Thursday, December 1, 2011

GN Review -- Batman: The Long Halloween / Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

This review belongs here, as opposed to Goodreads, where I first posted it. It's everything a Goodreads book review shouldn't be: namely, long. I mean, I start the damn thing with a quote from the story! What was I writing, a book report? A dissertation? I'll let you be the judge, but needless to say, anymore reviews I write for that site will be more succinct.

On this site, though, I hope for them to be at least as long as this one. ;)


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"Do you know what my people call this past year? The Long Halloween... my nephew was the first one to die. On Halloween night. It could have stopped there. But, it didn't. And we both know why. You and the cops just let it continues because he was killing our people. Mia famiglia! And you stand here and act like your hands are clean." -- Carmine Falcone to Batman

In Gotham, several months after the events in Batman: Year One, a killer starts knocking off Falcone family mobsters on specific holidays throughout the year, starting on Halloween. He leaves a card and calls himself Holiday. Batman forms an alliance with Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, and occasionally Catwoman, to find and bring Holiday to justice.

Subplots include Batman wondering about Catwoman's loyalties; Harvey Dent's tragic eventual disfigurement and transformation into Two-Face, one of Batman's most dangerous foes; turf wars between the Falcone and Maroni families; and Calendar Man's involvement in trying to catch a killer who, like him, is themed around holidays. Denizens of Batman's rogues gallery make feature appearances, including the Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Riddler, Mad Hatter, and Solomon Grundy.

This was an engrossing read, which kept me interested throughout the entire tale even as various elements were introduced and, at times, seemed to take away from the story. Not the case in hindsight, though without a clear idea of the overall narrative, it was easy to occasionally get confused. It's clear to see where parts of the story influenced Christopher Nolan's Batman movie, particularly those scenes involving Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and they work well both as sequential art and in transfer, with some occasional tweaks, to the medium of film.

The idea that crossing a moral line is very easy to do takes center stage near the end of the story, with two examples. Batman, who barely manages to pull back from the edge upon discovering and confronting Holiday, only seems to do so with the help of Jim Gordon. Two-Face, on the other hand, is alone, and plainly crosses the line in the name of "doing what must be done" after his horrific transformation, killing two people responsible for his turmoil. The message here is clear: be careful not to cross the moral threshold, lest you become the very thing you despise. It is wonderfully set up and built on throughout the story, and the payoff at the climax yields dividends for the reader.

There is also the implication that belief can be a powerful force, be it for either good or ill. At the introduction of the story, when Bruce Wayne, in a scene taken directly from the first Godfather film, tells Carmine Falcone he believes in Gotham City, he is obliquely referencing one of the reasons he fights crime as Batman. The same line is applied to another character (names withheld for spoiler purposes) at the tail end of the story, when someone involved in the Holiday killings cites belief in another character as justification for their involvement. It's a chilling turn of events, which totally took me by surprise, but which also solidifies its impact and ties the threads of the story together nicely.

I read this right before reading Batman: Hush, which I didn't realize until afterwards was also written by Jeph Loeb. I have to hand it to the man, he has a talent for weaving a lengthy narrative and keeping it interesting the entire way. He also seems to enjoy spotlighting the villains in the rogues gallery briefly before moving on to the next one!

Artwork in comics tends to be very subjective, and Sale's art works very well with the narrative here, for me. He maintains the iconic look of the characters while leaving just enough room for exaggerations that still support the overall tone of the story (the number and length of teeth the Joker has, the length of Batman's cape in certain shots). Things do seem rather flat and cartoony at times, which is why I'd get sick of looking at it constantly, but it works well with the plot and characterization in the story. It has a very noir feel to it, which is definitely supported by the art style. Wright's use of flat colors can likewise be a bit off-putting at times, but actually help the artwork maintain symbiosis with the story.

Overall, a very good read. The writing is tight, the artwork is pretty good, and both work to make a graphic novel worthy of your time. Highly recommended.


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Thoughts, opinions? Anything else that suggests this review shouldn't have been posted to Goodreads? Any arguments that it should have been? What did you like about The Long Halloween? If you haven't read it, will you consider doing so now?

More later. Until then, enjoy...

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