Any fan of the Batman graphic novels or comics, whether an avid reader or not, has their own personal favourite story arc or collected series when it comes to the Dark Knight. That singular series of issues, the run of which, short or long, renders the reader so completely smitten, they can revisit and reread the piece countless times over. It could be the artwork, the plot, the character development/introduction of new characters or all four. It, of course, comes down to personal preference. It may shock you therefore, to hear that Batman: The Long Halloween is in fact not my favourite Batman story, far from it in fact. So why I hear you ask, am I writing a feature celebrating the character of Batman in The Long Halloween?
A good question deserves a good answer, so here it is: although not my favourite story arc, I do appreciate what this momentous graphic novel did for the character of Batman and the character’s overall mythology. I’ll admit when I first read The Long Halloween at the age of fourteen I found it to be quite overrated, Tim Sale‘s artwork and general design of some of my favourite characters unimpressive when compared to artists such as David Mazzucchelli, Greg Capullo or my personal favourite, Jim Lee. However, upon revisiting The Long Halloween *sighs with the realisation of age* some twelve years later, I must admit the collection has grown on me.
To come clean, my favourite Batman story or collection would either be Batman: Under the Hood or Hush; at a push I would probably favour the latter of the two by a slim margin. These stories however, in my opinion, share something in common with The Long Halloween, an ingredient so intrinsic to any successful Batman story: the fact that they are detective stories first and foremost. Batman has and always will be depicted at his very best when his greatest lure nay asset is represented, the very hook that has continued to engage readers for over seventy-five years, his being a detective.
If like me you haven’t read The Long Halloween in a while or even never at all, here is a brief, spoiler-free synopsis. The Long Halloween was a monthly series which compromised of thirteen issues in total between 1996 and 1997. The story takes place during the infancy of Batman’s crime fighting career and sees our protagonist trying to track down a mysterious killer who goes by the name of Holiday, a killer who murders a new victim each month on a differing holiday. Batman, in a literal race against the calendar, leads the reader on an investigation arc that keeps the reader guessing throughout as to the identity of the killer.
Although the main plot centres around the apprehension of Holiday, the graphic novel is made up of multiple narratives and succeeds in something not many Batman stories can successfully boast, its ability in being able to depict a Batman not solely pre-occupied with a singular investigation. Some graphic novel story arcs can seem isolated in their depiction of events, a singular objective to be achieved. I mean just because Batman is investigating one case doesn’t mean that the rest of his Rogues Gallery have a day off and politely wait their turn. The Long Halloween depicts a Batman coming to terms with the alter-ego he has willingly burdened himself with and the criminals it breeds. Interaction with Batman favourites such as the Joker, Poison Ivy, Riddler as well as other notable secondary characters such as Carmine Falcone, Solomon Grundy and the expert utilisation of Calendar Man, form the basis of moulding Batman into the hero we all know and love.
One of The Long Halloween‘s greatest strengths is its ability to utilise the aforementioned secondary characters to its advantage whilst developing the character of Batman. The result is a more rounded Dark Knight, the like of which has not been seen since or arguably before, The Dark Knight Returns. After all, the sum of Batman’s parts is largely made up of the very people he seeks to bring to justice. Characters such as Solomon Grundy highlight Batman’s moralistic and at times humane approach to crime fighting, whilst alternatively a character such as Calendar Man demonstrates Batman’s utter determination in achieving his end goal, bringing Holiday to justice.
It may be the elements of horror present within the narrative or maybe the inclusion of the word Halloween in the title but we get some fantastic scenes between Batman and Calendar Man in his Arkham cell that resemble those within The Silence of the Lambs, Batman’s Clarice Starling to Calendar Man’s Hannibal Lector. Batman’s desperation in wanting to apprehend Holiday is brought to the fore by his reliance on titbits from Calendar Man that aide in his investigation and depicts a Dark Knight willing to sully his hand at the expense of his own moral code so long as it stops the body count from racking up.
And therein lies one of The Long Halloween‘s strongest features. The graphic novel depicts a Batman that has inspired subsequent writers and has been explored many a time since the graphic novels publication in films such as The Dark Knight, Batman v Superman and in other graphic novels such as Scott Synder and Greg Capullo‘s The Court of Owls run. A question that frames our love affair with the Batman and fuels our admiration for the characters selfless act of providing vigilante justice. Is Batman’s willingness to lower himself to the level of criminals a strength or a very clear indication as to the fine line he walks daily between criminality and justice?
The character of Harvey Dent, who goes on to become Two-Face in the latter pages of the graphic novel’s run, highlights this debate beautifully and is literally a horrific visualisation of Batman’s internal dilemma. The notion that Batman is two sides of the same coin, pun very much intended, presents the reader with a dilemma throughout the story. The Long Halloween delves back into previous incarnations of Batman we have seen over the years and highlights both how the character of Batman developed his moral code, as well as framing the debate that constantly challenges both the character of Batman and the reader: what would happen if like Harvey, Batman broke his one rule?
So were you left like a trick or treater on Halloween laden with goodies after reading The Long Halloween or were you left crying out Bah Humbug at Batman’s depiction? Let me know in the comments below or as ever, on our Twitter page.