Review: Batman: The Long Halloween: Catwoman: When in Rome: The Deluxe Edition hardcover (DC Comics)


I was excited when Jeph Loeb and the late Tim Sale re-teamed last year for a new Batman: The Long Halloween special. Wanting to be fully versed in the mystery ahead of reading the special, I stuck the new, timed-for-the-animated-movie deluxe editions of Long Halloween and its sequels on my reading list. I had never read Catwoman: When in Rome, an oversight that seemed all the more glaring given my enjoyment of Long Halloween and Dark Victory, so this seemed an opportunity to accomplish a couple goals at once.

Sadly, in the interim, Sale passed away, which makes this endeavor bittersweet; what seemed a new beginning for the “Long Halloween-verse” is now most likely, understandably, its end. If there were more from Long Halloween — if DC did as they did with Tom King’s Batman/Catwoman Special, where other artists completed John Paul Leon’s unfinished artwork in tribute — I would certainly buy it. But, no artist’s work looks quite like Tim Sale’s, and it’s rather hard to imagine stories set around Long Halloween without him.

For those who haven’t read When in Rome, my best advice is truly to go into it expecting a spin-off and not a sequel. At less than half the length of its predecessors, When in Rome is also a quarter of the mystery — fewer suspects, fewer layers, fewer red herrings. In contrast to the Long Halloween books, Rome is considerably more a superhero action story — Loeb taking Catwoman for a spin — than it is a noir whodunit. That’s unfortunate, given the circumstances — I’d hoped the third part of the trilogy would be a triumphant finale — but better than there was a little more than that there wasn’t.

[Review contains spoilers]

When in Rome, as the introduction to the deluxe edition tells us, was originally intended to be published parallel to Batman: Dark Victory1, but instead came out a couple years later. But even reading it directly after a re-reading of Dark Victory, it’s hard to fully place Rome within the ongoing narrative; Rome’s connections are frustratingly vague. Even had Rome been published parallel, I’m still not sure it would satisfactorily stand on its own; what it really needs is to be read specifically between the pages of Dark Victory itself.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

A big part of the problem — which might or might not have been solved by parallel publication — is that Catwoman Selina Kyle’s belief that Carmine “The Roman” Falcone is her father is a revelation meant to be held until the closing pages of Dark Victory. As such, Selina wanders Rome in search of something very specific, but with the reader given only the barest hint what they might be.

Of course, I’ve read Dark Victory, I know what that “something” is, and I grant a writer might withhold information for the purposes of suspense. But here I felt I wasn’t given enough background on Selina’s motivations — even knowing what those motivations were! — to feel a strong connection to her journey. Beyond what Selina recognizes for some reason in a picture, we never really know why she thinks Falcone his her father, nor do we know what Selina’s childhood was like or what she did or didn’t have for a family — what knowing who her father was might mean to her — outside work that other creators have done in entirely other books.

Add too that there’s a narrative device in each chapter where Selina hallucinates a Bat-centric dream sequence; despite this being a clue to the ultimate scheme, it gets repetitive, and the question of “is this really happening?” grows stale quickly. Loeb does not seem at his strongest here, when what passes as Selina’s crackshot banter is “Sew buttons, you jerk!” Insofar as the “Long Halloween” books have done well being period pieces for the Batman: Year One era, Wonder Woman villain Cheetah appearing out of nowhere seems solely to serve the creators' delight in having two cat-characters on the page.

To When in Rome’s credit, for a series of books that is very much steeped in Year One, Rome is particularly so, even revisiting a scene from Year One outright. Though I wasn’t too keen on Cheetah’s presence, that scene also gives us a mention of Ted Grant, which is a nice callout to Mindy Newell’s Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper and again anchors us well in Year One. Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush was published after Dark Victory and before When in Rome, but reading the books in “timeline” order, there’s a nice throughway from Rome to Hush — to an extent the first three-fourths of the book is Catwoman’s and the last fourth is the Riddler’s.

Sale and colorist Dave Stewart adopted a watercolory digital “inkwash” style for parts of Dark Victory that’s seen throughout in Rome. Sale offers homage to European fashion throughout the book that’s rather lost on me, but I can tell Rome is more lush overall than the spare grimy Gotham of the companion books. Among my favorites though is a six-panel page from a dream sequence, set in sepia, where Sale uses empty space to dramatic grandeur.

When I think of DC Comics' house style, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez comes to mind, and from there artists like Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, and George Perez. On perhaps the other end of that spectrum are artists like Kelley Jones and Tim Sale, artists who at their wildest represent almost an abstract approach to comics that’s hard to grapple with. Whether Jones' absurdist Black Canary in Justice League of America Vol. 4: Surgical Strike is “good” is almost irrelevant (though it is); rather the farthest these artists can get these familiar characters from the center while still being recognizable is an end in and of itself.

To that extent, something I’ve very much enjoyed over the past few years have been Tim Sale’s variant covers. The artist had a new-classic style — his Long Halloween characters often reminding of Dick Tracy strips — that rendered so well Two-Face, Penguin, Scarecrow, and Solomon Grundy. It was a thrill then to see him do variants for Tom King’s Rebirth Batman run, for instance — Sale drawing Bane, Flashpoint Thomas Wayne, Harley Quinn, and Gotham Girl seem like such brilliant, lovely anachronisms. It was never hard to recognize a Tim Sale piece.



If by some chance you’re just coming to Batman: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, don’t wait on Catwoman: When in Rome. It is the least of the three, unfortunately, despite how much one enjoys Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale together doing anything. To include it in a reading straightaway is not to pin too many hopes on it; put another way, if you’ve been satisfied thus far with just Long Halloween and Dark Victory, it’s possible you may not need When in Rome at all.

[Includes original covers, sketches, page progressions]

  1. What is, in this deluxe era, now known as Batman: The Long Halloween: The Sequel: Dark Victory.  ↩

Comments ( 4 )

  1. " gets repetitive..."

    Those three words describe everything that Jeph Loeb has ever written. Tim Sale's artwork is amazing, but Loeb's stories (be it for DC or Marvel) are banal and insipid.

    "When I think of DC Comics' house style, Joe Luis Garcia-Lopez comes to mind..."

    For me, the DC house style is:

    Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
    Darwyn Cooke
    Alex Ross
    Jerry Ordway

    1. As someone who has read his Marvel colours work there is nothing bloody insipid about them!

    2. Can't agree with Daniel about Loeb; I consider Long Halloween and Dark Victory pretty essential Batman stories, and Superman for all Seasons, too.

      I define "house style" as the central style that DC tries to use for most of their titles. To me, that's always seemed to be the action figure-y presentation of Garcia-Lopez, Jurgens, and Ordway too is in that same vein. Not sure about Ross and Cooke though; great artists, love their stuff, but I think they're both exceptions, not the rule, in the DC art pantheon.

  2. think u have hit the nail on the problems with this comic . The story is not interesting nor are the characters which is a shame considering how interesting Catwoman was in the Long Halloween.
    Not to mention it doesn't add anything new . The Long Halloween was the peak and the sequels even Dark Victory was nowhere near as good as the first one
    Just a question . Did Batman and Catwoman knew each other 's secret identity in The Long Halloween or Dark Victory ?
    ✌️ From India !


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