As you will learn through the course of this blog, I have a very love/hate relationship with Grant Morrison's Batman. And while my recent feelings towards his Caped Crusader usually involve me blacking out with rage, I'm a huge fan of his 80s and 90s work.
One of the things I find most intriguing/frustrating about Morrison's Batman is how he plays with time and dreams. In stories such as Gothic (Legends Of The Dark Knight 6-10), Morrison gives us his signature coded dreams that tie into Bruce Wayne's real life. Whereas in recent years, I've felt his dream sequences and time fluctuations detract from the stories he tries to tell, in Gothic the dreams are placed in context almost immediately.
This story also gives us a rare glimpse into Bruce's childhood. Most writers seem to think there was nothing to his youth other than the night his parents were shot. Morrison presents us with a trauma of a different sort, as Bruce is nearly the victim of a serial killer who moonlights as the headmaster of the Bruce's very creepy alma mater.
The killer, Mr. Whisper (no relation to Hush, though it's interesting that the two villains connected to Bruce Wayne's childhood both have names with a quiet theme), returns during Batman's early days to take down a group of criminals who had tried to kill him shortly after Bruce was pulled out of school.
These sort of chronological coincidences usually rankle me the wrong way. All the characters and subplots of the story wrap up a little neatly for my taste. I do appreciate that there's a misdirect early on in the story when a young nun shows up, looking very similar to Selina Kyle's sister from Year One, and My Sister's Keeper.
While it's probably due more to editorial reasons than Morrison's shortcomings as a writer, it is disappointing that we don't see any other continuity characters in this arc. The criminals don't appear to have any connections to the Falcones, and there's no mention of James Gordon. We do have the first use of a, not the, a Bat-Signal in this issue, when the nervous criminals attach an upside-down Bat logo to a spotlight to get the caped crusader's attention.
Story 3/5, Art 3/5
Everyone has that friend. The one who watches a lot of standup comedians and reports the jokes they heard as their own. I can't tell you the amount of times I've heard the whole Scooby Doo stoner theories. The snickering moron who wonders aloud about Smurf sex lives. That person will always give you a little elbow to the ribcage and make some remark about Batman's "inappropriate relationship" with Robin.
Of course, that person doesn't know that there have been several Robins, and that one of them is his son. That person has no idea about Batman at all, apart from possibly having seen the 90's movie franchise and a few scattered episodes of The Animated Series. But most importantly, that person doesn't know how both Batman and Bruce Wayne are defined by the women in their lives.
It's no mistake that, in the modern era retelling of Batman's first few years, Catwoman appears several times before we get our first glimpse of The Joker. While The Joker is often regarded as Batman's nemesis, it's his relationship with Selina Kyle's alter ego that gives us a feeling for who Bruce is under the cowl.
Batman And The Mad Monk opens with Bruce standing up his current girlfriend, Julie Madison, to capture Catwoman. He sends Alfred to send his "sincerest regrets" to her, and to let her know "his scheduling problems won't be changing any time soon."
Another thing not changing anytime soon is Jim Gordon's problems with the hierarchy of the Gotham City Police Department. The new Commisioner, Grogan, appears as corrupt as Loeb was, and has sent some officers to deliver a message to Gordon, just as Gordon is awaiting Batman on the roof (he calls him with a Batpager...still no signal yet)
At the end of the first chapter of the story, we're introduced to the villains: vampires! In particular, a cultish vampire leader named The Monk. While he's not known as one of the front-runners of Batman's rogues, he goes all the way back to Detective Comics #43. In fact, this entire trade is a reimagining of the very early adventures of Batman.
It's not long before The Monk's cult kidnaps Julie Madison. While the Batman is off rescuing her, her father, Norman Madison, mistakenly thinking Batman is stalking him, decides he must permanently erase his connection to organized crime by killing Sal Maroni. It doesn't go well.
Neither does Julie's rescue from The Monk Cult. She manages to survive and, in the process becomes the first non-butler to discover that Bruce Wayne is Batman. But Batman's dangerous life, plus his role in her father's death leaves Julie unable to cope with Bruce's night life, so she takes off for Africa. Also during the course of the action, Jim Gordon decides his interactions with Batman are too risky, so at the end of this story Bruce is left only Alfred as an ally, but as he Spider-Mans his way into the Gotham skyline, he goes directly past a billboard for The Haly Circus featuring The Flying Graysons.
