|When a serial killer starts murdering gangsters on holidays, Batman and allies Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent take the case. They soon discover this murder mystery is more twisted than they originally imagined, threatening to unravel the trust they've established.
|December 1996-December 1997
“Trick or treat!” the children cry as you open your front door. You comment on their costumes as you hand them a fistful of chocolate-covered nougat or chocolate-wrapped peanut butter. That one kid’s linen bed sheet puts all the other wannabe ghosts to shame. And that one girl’s evil witch outfit is Wizard of Oz cosplay-worthy. The neighborhood kids really outdid themselves this Halloween, you think.
As the trick-or-treaters thank you before departing, your husband arrives home. You give him a (non-chocolate) kiss and ask how his day went. Long hours, hard work, the usual. Still trying to figure out who killed Johnny Viti and left a decorative pumpkin at the scene. Creepy, right? It’s difficult being the District Attorney for a city as corrupt and oozing with criminality as Gotham. But the long hours are worth it, especially if you wish to add a little ghost someday to your family of ghouls.
You hand him a package that arrived earlier. No clue from who, no idea what it contains. District Attorney Harvey Dent carefully unwinds the ribbon and unwraps the package…
The package detonates. Your house explodes. You and your husband live, but you end up spending the next month in the hospital, missing Thanksgiving. Harvey somehow escapes without so much as a scratch. Thank goodness. He has such a handsome face, doesn’t he?
This is just the beginning, unfortunately. Yes, you, Harvey, and several others are about to discover that this is just the start of a very, very long Halloween.
Violence: Several characters are shot, and we see multiple bodies in the aftermath of murders. An explosion kills and injures several people; another explosion leaves one woman injured. A man is stabbed in the back. Someone is scratched. Fist fights see individuals punched and kicked. A man is dropped to his death.
Sexual Content: A few characters kiss. A couple of women wear revealing outfits. Some dialogue is laced with innuendo.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Several characters smoke throughout the series. A couple of characters are seen drinking or handling alcohol. One person appears very drunk in a bar. A villain specializes in aerosol toxins.
Spiritual Content: Batman-rogue Solomon Grundy is, according to legend, a zombie-esque villain resurrected from the dead. Someone mentions praying.
Language/Crude Humor: Several uses of God’s name in vain, as well as a handful of uses of h*** and d***. A** and b****** pop up once each, plus an unfinished curse.
Other Negative Content: Characters discuss and engage in morally dubious behavior in the name of a righteous cause.
Positive Content: Batman strives to rid Gotham of evil, physically fighting crime and stymieing criminality through business decisions as Bruce Wayne. A few other characters verbalize and act on their desires to see justice done.
Brainchild of writer Jeph Loeb and illustrator Tim Sale, The Long Halloween is a classic amongst Batman fans, spawning a recent two-part animated film and dramatically influencing Christopher Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight Detective. The series is ranked alongside The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, and Batman: Year One as one of the greatest Batman stories of all time. In fact, it serves as a quasi-sequel to Year One, situated during Batman’s early crimefighting days and featuring Carmine “The Roman” Falcone, a mob boss created by Frank Miller in Year One.
A killer stalks the streets of Gotham, murdering on holidays and lashing out against Falcone’s crime family. Irish gangsters serving Falcone are gunned down on Thanksgiving, ending their lives cold turkey. Falcone’s personal bodyguard is killed on Christmas, annulling his present occupation. Batman, Harvey Dent, and Commissioner Jim Gordon, who have recently formed a triumvirate to combat Falcone, shift their focus to hunting this madman plaguing the city. “Who is Holiday?” they ask. The question encompasses the entire series.
Holiday Sale: A Great Story (for the Low-b, Low-b Price of Your Attention)
Loeb and Sale are synergy personified. The writer/artist team have worked on several acclaimed stories, including Superman: For All Seasons, a handful of series for Marvel, and three Batman Halloween one-shots which predated The Long Halloween. Loeb’s narration, structured as Bruce Wayne’s internal monologue, is enhanced by Sale’s artistry. Sale incorporates muted colors when constructing his Gotham, inserting beautifully colorful characters (Batman’s rogues gallery is heavily featured) to balance the shadows. We get patterns, parallel images, pieces of dialogue, and art that weave together to give the story a gorgeously detailed rhythm.
The duo are fantastically deceptive, laying out potential clues and always pointing fingers at various cast members. A scene early in the story sees Holiday remove the serial number off a gun, the background clearly indicating they’re using a workbench. Pegboards and tools are later associated with a few different characters. For the observant, these clues pique your interest as you work to decipher the mystery and, if you’re so inclined, invite future readings. Similarly, several characters either use or receive a .22 caliber pistol, the type of gun Holiday utilizes. Questions of character intermingle with questions of motive. Who gains by Holiday’s actions? Which lawbreakers, or even lawmakers, profit from the carnage?
