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
There's something nearly poetic about how many of the books that portray Batman as being a bad guy are, themselves, terrible. I lumped Batman Deadman and Teen Titans Year One together mostly to get them out of the way.
Batman Deadman is by James Robinson, who has done a lot of work for DC, and is best known for Starman. While I highly recommend the Starman series (currently being released in omnibus hardcovers), none of his mainstream character work really stands out to me as good. So, while I read this blind for the first few pages, I quickly flipped to the cover to see who was killing my post-Trinity Batman buzz and was not surprised to see Robinson's name on the cover.
Robinson's writing, like Grant Morrison's, tends to stray from typical stories. And while I applaud him for that initiative, I don't tend to connect with his characters. And if I don't feel something for the characters, no amount of interesting plot concepts is going to win me over.
What did win me over was John Estes's art, which looks like early 90s Vertigo, if it were made using colored pencils and watercolors. The details in the background and props make up for the, at best, mediocre dialog.
The basic premise of the story is that while pursuing The Joker, Batman seems to black out and when he wakes up, he is believed to have killed police officers, and is holding an innocent woman at knife point. The story descends into magic and possession and demons, which are not my favorite aspects of comics.
Most of the focus on this book is on characters involved with Deadman, although we do have some Alfred and Jim Gordon moments.
(a biased against possession) Story: 2/5, Art: 5/5
While the two stories aren't supposed to be intertwined, and have two different demons, possession of Batman, and other members of the JLA is also at the core of Amy Wolfram's Teen: Titans Year One. This time we see Batman's possession through the eyes of Robin. Batman is behaving as though he was in Frank Miller's All Star Batman And Robin, but with less rat eating and cursing.
Batman isn't the only one behaving strangely, though. The entire JLA is possessed by a demon called Antithesis. Robin rounds up a few of his sidekick friends in order to discover why the heroes are behaving strangely. So this collection features the chronological debut of Kid Flash, Aqua Lad, Speedy, and Wonder Girl.
This collection is intended for children, and so the voice of the characters is skewed from how they're written in other books. But The Teen Titans are an important part of the Batman mythos, so I felt their origin story needed to be included. It's cartoony style is a little out of place in the chronology, but as the debut of the sidekicks as heroes, it's brightness in both art and storytelling can be seen as metaphorical. And it makes what happens to the team down the line seem all the darker.
Story: 3/5, Art: 4/5
I'm going to add Full Circle to this entry, though it doesn't contain a possessed Batman, but it does continue the theme of characters written in an odd voice. Batman Full Circle features a very silver-agey Dick Grayson as Robin. Lots of cheesy one liners, and the classic Batman benches Robin storyline. Much like the book that this is a direct sequel to, Fear The Reaper, this book has a lot of tropes, and suffers because the tropes are not used as well as they are in other collections.
The concept behind this story is the next generation of the families from Fear The Reaper. Joe Chill's son and grandson, Rachel Caspian's relationship to The Reaper, and, of course, Batman and Robin. We also have another appearance by Leslie Thompkins, and your requisite hookers and nuns.
Todd Mcfarlane drew this book, and it's not his best work. He seems not to know quite how to draw The Reaper. His proportions linger somewhere on the border of inconsistent and awful. And Batman and Robin look too golden agey when presented against the designs of the other characters.
Story: 2/5, Art: 2/5
The Full Circle Story is also included in the Year Two: Fear The Reaper Trade. I would say "I wouldn't waste my money buying this collection on its own." but clearly I not only would, but did.