One of my friends majored in Media Studies. His homework included watching as much popular television as he could find time for and study how it worked its way into the lexicon. He already had experience with a lot of the shows that make up today's established pop culture: Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Futurama, The Office, Scrubs, American Gladiators 2007. But, surprisingly, he had no experience with Buffy/Angel or Doctor Who.
That's not entirely true, he'd seen parts of a few Buffy episodes when we were roommates. He'd scoffed at scenes that he had no context for, and after a few months, he treated walking into the room while I was watching Buffy with the horror most people would reserve for walking in on their grandmother naked with a jar of banana marmalade and an underage squirrel monkey.
Two years later, he would call me to discuss the finer points of season six, and how much he appreciated Jonathan's story arc.
When he realized it was time to tackle Doctor Who, he didn't just pick up with Christopher Eccleston, he went all the way back to the pilot episode and watched the entire series. When discussing the Russel T Davies era Dr. Who, he talked about how, whenever there was an event, Mr. Davies "throws a lot of Daleks at the plot until it cowers in fear at the corner of the episode".
A lot of lesser comic writers, when they are asked to helm an event "throw a lot of Daleks at the plot." Super-villain team ups are generally a nifty idea that doesn't pan out. Villains don't work well together, they're villains. And often their schemes cross purposes.
In The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale manage to include a majority of the major villains in the Batman pantheon without making them feel superfluous.
It helps that the costumed villains aren't the focus of the book, rather this is a return to the crime families from Frank Miller's Year One. The story opens at a wedding ceremony for one of the members of the Falcone family. Bruce Wayne has been invited, in hopes that he will help them in their quest to be financially supported by Gotham City Bank, which Bruce is a trustee for.
Meanwhile nosey district attorney, Harvey Dent, is in the event's parking garage taking down license plate numbers. He gets jumped by Falcone's men.
Later on in the evening Batman interrupts Catwoman breaking into Falcone's safe while Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon discuss their differing methods in gathering evidence.
A lot of what makes The Long Halloween work as a story is that it's one of the few modern era Batman stories that's actually a self-contained mystery. In 2010, Grant Morrison has been writing Batman and Detective as a long running mystery but it, if not requires, is greatly assisted by knowing all seventy years of Batman continuity. The Long Halloween requires only that you read The Long Halloween. Tim Sale litters the book with clues that you can piece together to solve the core mystery: Who is Holiday?
At the end of the first chapter, two members of The Falcone family are killed by an unseen assassin. Harvey Dent is also targeted, and he and his wife are believed dead.
Chapter two throws Solomon Grundy (born on a Monday) into the mix, and a whole nother mess of Falcone men are slaughtered at a Thanksgiving dinner.
The third issue focuses on an insanely jealous Joker who feels that Holiday is stealing his spotlight, and he pursues Holiday's identity as vigorously as Batman, Gordon, and Dent (albeit with very different methods). And while Batman is foiling Joker's New Year's Eve Massacre plans, Falcone's own son is murdered by Holiday.
The fourth chapter opens with Gordon and Dent going after their prime suspect in the Holiday case: Bruce Wayne. There's an excellent scene where the two of them are turned away by a deftly devious Alfred who politely inquires as to whether they've remembered to get their wives Valentine's Day presents. Holiday wreaks absolute havok on Falcone's business while Poison Ivy gets thrown into the mix.
Ivy has had a tryst or two with Batman before, but this time she's targeting Bruce Wayne for the Falcones. Their plot is foiled when Catwoman comes to Bruce's rescue.
Catwoman's dubious relationship with Batman (mirrored by Selina Kyle's relationship with Bruce Wayne) is one of the intricacies that makes this story work. This isn't just a hodgepodge of villains gathered to take down Batman. Villains are working purely for their own selfish reasons, they just happen to occasionally overlap. The exchanges between The Scarecrow and The Mad Hatter that take place in chapters nine and ten, where The Scarecrow speaks only in nursery rhyme, and The Mad Hatter speaks only in Lewis Carrol verse are fantastic.
By the time we get to chapter eleven, Roman Holiday, we've seen The Riddler, The Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, and The Calendar Man join the fray. More Falcones keep dying, and both Batman and The Riddler are forced to throw out theory after theory as to who Hoilday is. After his own father is killed, Sal Maroni, Falcone's chief rival turns himself in to Harvey Dent under the ruse of bringing down Falcone. But when it comes to give his testimony he throws acid at Dent's face, and, voila, we have the origin of Two Face.
Two Face rounds up all the villains from the story (plus The Penguin) to confront, and ultimately kill Falcone, thereby ending the old school mob rule in Gotham, and bring forth an age of super villains.
In the end we have a couple of surprise reveals regarding Holiday. Both of them much cooler than the usual suspects (sorry Grant Morrison fans, it's not The Joker). Often when you get a last chapter reveal it's either glaringly obvious or else it contradicts an important aspect of a character. Both reveals regarding Holiday caught me by surprise the first time I read the book, despite one of them being telegraphed by both Loeb's dialog and several panel clues by Tim Sale.
The art in any Batman story is as important a character as any villain. Whether it's Miller's television paneled layouts in The Dark Knight Returns or Dave McKean's creepily shadowed Arkham Asylum. Gregory Wright's muted colors are a key player in The Long Halloween. Apart from some vibrant reds when The Joker is involved, the art is intentionally flat, and occasionally just grays. Whenever I see the art from this book I think of Boyz II Men videos. Their director always tweaked the colors, sometimes washing out their bright red suit jackets, other times shooting in black and white, and then coloring in blue jeans.
I doubt it's an intentional metaphor, but the lack of backgrounds throughout most of the panels really drew me into the action. Sometimes a busy background distracts me from the story as my eyes vacuum in all the extraneous details. Everything Sale has drawn into this story is purposeful. It provides the perfect pacing for Loeb's story.
There isn't really a flaw anywhere in this collection. The only drawback to it from the perspective of putting together this Bat-chronology, is that it's a year long story. Each chapter taking place on a holiday (Halloween bookending the year). A lot of the books that will follow take place during The Long Halloween. Were I attempting the absolutely insane project of trying to do the chronology by issues instead of trades, I would space this collection out amongst some of the other stories.
Story 5/5, Art 5/5