Story 4/5, Art 5/5
Galactus and The Dark Phoenix eat planets and suns. The Red Skull cashed paychecks directly from Hitler himself. But ask your average person who the scariest villain in comics is and they'll choose either Lex Luthor, Magneto, or The Joker. Lex is a MENSA level billionairre who hates aliens and poor people. Magneto is a Holocaust survivor with the power of magnetism (he's not so much a fan of Red Skull). But The Joker is perhaps the most terrifying of all. He has no super powers, no millions of dollars, he's merely a sociopath with a sense of humor, and a very complicated relationship with Batman.
But where does The Joker come from? What set him on his life of crime? Who was he before he showed up in Batman's rogue gallery? What's his real name?
What makes The Joker an effective villain is that those questions have never really been answered. There's no Holocaust in his background. There's no absuive parents. No orphanned when your parents threw you out of an airplane before they were enslaved by aliens. The Joker occasionally offers a piece of his past, but will later contradict it. A gag that's used beautifully in The Dark Knight.
So, given The Joker's muddled history, it's not much of a surprise that, even by comic book standards, his continuity is an erratic mess. Several writers have written origins or first appearances for The Clown Prince Of Crime. Most notably in recent years, Ed Brubaker and Michael Green.
Lovers and Madmen by Michael Green serves as a possible origin story. An expert thief gets bored of how perfectly he executes his crimes and contemplates getting out of the business when he runs across Batman, and becomes obsessed. (There's a fun little scene in a bar where "Jack" discusses his boredom at work with a blonde psychology student who calls him Mr. J.)
During "Jack"'s crime spree, Bruce Wayne meets a woman named Lorna. The introduction of a love interest in a story involving The Joker can only mean one thing. She gonna die. And, of course, Batman has to watch. With Lorna bleeding in his arms, he decides he can't go after Jack, so he tosses his baterang after him, marking his face into a permanent smile.
Now willing to do whatever it takes to pursue Jack, he calls in a favor from the mob, and consults a Gotham psychiatrist named Jonathan Crane, who labels Jack's methods insane. While the mob is holding him, Jack escapes and gets in a gun/fist/lead pipe fight with his captors, and ends up falling into a vat of anti-psychotics. Voila, Joker. Whose first two acts are a crime spree, and an act of altruism (paying all of the future Miss Harley Quinn's college expenses).
Also, it turns out that Lorna doesn't die, but decides Gotham isn't safe, and Julie Madisons out of town.
Story: 4/5, Art 3/5
The Man Who Laughs doesn't bother with The Joker's past, but focuses on his first crime spree in Gotham. It could almost be a follow-up to Lovers And Madmen, except that Gordon and Batman are unfamiliar with The Joker, despite having arrested him at the close of Lovers And Madmen. The whole story is pretty much a three issue summation of a Joker story. There's gas, there's the relationship between Batman and Gordon, and Batman blaming himself from creating The Joker. This story also outs Gordon as being associated with Batman, allowing him to create The Bat Signal.
Story 3/5. Art 4/5
The Man Who Laughs trade paperback also features a backup story,with pencils by Patrick Zircher, called "Made Of Wood". If you're reading this for chronological sake, put the book down as this story comes waaaaaaay later in The Batman mythos.
One of the things that I find super jarring in many of the 80s and early 90s comics, is how committed they are to making the stories feel "fresh" by including pop culture references that cement them in an era. They are always clunky, and make the stories feel prematurely dated.
Batman: Dead To Rights is rife with references to Gray's Anatomy and Gnarls Barkley. It's not even a decade after this title came out, and it already feels archaic.
The idea is that this story picks up directly after The Joker is arrested for the first time (which could be after The Man Who Laughs or Lovers And Madmen). Instead of focusing on how The Joker is a dangerous criminal, it focuses on how The Joker is a dangerous prisoner. It's an interesting concept, hampered by the dialogue. You can tell Andrew Kreisberg is a television writer (he went on to create and write for Arrow), as some of his dialog would work better on the small screen.
I didn't know Kreisberg wrote Arrow until I was composing this blog entry but it does make sense to me, as I think both Arrow and this storyarc are well-conceived ideas that creatively rewrite a major DC character's backstory. I also believe they bot fall victim to trying to do too much with characters that I don't think he and I understand the same way. This version of The Joker is too snappy standup comedian for me, similarly in the way Kreisberg's Oliver Queen is too dark and broody for me.
(All that said, I adore Kreisberg's take on The Flash universe, and find it superior to almost every issue of The Flash I've ever read.)
