Today I’m gonna ask you to read the graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween, but first we have to get a painful truth out of the way.
I can never be Batman. Mainly because I have both my parents and never got further than a brown belt in Karate. But, there’s a part of me that wakes up every day and goes “if Batman were a job, I’d probably apply.” There’s a deluded part of my brain that believes if I had enough time or a very patient teacher, I could be the Batman.
But then the cold apricot jam of reality gets me all sticky and I realize two things:
1. The amount of intellectual and physical training I would need to start a career as a non-lethal vigilante is literally impossible. I couldn’t muster the chutzpah to be even a low-level enforcer outside of macy’s hitting shoplifters with nunchucks and calling myself Nunchuck Macy’s Man, let alone Batman.
2. Here’s what Batman is in the real world: a rich guy who punches poor people and thinks he’s doing good for Gotham by spending his billions on gadgets instead of social reform. Like the joker’s henchmen aren’t people with a lot of opportunities. You don’t hear them, in their inexplicable Brooklyn accents, between wary shouts of “I hope tha Batman don’t show up,” talking about their night school classes or their stock portfolios.
So, Batman must stay on the page and the movie screen. And with that I’ve gotta say you can do no better than Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween.
The Long Halloween does Batman the honor of putting him in a film noir world, dark shadows, internal monologues, gangsters, and moral ambiguity. Batman glides through a Gotham in flux. The city, throughout the book, shifts from an old country mobster haven to a dark carnival of freaks. Against this backdrop, a serial killer called Holiday is leaving prominent gangsters in a bullet riddled tableau, complete with a timely knick-knack (a Jack-o-lantern, a Christmas snow globe, a St. Patty’s Day Leprechaun, etc.) once a month.
The mystery unfolds and continues to sprawl and pulse with dread, beckoning forth Batman’s entire rogues gallery: Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Solomon Grundy, Calendar Man, and the Joker, to name a few. Also, the stalwart heroes of Gotham appear at Batman’s side to help make sense of Gotham’s newfound madness: Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent.
This makes the graphic novel a perfect introduction for fans who maybe saw the movies and want to dive into the colorful and complicated bog of Batman comics.
The mystery of Holiday’s identity teases throughout the comic’s arc. Writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale do an artful and elegant job of showing not only Batman’s trials and tribulations as he hunts for the killer, but the mobsters’ woes as well. Gotham’s old Mafia Don Carmine Falcone and his family gather and squabble, attack, and retreat as more and more of their people and family are found shot to pieces and posed with holiday trophies.
It’s not often that a Batman comic rises to the level of literature this way. The arc becomes about how cities change, how people deal with those changes, and how someone like Batman could save and damn a city through sheer force of his personality.
This is a story about Gotham, about Batman, about redemption and the way hope shrivels in the shadows. It’s a thrilling noir tale told expertly by true artists. It’s very much worth your time, be you a Batman underwear wearing fanboy, or a person wandering Barnes and Noble for something to check out.
Also, you get to watch Batman punch, kick, and KAPOW some bad people in funny costumes.
Which, let’s be honest, is always its own reward.