Tim Sale & Batman: The Long Halloween
While I often label the television show Batman: The Animated Series as the start of my love affair for the Dark Knight, the truth is that as a kid, I never read Batman comics. While I picked up the occasional Spiderman or Deadpool story that my brother left lying around, I largely stayed away from the comics/graphic novels genre. It wasn’t until later, when I was in my twenties, that I was introduced to the book version of Gotham. Batman: The Long Halloween is one of the very first Batman stories that I ever read, on the advice of an ex-boyfriend and friends who were familiar with the character and knew this to be one of the very best Batman stories out there. To this day it remains on my list of the top five best Batman stories ever written so when I heard that Tim Sale (the artist for that particular series) was going to be at DCC this year, he was immediately on my list of people to see. Unfortunately, with the chaos of the con and the fact that Sale wasn’t on any of the panels, I missed seeing him this year. However, I wanted to make sure that I talked about Batman: Long Halloween simply because it is such an excellent example of a superhero story and particularly in the realm of Batman. Long Halloween is written by Jeph Loeb, illustrated by Tim Sale with Geoffrey Wright as colorist. It was originally published in 1999 as a 13 issue series and the same creative team followed up its success with Batman: Dark Victory and Batman: Haunted Knight.
Long Halloween takes place early on in the Dark Knight’s career, shortly after Year One (written by Frank Miller) which detailed Batman’s origin and first year. In Long Halloween, Batman is working with Commissioner Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent to try to take down the Falcone mafia family when a mysterious killer starts taking out members of the various mafia families. This killer adheres to a holiday theme and each of the killings has themes like Halloween, Christmas, etc. Batman, Gordon and Dent must not only put together a case which might finally stick to Falcone and put him away for good, they must also figure out who this calendar killer is and stop him before he can continue on his murderous spree.
What makes Long Halloween a brilliant story is how it shows the rise of Harvey Dent as District Attorney, his close friendship with both Bruce Wayne and Batman (although he doesn’t realize that they’re one and the same) and his eventual fall into villainy as the disfigured Two Face. While just about everyone is familiar with the idea of Harvey Dent as Two Face, this is no sudden shift from crusading good guy attorney to villainous, murderous crime lord. Loeb, Sale and Wright show how Dent’s problems with anger and duality began long before his disfigurement. In Long Halloween, Dent is struggling with a dark side that emerges a few times as a loss of control and the reveal of a darker Harvey Dent who doesn’t have quite the same boundaries as his lighter side. I liked seeing this evolution, it made way more sense that the darkness was inherent in Dent rather than something that just emerged when it went through a rough time. What makes it the most compelling is how the story shows how Dent’s descent into darkness affects the other characters, from his coworkers to Gordon and Batman to his fiancee Gilda. It truly shows how Gotham’s corruption and darkness affects all of the characters and continually tries to pull them down to its level.
Sale’s artwork in Long Halloween is almost an acquired taste. It isn’t gorgeous but it has a very noir feel to it that perfectly fits Loeb’s tone throughout the story. It isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved the way that the art fit the story. Sale uses shadow to great affect in the panels, many details are left to the shadows to create a somewhat abstract effect. Wright’s coloring brings out some of the details that would otherwise be hidden by Sale’s lack of detail. Often however, the darkness is a large part of the panel, fitting the darker theme of the story. This isn’t a story that’s meant to be detailed in brilliant color. It’s a story of corruption, violence and the slow descent of good into evil that is well suited to Sale’s style.
Batman: The Long Halloween is one of those stories that I would instantly recommend to anyone who wanted a Batman story, especially if they were largely unfamiliar with the Dark Knight. Loeb and Sale crafted a dark story that reveals how Gotham brings down even the best of the heroes, even as they show that none of these heroes are entirely good. It’s one of the most difficult periods of Batman’s career as he loses a best friend to madness and villainy even as he’s trying to catch a particularly heinous killer. It tests him to the limits and the match of Sale’s artwork to Loeb’s tone is one that I’ve always loved. If you enjoy Batman stories, make sure this one is on your list!