We get some cameos of future GCPD characters, as well as one of the greatest one page uses of The Riddler that I've seen.
We also get the first appearance of Matches Malone (Bruce Wayne's alter alter ego) but in a very unsatisfying scene that makes it appear that Gotham Police don't even bother a gentle pat-down of incoming prisoners, as Matches has the entire Batman outfit, including the utility belt in his possession when The Joker see through the Malone identity.
Scott McDaniel's artwork is very busy with quite a bit of panel busting, but that makes sense for a Joker story. I'm not in love with some of his repeated facial expressions, but I also think that may be a purposeful statement on some of the characters.
Story 2/5. Art 4/5.
You'll have to excuse me, I'm terrible with remembering names. I once spent four hours calling my ex only "Hey...you." until I remembered it. Of course, we'd only dated for about a year, so he's really lucky that I recognized him at all.
If you want me to remember you, you really have to make an impact. Strangle a hamster with its own intestines, show me The Green Lantern tattoo on your ass.
So far in this continuity we've been introduced to a variety of Batman's rogues: The Joker, Catwoman, The Monk, and, Hugo Strange. We've also seen a few cameos of future villains: Harvey Dent, Harley Quinn, and The Scarecrow. But, apart from The Joker, we haven't had a major supervillain crime spree yet. The Long Halloween is on the horizon, though, and that involves a bunch of supervillains, so it's time to get to know as many of them as possible.
In Batman: Four Of A Kind we witness Batman's first encounters with Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Scarecrow, and Man-Bat.
It's not an ideal way to introduce them. I'd love to list trades that fully flesh out their origins or first appearances, but this is a decent primer to characters who will shortly become very important to the Batman Universe. Also, although we don't see why or how, halfway through this trade Jim Gordon gets promoted from Lieutenant to Captain.
Alan Grant opens up the collection with the introduction of Poison Ivy who first poisons Bruce Wayne, and then poisons Batman, informing him that both he and Wayne will die that night because the only antidote to Poison Ivy's kiss is a second kiss. The art is very Vertigo 90s style, except for Batman's cowl which looks a bit like Matt Wagner's and a lot out of place with the rest of the art. But Brian Apthorp's one and two page spreads are gorgeous. And there are several very well drawn humorous facial expressions.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Chuck Dixon handles The Riddler story. He's one of my all-time favorite Bat scribes, but his Riddler story is your basic "my parents didn't love me, I felt invisible, so I turned to a life of crime" origin, which seems inadequate for someone as clever as The Riddler. There's a lot of silver-age craziness to this version of Edward Nigma that we don't really get in the modern age. The art by Kieron Dwyer is very noirish. His Riddler outfit seems lazy (just penciled question marks with no dimension, design, or color to them), but everything else works.
Story 3/5, Art 4/5
Doug Moench's Scarecrow tale is very telly. "Yeah -- You sure look like a scarecrow!" "He also looks like a different crane -- Ichabod Crane!" Eeeks, zero subtlety or trust in the reader's ability to notice Crane's physique or notice the Crane/throwing pumpkins connection. The writing made slogging through this chapter very difficult. The flashbacks, in particular, are absolutely terrible. But you do end getting the full origin story.
Story 1/5, Art 3/5
Chuck Dixon returns to wrap things up with the origin of Man-Bat. The meek Kirk Langstrom is getting ready to marry his beautiful fiance, but he's incredibly wrapped up with his genetic research. And when his research project is rejected, he takes drastic measures and turns himself into the Man-Bat. It's not a life changingly fantastic story, but after the mediocre Riddler tale and the awful Scarecrow, it seems fantastic. Quique Alcatena's artwork is very consistent with the style of the mid to late 90s Batman.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Overall Rating for Four Of A Kind: Story 2/5, Art 4/5
Collected Legends Of The Dark Knight has three stories of very different styles from the Legends Of The Dark Knight series from the early 90s. James Robinson and Tim Sale open the book with Blades, the story of Gotham's second vigilante, a swordsman, The Cavalier. The swashbuckling hero becomes a more public face than Batman, and the public adores him...until they discover that he's been leading a double life as a jewel thief. What Batman doesn't know (he's busy solving the murders of elderly Gothamites by a killer named Mr Lime.) is that The Cavelier is stealing jewels for Mr. Salt (apparently James Robinson likes tequila) to protect the love of his life from being outed as a murderess. Alas, his plans go awry when he decides he can't trust Mr. Salt anymore, and he kills him with his sword. Batman tracks him down almost immediately, and the two engage in a swordfight to the death, and The Cavelier wins!
