The original publication of this post can be found here, at ComicsVerse.com.
Last week, director Matt Reeves shared a first look at Robert Pattinson donned in the iconic Batsuit, which will be featured in the upcoming 2021 film, The Batman. Now, details on the film's story remain hush. However, I have some ideas as to what comic book classics may serve as inspirations for the film.
So, today I have decided to revisit one particular Batman story.
From 1996 to 1997, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale embarked on a dark adventure that spawned one of the greatest Batman stories in comic book history. Serving as the follow-up to the duo’s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween specials, Batman: The Long Halloween comprises thirteen issues that traverse the early years of Batman’s career as he hunts down a serial killer terrorizing Gotham’s citizens once a month during a major holiday. Additionally, the story depicts the origins of one of Batman’s most notorious villains, Two-Face.
The series is often noted for its dark tone, exemplified through Sale’s art, in addition to its intricate narrative full of mystery and unexpected twists. These and various other aspects of the series result in a definitive, gritty Batman tale that pushes its titular hero to his limits.
So, let’s look back on not only one of the greatest Batman stories of all-time but one of the greatest comic book stories ever created.
Two Faces to Every Crime
“I made a promise to my parents that I would rid the city of the evil that took their lives."
These are the lines written on the first few pages of The Long Halloween, and they establish the overarching objective of the work as well as Batman’s ultimate goal. Yes, the Holiday Killer and Two-Face exist as the primary enemies of Batman throughout this story. However, Batman’s greatest foe lies in the near-impossible ambition he’s set for himself, exterminating the evil that flows through Gotham City.
The Long Halloween's opening chapter, “Crime,” begins with Bruce Wayne saying, “I believe in Gotham City.” This story, along with a multitude of other Batman comics, have established the concept of Gotham City operating as a cesspool of crime that engulfs the innocent. As a result of this portrayal of Gotham, Batman’s greatest flaw arguably lies in his belief in his city. Perhaps his hope that Gotham City is still salvageable is actually a blind one.
Evil isn’t objective nor is it tangible, a theme The Long Halloween exemplifies through Harvey Dent’s corruption. Now although this hope might be a point of vulnerability in Batman, it’s ultimately required of him in order to truly be the hero Gotham City needs.
One of the most distinct aspects of Batman: The Long Halloween lies in its eclectic aesthetic. It balances gothic vibes with parallels to film noir, elevating the dark and mysterious nature of the narrative. Most recognizably though, the work’s imagery exudes similarities to notable crime films. Specifically, it shares parallels with The Godfather film series.
Gotham crimelord Carmine “The Roman” Falcone’s appearance is nearly identical to that of Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Don Corleone. Also, sequences such as Johnny Viti’s wedding and Holiday’s murder of Johnny in a bathtub are clearly inspired by scenes from the famous crime saga. Now, though these parallels add to the aesthetic intricacies of the work, it also provides it with a cinematic quality that broadens the narrative’s scale.
The Long Halloween is abundant with depth. It does not only focus on Batman’s rogues’ gallery. In fact, it arguably focuses more on the “less theatrical” characters who become the most significant representations of evil, as The Godfather portrays through the corruption of Michael Corleone and descent of his family.
Bad Dad, Prodigal Son
Thus, in regard to the events of the first chapter, they establish the pawns of the story. These pawns come in the form of the Falcone family. Loeb presents Carmine as your typical mob boss, but he introduces Carmine’s opposite in the form of his own son, Alberto Falcone. Carmine refers to Alberto as “the good son.”
Well, Alberto maintains a persistent desire to be seen and heard by his father, who excludes him from his illegal affairs. In Carmine’s own words, he believes Alberto should, “Not [be] worrying about things that don’t concern [him]” despite Alberto’s desire to help.
Law and Order
Ironically, Carmine doesn’t truly know his son. He’s immersed in his work, driven by it. He’s arguably obsessed with it. So, Carmine cannot know his son because his son isn’t a part of his world, a world he created himself.
Interestingly though, Carmine isn’t the only one in this tale who makes sacrifices in the name of work.
“Crime” explores the sacrifices an individual makes for what they perceive to be their duty. Carmine sacrifices his son out of his duty to crime while Dent and Gordon sacrifice time with their own families for their duty to the law. Thus, Carmine and Dent and Gordon reside on different sides of the same coin. They act on what they believe is right, even if what they believe hurts those they may have once maintained a duty to.
The Cat Strikes
Of course, one of the most recognizable faces of Batman’s rogues’ gallery is Catwoman. In The Long Halloween, Bruce Wayne is actually in a relationship with her alter ego, Selina Kyle. Her role throughout the series is actually much larger than one might anticipate. As Catwoman, she pursues a personal mission: trying to confirm if Carmine Falcone is her father.
This quest continues in Loeb and Sale’s six-issue miniseries titled Catwoman: When In Rome, published in 2004. Unfortunately for Catwoman though, she never learns the truth.
Therefore, one of Batman: The Long Halloween's many thematic elements comprises the role a parent can or cannot play in their child’s life as well as the consequences that ensue as a result of the role the parent chooses. This story sheds light on the imperfections of parents, an aspect a son or daughter may not accept until they are old enough to acknowledge their parents’ faults. It also sheds light on the concept that at times, answers are unattainable. Catwoman’s personal narrative ends without a resolution. She doesn’t find the answers she seeks and her journey ends just as it began, in the dark.
However, this conclusion may be one of the most realistic aspects of the entire The Long Halloween saga.