Ha(r)ve(y) Yourself a Merry Little Murder
Though the murder mystery angle is certainly the main plot, Loeb and Sale wonderfully dig through how each character responds to the situation. Carmine Falcone reacts emotionally when someone close to him is murdered, proving even the man called “Gotham City’s untouchable crime lord” can be hurt. Harvey, as the body count rises, becomes more invested in the case, his motives torn between his correct behavior as DA and his personal hatred for “The Roman.” Batman investigates all the angles, studying evidence, and hoping it doesn’t point him in the directions he perceives. What’s he to do when men he trusts reveal their darker sides?
Harvey’s involvement, specifically, is threaded throughout the entire series. Aside from Batman, he’s the story’s most important character. He serves as a foil of sorts for Batman–while our vigilante works outside the law to get results, Harvey struggles with the confining limitations of that same law. Investigations seem to get him nowhere; his house is bombed; he’s mugged; a court case against Bruce Wayne ends with Bruce being cleared by the jury. Harvey becomes more dismissive of his lawful tactics as the series progresses, sneering derisively at a system that seemingly favors the rich and powerful.
Like Batman, Harvey is a torn man, thrown into a chaotic world. Harvey wants the Roman to fall like the empire he’s named after, but the D.A.’s “take no prisoners” approach makes him few friends and starts alienating the allies he does possess. His story is clearly a descent, a cautionary tale. When the systems intended to uphold justice fail us, where do we turn? How do we respond? Harvey responds to a seemingly unfair, two-faced system by turning his back.
Loeb presents Batman’s mission as a counterpoint to Harvey’s methods. “I made a promise to my parents,” Bruce says, “that I would rid the city of the evil that took their lives” The memory of his mother and father, their legacies and their loss, form the crux of who Batman is. Hate drives Harvey; hope drives Bruce. Bruce looks at the world’s unfairness, accepts it as real, and fights despite injustice. He may never actually eradicate Gotham of evil (why tell a Batman story if he could?), but he hopes for a safer city. Batman may even bend the rules as he deems necessary–he and Harvey, early in the series, burn a warehouse filled with unlaundered money–but he plants himself behind moral lines he refuses to cross.
More Treats than Tricks
Justice and identity become intertwined. In the hunt for a masked killer, the false faces our characters wear slowly dissolve. Loeb and Sale present the story as a standard murder mystery that deepens the further it goes on. Like an (occasionally good) M. Night Shyamalan film, the duo saves their twists and revelations for late in the game. As you follow this haunting holiday whodunnit, you find meaning beyond the story. How are we to tackle injustice? Do we wage war within the systems presented, unstable and faulty as they may be? Do we move outside the systems, redrawing the lines of what’s “fair” and “just” to incorporate a larger meaning behind justice… or to fit in our own opinions? And what do our thoughts, discussions, and actions regarding justice say about our character?
Loeb and Sale don’t necessarily blur the line between “just” and “unjust”–clearly, a themed serial killer who steals life and ruins everyone else’s Christmas dinners and Easter egg hunts gets a huge thumbs down. Even Batman, staunch defender that he is, faces a stern Commissioner Gordon when the officer discovers the Caped Crusader has omitted some pertinent information to the case. Yet Batman, despite his faults, believes in a Gotham where children don’t have to worry about their parents getting murdered in alleyways. Not a perfect Gotham, but a better Gotham.
Harvey’s approach sounds nice, on paper. When evil flourishes, we want to act. A sense of justice–to still the disquiet in our souls towards evil–permeates each of us. It’s an often painful recognition that our world is imperfect. And, yeah, it’d be nice if we could all just put on costumes and become superhero trick-or-treaters like Batman. No more penguin-themed, cat-themed, puzzle-themed supervillains. But, like Harvey, we can become confused when distinguishing real justice from personal vendettas. We can act, but we must act correctly. Even King David, writing in the Psalms about his many enemies, recognized God’s hand in delivering him. He couldn’t save himself. He needed Someone else to provide justice.
I know Halloween has drifted from its religious origins. I know it’s, generally, not a “holiday” we celebrate with days off from work or family get-togethers. But if you’re looking for a new tradition for October 31st, you could have worse hobbies than sitting down with Loeb and Sale’s magnum opus. It’s chilling and thrilling, and despite some blood spilling, The Long Halloween is a conundrum-coated narrative filled with a fantastically philosophical flavor.
+ Witty narration
+ Fast-paced mystery
+ Stellar backgrounds and detailed character designs
+ Engaging perspectives on justice and identity
The Bottom Line
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale create an unparalleled Batman classic with this 90s series, crafting a wonderful murder mystery that packs in fantastic characterization and moral quandaries to mull over.