But he's a good guy at heart, so instead of killing Batman, he draws a gun and walks outside where he is gunned down by the police.
This is one of my favorite lesser-known Bat stories. And, it alone is worth the price of this book.
Story 5/5, Art 5/5
Alan Grant and Kevin O'Neill show up to do the second story, The Legend Of The Dark Mite. And while I can't say for certain that either of these men have done hallucinogens, all signs point to a very colorful yes. This is the origin of Bat-Mite, and as it proclaims on the very fist page "This is NOT an imaginary story." It's the story of a drug addict who sees the error of his ways when confronted with a tiny Batman-like creature who shows him what his life would be like if he contnued his life of crime. We see this story as he tells it to Batman from his cell at Arkham. It also involes a neat two spage pread of assorted DC characters as mites.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
John Francis Moore and P Craig Russell close out the book with Hothouse, the story of Batman's second run in with Poison Ivy. The story uses the familiar Batman trope of rehabilitated Bat-rogue turns out to be not so rehabilitated, as Poison Ivy gets involved with a drug ring that makes hallucinogenics from plant pheromones.
Story 4/5, Art 5/5
Overall Review For Collected legends Of The Dark Knight: Story 4/5, Art 5/5
Did you ever see that episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where Buffy believes she's actually in a mental hospital, and that her entire slayer life has been a series of psychotic episodes? Well, it's possible that Joss Whedon read Bryan Talbot (who does double duty as writer and artist here)'s Mask, the first story in Dark Legends. After stopping a crime Batman wakes up in a hospital where he's addressed as Bruce Wayne. Terrified that he's been found out, he soon realizes that he's not a billionaire playboy, but a drunken homeless person with delusions of a superhero life.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Dennis O'Neil and Bret Blevins come up next with Images, yet another "first encounter with The Joker" story. It is very similar to The Man Who Laughs, in that it retells the Joker's origin. Joker chemicals, Batman blames himself for turning The Red Hood into The Joker, rich people die, Alfred tells Bruce to stop blaming himself. If you've not read any of the other Joker origin stories, it's okay, but it does not hold up against many of the other versions of the tale. The art is ok, but Batman's physique shifts a little from page to page.
Story 3/5, Art 3/5
Batman goes to Chinatown for Tao by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson. It's an interesting change of pace from the usual Gotham supervillains and mobsters, but it really reads like a white Western guy writing about Eastern culture. And the art is very much a product of its era, having a very early nineties almost Vertigo style.
Story 2/5, Art 3/5
The gem of this collection is the Dan Raspler and Mike Mignola scribed story: Sactuary. If you've ever wondered what Hellboy would look like if it starred Batman, you'll find the answer here. The story's locale alternates between a graveyard and a gothic afterlife, so it's perfect for Mignola's art.
Story 4/5. Art 5/5
Overall Review for Dark Legends: Story 3/5, Art 4/5
In 1993, DC comics asked Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale to create a Halloween special issue for their Legend Of The Dark Knight series. The pairing of this creative team would go on to create The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, two of my favorite Batman stories. Haunted Knight is a precursor to those storylines. While it's not as tight a narrative as the other two collections, it does feature some plot points that will come up later.
The major problem I have about this collection is that it's set up in the order that the specials were released, which doesn't appear to be the order that the stories take place. So, while I don't suggest reading the collection manga style, I do recommend reading the third chapter in this collection, Ghosts, first. My reason being that I believe this collection should be read as 48 hours in the life of Batman, not three different years on Halloween.
Ghosts starts the night before at a banquet where The Penguin makes his first appearance, interrupting one of Bruce Wayne's shindigs. Batman captures the villain, retrieving a medallion Penguin stole from Lucius Fox. The medallion features either an exact mock up of the Wayne family door knockers, or else Bruce's father's face. Either way, the charm induces a sort of hypnosis on Bruce, and the story turns into a Halloween retelling of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, with Thomas Wayne as Jacob Marley, Poison Ivy as The Ghost Of Christmas Past, The Joker as The Ghost Of Christmas Present, and a grim reaper as The Ghost Of Christmas Future. Among the memories is a primer as to how Lucius Fox got into Wayne's life, as well as unintentional foreshadowing to Final Crisis and Blackest Night.
