Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Batman: The Long Halloween - Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

The Long Halloween will be the first comic book/graphic novel that I review here that gets less than a perfect review.  This is not to say that it is a bad book, but it cannot touch any of the four previously reviewed works (which all very well may be nearly impossible to equal).  At the very least the introduction (by Jeph Loeb) states that Batman: Year One is actually the "preferred" classic in both his and Tim Sale's opinion, "while not as much the pop culture icon" as Frank Miller's other highly-acclaimed Batman book (reviewed here - it all seems so long ago....).  Ultimately, this "failure" is understandable, as The Long Halloween is a collection of a 13-issue series.  So it is more like a regular comic book than any of those previous four.  And that tends to show.

Now we cannot fault Loeb & Sale for filling in the "latecomers" to the series and repeating information previously reported in earlier issues, but this is the primary defect I can state.  This book is 370 pages long and I read it in one day.  That may sound impressive but it's really not.  Red Son is 151 pages long and took me two days to read.  Watchmen took me a very long time to read (mainly because I wanted to savor the experience).  The Dark Knight Returns took me a good four days or so to read.  The only one I read faster was The Killing Joke and that is only a single-issue "one-off" (and it was also much more dense than The Long Halloween).

And yet this book is definitely worth reading, even if it goes down too fast.  It seems like finally here, we have the closest influence on the new Batman trilogy.  This is a story about Carmine "The Roman" Falcone--who is a mob boss--and his competitor Maroni--both of which appeared in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (The Dark Knight Rises did not have the "mafia element" in it, from what I recall) respectively.  That I cannot recall their "subplots" in those films with any confidence is perhaps a sign that when Batman tries to weave into "Mafia territory," general interest seems to dip.  Still, this is a good story.  It is, however, a little bit cheap in the way three or four twists are introduced in the final 30-40 pages (and especially the epilogue, which, while not terrible, stands in deep contrast to the peerless ending to Red Son).

The story concerns Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and D.A. Harvey Dent (it is worth noting that this book was especially useful for me as I continue to visualize Batman in Brooklyn) and their efforts to bring down Falcone, whose family is the "evil" that is terrorizing Gotham City.  There is nothing particularly strange about this Batman or this Gordon--but this Dent is perhaps the strongest element of the book and probably the most compelling portrayal of the character thus far.  I will not reveal the manner in which Dent "becomes" Two-Face in this, but it does happen, and while The Dark Knight certainly gave a better treatment to Two-Face/Dent than Batman or Batman Forever, it seems modeled off of this book, and dressed up for greater dramatic effect.

However, Falcone is not the main focus of the book--that would have to be Holiday--which is the name of the serial killer that drives the plot of the book, killing another person (generally from Falcone's extended family) on each holiday.  The identity of Holiday becomes the major question in the book and as mentioned above, is ultimately somewhat unsatisfying.

Yet along the way there are an insane number of other villains: Catwoman (?), the Calendar Man, the Joker, "Solomon Grundy (?)," Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, The Mad Hatter, The Riddler, and even the Penguin (though I must say his appearance is abbreviated).  There is no Robin, and there is no Batgirl (no Superman either, though Metropolis is referenced once).  They may be getting used to add "padding" to an otherwise thin plot, but I really don't want to be too uncharitable to this book, because it really is a fine effort.  I would give it four out of five stars (if I am using a 5 star system for books instead of a 4 star one) and all previously reviewed comics five stars.

Again, it is not very easy to transcribe passages from the work, but there is one part that stands out:

"My father had an old Dictaphone.  He kept it in his study.  He would make recordings.  I can still hear his voice...'When faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem...your only option is to act swiftly, some might even say irrationally.  Removing the most dangerous elements first....and methodically attacking each subsequent challenge in a separate, but deliberate manner.'  He was surgery." (347-349)

I hope this review has not come off too harshly, because the book itself is drawn extremely well, and it is never boring (if it were boring I would not have read it in a day).  So I recommend it--but not ahead of the other two Batman books previously reviewed.

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