopher Nolan, who used this comic along with "Year One" and some other comic book called "The Man Who Falls" as his primary inspiration for "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight".

"Batman: The Long Halloween" tells the story of Batman's second year fighting crime, where he has teamed up with Commissioner Gordon and DA Harvey Dent for a full-on assault against the Falconi Crime Family.  This is an incredibly dangerous assignment since Carmine "The Roman" Falconi rules Gotham City and is virtually untouchable.  Somebody, however, has found a way to make Falconi touchable - by murdering members of his crime family with a .22 caliber pistol on every major holiday.  This criminal, known as "Holiday" takes the city by storm, because nobody knows who or what he is, or why he's after Falconi.  "The Long Halloween" essentially is Batman's war on traditional crime, a war he wins, but not without casualties (I think you can guess who falls to the Dark Side here).  Worse still, a new class of criminal is beginning to rise in Gotham City, the Freaks.  All in all, "The Long Halloween" is an excellent Batman story, perhaps the best one I've ever read/seen/experienced with fantastic artwork, a great detective mystery plotline, and an all around beautiful set-up for Batman's endless crusade against the forces of evil.  This is the best Western comic book I've ever read in my life...

...and I've only read about ten altogether, so take of that what you will.

The story is broken up into thirteen chapters, which is how it would have been originally released as a monthly serial.  Of course these days "The Long Halloween" can much experienced all at once by walking into a Barnes & Nibbles and simply sitting down for an afternoon and reading the entire thing at once.  This means that the story is rather episodic with each issue focusing on Holiday's latest killing and Batman fighting the latest Supervillain to appear from the depths of Gotham's shared diseased psychosis.  So one chapter the Joker will run around time stealing Christmas gifts, threatening mobsters, and resorting to his usual tactic of trying to poison all of Gotham with Joker gas, and Batman will punch him.  Poison Ivy takes over Bruce Wayne's mind for a chapter, forcing him to launder money for Falconi.  Other villains are just sorta there to fill up dramatic space.

The main relationship, of course, is between Gotham's protective trio of Batman, Gordon, and Dent, all standing on the rooftop of the Gotham police HQ, planning to take down the mobster empire.  This is a familiar shot to anybody who has seen "The Dark Knight", and Nolan borrowed more than a few ideas from this story, including a giant mountain of money sitting in a warehouse - only its Batman and Dent who burn it, not the Joker.  Lots of people like to repeat the line "I believe in Harvey Dent" when they refuse to suspect that he is Holiday.  Gordon and Dent become the best of buds during this series, which makes Dent's final fall all the more tragic.  And their wives start to hang out too.  Yeah, Dent has a wife named Gilda in this universe, she and Barbara** become a kind of lonely neglected wife duo, sitting around late at night while their husbands burn the midnight oil trying to find Holiday and take down the Roman.

Personally I liked the way Catwoman is handled in this storyline.  In "Year One" Catwoman is a prostitute (yuck) who turns to supervillainy, while in this one Selina Kyle is a mysterious socialite who hangs around the mob.  Catwoman works as either an ally to Batman or a villain, nobody is exactly sure which angle she's playing, except that she might be working for every side and she knows way more than she's letting on.

One thing most reviewers praise "The Long Halloween" for doing is turning the Calendar Man into a real villain instead of a silly joke.  If you have no idea who Calendar Man is then you're like me, but he was a silly villain from the fifties who themed his crimes on dates on the calendar.  And he dressed like this.  "Long Halloween" makes him more like this, a Hannibal Lecter rip-off who sits in Arkham Asylum screwing with Batman whenever he asks who Holiday is.  Honestly, I think Calendar Man ever actually deserves the praise he gets, because he doesn't really do anything in this comic, and in the sequel gets his ass kicked with embarrassing ease.  Oh yes, he claims that he knows who Calendar Man is, but this is a dubious claim at best.  I don't buy this guy's act for a second, he's just messing with Batman and Batman should know better than to listen to him.