Next up is chapter two: Madness. In it, The Mad Hatter kidnaps Jim Gordon's niece, Barbara, who he's just adopted. Adoption is a bit of a theme in this book, as we are also introduced to Leslie Thompkins, a doctor who helped Alfred raise Bruce after (brace yourselves, new info here) his parents were killed. (Note: If you want to turn this website into a drinking game, sip a beer every time I make a joke at the expense of Grant Morrison, and a shot every time I have to mention that (spoiler alert) Bruce's parents were killed.) This story also injects Alice In Wonderland into the Batman mythos. I grew up loving the book, but I find its saturation in comics, particularly Batman, a bit overwrought. This story is not one of the finest examples of working the book in subtly. The "through the looking glass" line hurt to read, but the rest of the story is pretty solid.
The first chapter, Fears, takes us back to another Wayne Halloween party. While Ghosts and Madness could happen in the same timeframe, this party and the party from Ghosts can't really be the same party, so let's say, for argument's sake, Wayne scheduled a second party due to his guilt over the first one being crashed by The Penguin. This party is slightly more successful, as none of the rogues gallery interrupts, but a woman named Jillian Maxwell attempts to seduce Bruce, much to the disdain of Alfred. Alfred does his own detective work while Batman is off dealing with The Scarecrow, and discovers Jillian is a black widow who serially marries and then murders rich husbands under a variety of names.
While all three of these stories are very good, the highlight of this collection is Tim Sale and Gregory Wright's art. The panel layouts are effortlessly complex. Despite their nontraditional placement, there's never any doubt where the eye should go next. And Wright's colors are an integral part of the story. I especially love his greyscaled pages with the lightly colored narrative boxes.
Story 4/5, Art 5/5
Blame it on the Infinite Final Crisis On Infinite Multiple Earths. Blame it on Superman's tendency to spin the globe around whenever someone he loves dies. Blame it on the rain (that's what's fallin' fallin'). One of the major problems with a giant universe written and edited by hundreds of creators is that there's a whole mess of contradictions in comic timelines. Unfortunately for Year Two: Fear The Reaper, most of the stories it contradicts are more appealing.
This collection opens with Jim Gordon being named Commissioner of Gotham (don't get used to it Jim, you'll be back playing Captain? Lieutenant? Head groundskeeper? in the next collection), and publicly revealing (drum roll, please) The Bat Signal! Which, of course, we've already seen.
There's a lot of familiar tropes in Mike Barr's story: Bruce Wayne falls in love with a girl whose father's life is intertwined with Batman's (see Batman & The Monster Men), her father turns out to be another vigilante in Gotham (see Blades), but this is a vigilante who's not afraid to kill (that hasn't come up yet, but it's not far off on the horizon), and the villain is connected to Batman's past. In fact, to take down The Reaper, Batman must cross Leslie Thompkins, Alfred, Commisioner (for the moment) Gordon, the Gotham City Police Department, and his past by teaming up with small time thug Joe Chill who (spoiler alert) KILLED HIS PARENTS. Bruce's love interest, Rachel Caspian,'s mother was killed by a masked murderer on the family's way home from the circus, which mirrors Bruce's childhood trauma in an almost aggressively forced way.
By the end, of course, everyone realizes that Batman only teamed up with villains to take down a larger villain, and they forgive him. But the girl, of course, is traumatized by her father's death (see Batman & The Mad Monk), and decides to become a nun, instead of marrying Bruce.
I realize this entry sounds a bit harsh. Some of the stories that I've referenced were written AFTER Year Two: Fear The Reaper, so I'm not trying to imply that Barr's work is derivative,it just doesn't hold up as well as the other stories. The writing is fine for a book written in 1987, but Frank Miller's Year One was written the same year, and it still holds up. There's also the issue of this collection being heavy handed with the family theme. Bruce's family in relation to other characters' families comes up again and again, and it's tough to make it feel fresh, but many writers did. Barr does not.
The art here is also very telling of its era. The penciling duty goes back and forth between Alan Davis and Todd Macfarlane. There's a lot of eighties hair and some inconsistent experimentation with cross hatching in the Macfarlane issues. But while the art certainly screams 80s, it screams it in a good way.
The follow-up story, Full Circle, also appears in this collection. This story is set a year or so later, and I recommend skipping it for now. I actually own Full Circle as its own collection, and have it placed in the appropriate chronological location on my bookshelf. But that's because I'm OCD. You can just come back to this book later.