The Thin Line
Despite being the beginning of a thirteen issue series, “Crime” maintains quite the shocking ending for an introduction. Two men are murdered; including Johnny Viti, who meets his death by the hand of the Holiday Killer, marking Holiday’s first kill.
As Loeb brings Holiday to life, he also begins alluding to Dent’s eventual descent into evil.
To complement Loeb’s portrayal, Sale continuously implements duality into his depiction of Dent. He uses shadows to obscure one side of Dent’s face, most notably in the sequence where Dent expresses his opinion that sometimes the line between the law and crime should be crossed. Dent hints that he wishes to instill his own form of justice in the world, he just hasn’t attained the means to do so.
Now, perhaps the most shocking aspect of the first chapter’s conclusion is the explosion that takes place at Harvey and his wife Gilda’s home. To accompany Sale’s image of the destruction, Batman narrates, “I believe in Jim Gordon. I believe in Harvey Dent. I believe in Gotham City.”
Despite all the loss he’s witnessed and the darkness Gotham is willing to succumb to, Batman maintains belief in his broken city and its broken people.
Thanksgiving for None
The Long Halloween presents Gotham City as its own character. Its vices can be witnessed in the mafia that controls the city. Its hopes can be witnessed in Batman, who serves as an uplifting symbol of justice to Gotham’s citizens. Now, its darkness can be witnessed in something else entirely. This darkness can be found in, as Batman puts it, “Gotham’s lost souls.”
Chapter two, titled “Thanksgiving,” introduces Solomon Grundy to the fray. Grundy spends his days within the sewers of the Gotham, being forgotten by those living above. Most unfortunate for Grundy though, he lives his life totally alone. Yet, on Thanksgiving Day, Batman spends his holiday meal with Grundy. Two of Gotham’s most lost souls somehow find kinship in each other. They are both symbols of Gotham City, whether light or dark.
Thus, the second chapter of The Long Halloween circulates the façade of family. The Falcones present themselves as a close-knit group of loving relatives when, in reality, they’re shattered from within. Alberto resents his father just as his father’s sister, Carla, resents him. She feels as though Carmine is failing to do enough to get justice for her murdered son, Johnny Viti.
Therefore, their family is a mirage, one that’s fragile and breaking before their eyes, facilitating the concept that sometimes the family one is given isn’t as strong as the family one may choose.
Winner Takes All
The opening pages of “Christmas,” THE LONG HALLOWEEN’s third chapter, depict Captain Jim Gordon and Batman investigating the Holiday murders. They travel to Arkham Asylum to interview Julian Day, also known as the Calendar Man. Due to the nature of his alter ego, the two believe Day can provide them with some insight into the identity of the elusive Holiday killer.
At Arkham, Gordon states that the asylum’s population has nearly doubled since Batman first began his crimefighting career. Batman doesn’t believe in the correlation, but it’s an interesting statistic to ponder. One can argue that Batman’s presence provokes challenge, one that comes in the form of his opposite. For a hero to be a hero, they need a villain to counter them, forcing them to save the world and embark on the challenging, sacrificial journey of a hero.
Additionally, several characters in The Long Halloween believe balance requires duality.
What better duality is there than the contrast between good and evil?
So, it’s not totally outlandish to believe that Batman’s presence has led to a rise in villains who wish to defeat the hero and reap the rewards in the form of Gotham City.
Introducing the Heir to the Roman
On the surface, the New Year’s Eve segment of The Long Halloween is simple. The main narrative is Batman’s battle against the Clown Prince of Crime. As this fight ensues though, something terrible occurs. Holiday determines their next victim: Alberto Falcone, the good son. Despite his father’s refusal to involve him in business matters, Alberto still becomes embroiled in Gotham’s crime saga.
The chapter also continues scrutinizing Batman’s vulnerability. In his narration, he refers to Harvey Dent as a friend. For a lonely individual, it’s interesting to see Batman express sentiments towards someone. These sentiments will eventually contribute to Batman’s guilt regarding the birth of Two-Face. He’ll wonder if he could’ve done more, but even Batman can’t stop fate.
“New Year’s Eve” introduces Carmine’s daughter, Sofia Gigante, to the story. She serves as a significant character of The Long Halloween and its sequel, Dark Victory. In chapter seven, Sofia and her father interrogate the Riddler, hoping to have the villain solve the mystery of Holiday’s identity. Now, despite the fact that both the Falcones and the Riddler are criminals, they perceive each other as opposites.
The Falcones, who speak for Gotham City’s mobsters in this sequence, believe themselves to be distinct from Batman’s notorious rogues’ gallery. In fact, they’re disgusted by individuals like the Riddler and are only seeking help from him out of desperation.
Interestingly, Falcone and his criminal family dominate the first few chapters of the series’ narrative.
They maintain control of Gotham City as well as the primary narrative of The Long Halloween. As the story progresses though, the more “theatrical” villains take over until Two-Face reigns supreme.
The more “ordinary” criminals cannot possibly hold onto their control of Gotham City. Their perception of control is blind because they believe their hold is strong enough and will persist.
The true prizewinners of Gotham City are those willing to go a little mad.
The upcoming Batman film is said to heavily focus on the investigative nature of its titular hero in addition to the character's iconic rogues' gallery of villains.
With this, one can hypothesize that The Long Halloween is a perfect story to embody when wanting to exemplify those particular characteristics. Yes, I may very well be wrong in stating that The Long Halloween may serve as an inspiration for the upcoming film. However, it is always fun to theorize.
Stay tuned for the rest of this retrospective as we continue our descent into an iconic comic book tale!