As you might have noticed from that one panel I showed there, "The Long Halloween" has amazing artwork.  Tim Sale gives his own personal interpretation to every character.  The Joker is a snaggletoothed freak with a mouth larger than his entire face in a constant grimace-like smile.  Poison Ivy constantly is sprouting plants.  Two-Face's ugly side appears to be flaking off skin and bits of burned flesh.  Meanwhile other characters actually look somewhat realistic, its an interesting dynamic.  This book is absolutely beautiful, like pretty much every modern comic is these days, but this is especially pretty.  I particularly like the touch when Holiday's murders are left black and white, like a classic noir.

Finally, we need to know who Holiday is.  The obvious choice would be Harvey Dent, since he actually does turn evil.  But the final reveal is a lot more clever than that, leaving just enough questions for you to keep bouncing around in your head.  What is clear though is that "Long Halloween" actually covers a major shift in power for Gotham.  At the end, its not Holiday who gets Falconi, but a room full of supervillains, all ready to pounce on their former employer.

"Long Halloween" was followed by a sequel called "Dark Victory" which was pretty much the same storyline repeated to mostly inferior effect.  The Falconi family is led by Sofia Gigante, the crippled daughter of the Roman.  This time its the corrupt members of the Gotham police form who are the target of a new killer, the Hangman.  Its still a decent storyline with some excellent moments, but honestly its a sequel.  "Dark Victory" also features the inclusion of Robin, and even manages to make him work into the Batman storyline as a foil to Bruce Wayne's own tragic childhood.  I'd recommend that one as a read.

However, now that I've reviewed the best Batman comic, I think that means I have to review the worst one.  And that's "All-Star Batman and Robin Boy Wonder".  This coming Friday the Batdown will hit "Batman and Robin", which a lot of people consider to be the deepest low point in all of Batman history.  They don't know what they're talking about.  "All-Star Batman" is the real deal, the worst fucking thing you could ever imagine.

* Since I'm not a comic book scholar I can't begin to keep track of them all, but I'll trust Wikipedia to guide me here.  Other than "The Long Halloween", there are dozens of sequels.  There was a comic called "Batman: Year Two" but that was apparently removed from continuity by a confusing timey whimey mix-up called "Zero Hour: Crisis in Time" - which I won't even attempt to explain because I have no clue myself.  Other sequels include a comic series called "Legends of the Dark Knight", there's a one-shot called "Batman: The Man Who Laughs", and now some series called "Batman Confidential".  There is some assurance that now all of Frank Miller's Batman stories now exist on their own parallel "Dark Knight" universe, so now most "official" sequel might be "All-Star Batman and Robin Boy Wonder", which is a horrid piece of shit that I will have to review one day.  Due to DC totally rebooting its entire universe, I don't know if "Year One" is still in continuity or not.  Comic books are something of a mess.

** Confusingly Commissioner Gordon's wife is named "Barbara Gordon" and so is their daughter, who becomes Batwoman in other storylines.  He is not married to his daughter, thank God.  Though with Frank Miller still writing "All-Star Batman and Robin", the most hideously awful Batman story of all time, God only knows what he'll think up...



  2. Wow Blue I'm surprised, but yet at the same time I'm not, that your not a comic book reader (Of western anyway). And for your own sake it should stay like that. Because getting into comic books is just going to leave you more pissed off and raged fueled then you already are.

  3. wow you checked out a comic book, i impressed, Im trying to get into manga, so what would you recomend? anyway instead of reviewing allstar review the killing joke that would be a lot less painful.

    1. Most manga I've read were adaptations of animes, unfortunately. Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2 both give the full stories, which the animes do not. Trigun the manga is different enough from the anime to be worth reading.

      But the one I have to recommend the most is FRANKEN FRAN!!! That's just awesome.

  4. There is a Tim Sale/Jeff Loeb Catwoman spin off too, Catwoman: When in Rome, Italy suits her, it's quite a satisfying read, plus I really do love their interpretation of her.

  5. this is by far one of the best comics