Story 2/5, Art 4/5
In 2009, Chris Claremont began the odd alternate timeline series in the Marvel Universe called X-Men Forever. The series picks up from Claremont's 1991 X-Men run, and presents the timeline as he would have written it, had he not jumped ship to Image comics. While it's completely ridiculous, it's a focused examination of the X-Men by one of the series's premiere writers. Batman Confidential is a DC series that focuses on stories from early on in Batman's career. It's written by several long-time DC writers like Peter Milligan, Sam Kieth, and Royal McGraw. I included one of the story arcs, Lovers and Madmen in a previous entry, but Rules Of Engagement helped clinch my decision to not include any more of the Batman Confidential series as part of this project. If something contradicts the chronology it needs to be at least fun, and this series seems more an exercise in frustration.
Rules Of Engagement is about Bruce Wayne/Batman's first encounter with Superman's nemesis, Lex Luthor. The plot outline: Lex Luthor sets up WayneTech to look dangerously inept in front of a group of defense contractors, all in the name of world domination! The evil, hand rubbing, mwa-ha-ha-ing bald guy attempts to take over the world because he doesn't like superheroes. Batman, of course, takes him down in the end. While the story is fun, the dialog is...questionable, and Whilce Portacio 's art is trapped forever in 1991. This was the first book that I had to struggle to finish.
Story: 2/5, Art: 2/5
If Nancy Reagan was as devout a Batman reader as Barack Obama is a Spider-Man fan, her favorite collection would probably be Venom. It's the first time in continuity that we encounter the designer drug, Venom, a pill (and later inoculant) that shows up repeatedly in Gotham.
After failing to save a little girl from drowning in the sewer (a girl who's father happens to be the creator of Venom), and then tearing a deltoid muscle during a workout, Batman gives into temptation and begins taking Venom to bulk himself.
It's not long before the now super-strong Batman has his senses dulled and starts making dubious decisions. He goes so far as to drive Alfred away, and is then asked to kill Jim Gordon. The conversation around taking Gordon down has one of my favorite continuity nerd jokes when Batman refers to Gordon as "Lieutenant or Captain or whatever he is".
Spoiler alert : Batman doesn't kill Gordon. But every character introduced in this story dies by the end. The curious omission in this story is that it feels like it should be the origin of Bane. Venom is the drug that enables this future villain to bulk up and battle Batman. And the island that the villains retreat to is Santa Priscia, which is where Bane grows up.
This is a well-told introduction to Batman's relationship with drugs.
Story: 4/5, Art 4/5
J H Williams III is one of my favorite Batman Universe artists of all time. His work on Detective Comics is one of the most beautifully rendered pieces of art I've seen in comics. But before he ever laid a pencil to page in Detective, he wrote a story arc for Legends Of The Dark Knight along with Dan Curtis Johnson that's collected as Batman: Snow. The story focuses on two important events: Batman's first foray into working with sidekicks, and the origin of Mr. Freeze. Much like the much maligned movie, Batman and Robin, the author chooses to borrow Freeze's origin from The Animated Series (the episode, Heart Of Ice, won one of the series's two Emmys).
The Freeze origin is the most tragic of the villain origins in Batman's rogues gallery. But this story intersects with the fascinating story of Batman assembling a team of experts to help him fight crime. After Jim Gordon declines to assist Batman on an investigation, he recruits an awkward technology expert, an unsatisfied FBI investigator, a journalist famous for profiling criminals, and two rehabilitated criminals to serve as the brawn.
His strategy to get the team to bond is to turn them against him, which is a terrible strategy utilized by angry middled aged losers guilted into coaching Little League Teams, and antagonistic old men. It is sort of working when Mr. Freeze (sans terrible puns about the cold) gets involved. By the end of the issue the team has decided to disassociate with Batman (but hint that they may continue on their own), and Batman tells Alfred he is thinking of trying another strategy. On his kitchen table is a newspaper mentioning a circus featuring The Flying Graysons. The Robin is coming soon teaser is used in several different books, including Year One, and The Long Halloween. The way I choose to fit it into chronology is that he misses the circus when it comes to town during Year One, but that this story, as well as Rules Of Engagement and Venom, coincides with The Long Halloween. There are several references in each of the stories about working with Harvey Dent (who doesn't actually get any face time, just gets his name dropped), who is a major player in The Long Halloween, after which, well, he doesn't work with Batman anymore.
Story: 4/5, Art 5/5
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