Review: Batman: The Long Halloween Special #1 (2021) comic book (DC Comics)

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I was very happy when DC Comics announced a new Batman: The Long Halloween Special (happy enough to plan a whole “Long Halloween saga” re-read), though I did wonder if creators Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale could recapture the magic in just one issue. There’s precedent, of course, in the single-issue Batman Halloween specials that preceded Batman: The Long Halloween (now collectively known as Haunted Knight) — we’ve come full circle, from the three individual Halloween specials that begot two 13-issue miniseries (and another half as long), which now inspired a special of its own. But could Loeb and Sale do in one issue what they’d previously done best in a baker’s dozen?

[Review contains spoilers]

That answer is no, though I thoroughly enjoyed the Long Halloween Special nonetheless, a return to form after the less impressive Catwoman: When in Rome. Neither Rome nor the special are necessarily mysteries, making them each lesser than Long Halloween and Dark Victory, but the special brings back the gritty Gotham air that Rome lacked, not to mention Long Halloween stalwarts Two-Face and Calendar Man. As a first issue, as the special was perhaps intended to be, the special certainly evokes slipping back in to Halloween’s noir world.

For all of Long Halloween’s, especially, vaunted misdirection and multiple killers, I’ve never necessarily thought the book had loose ends per se. Gilda Dent committed the first three Holiday murders and Alberto Falcone committed the rest, and while one might believe one or the other is lying or delusional, it really doesn’t seem so. “Loose ends,” then, are all on the characters' side; we as the audience don’t have any loose ends, but Batman and Jim Gordon do.

In short, the Long Halloween Special is the story of Batman discovering Gilda’s role in the Holiday murders. That’s, on one hand, not all that interesting — for a set of stories that exist in their own finite, walled-off universe, for Batman to discover something the reader already knows is reductive, unless there should be ground to complicate it further. On the other hand, it’s been 25 years that the audience has wondered, what would happen if Batman found out, so I’m as game as anyone to see the answer to that directly from the source themselves.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

What’s unfortunate in all of this, of course, is that Tim Sale recently passed away. Foremost, people lost a friend and family, but as well, I rather doubt we’ll see more from the “Long Halloween-verse” without Sale. If a second special were written, I’d be happy to see it drawn by other artists in tribute, but I can’t imagine that there’s much of a chance of the specials playing out beyond that. And so, we have the first and not the second — that this is the story of Batman finding out Gilda’s role, but little to no chance of that being complicated in any way.

If I might speculate, if there were another Long Halloween Special, perhaps one question might be how Gilda ended up in the asylum seen in the first pages, and how she escaped — whether an unseen hand might be directing some of these events. Further, we might ultimately find that Gilda was delusional and was not the Holiday killer, and that someone else committed the first three murders, though I think Loeb would have had to do a lot to make interesting the alternate, unseen murderer of some of the more minor mobsters in the Long Halloween cast, and 25 years later at that.

I thought among the more interesting aspects of the special was Loeb and Sale’s portrayal of an excessively violent Batman. We are beyond now the arc of Batman having been betrayed by Harvey and then learning to trust again when he takes on Robin Dick Grayson as partner, and still Batman’s anger at Harvey is raw and palpable. And, for that matter, this Batman is still reluctant to put full faith in Robin, too. Lashing out at any number of hurts, Batman beats the Calendar Man bloody, ignoring the pity that Robin takes on finding out Calendar Man was orphaned.

The irony of Batman’s thought that Robin “is young … he’ll learn” is the hope that Batman will instead learn from Robin — less violence, more sympathy. It is a similar divide between Batman and Jim Gordon, where Gordon has always credited Harvey for the good he did while Batman snarls that perhaps Harvey Dent was always Two-Face.

It seems Batman’s new arc among Long Halloween specials might be to forgive Harvey, to not see things in such absolutes, and I’d have been interested to see how his knowledge of Gilda’s crimes played into that. Certainly Batman withholding this revelation from Gordon is perhaps most explosive; there’s not great resonance for Batman to Gilda being a killer, but Jim and Barbara Gordon socialized and were friends with Harvey and Gilda Dent.

Tim Sale’s masterpiece among the Long Halloween set has been his Calendar Man Julian Day, the least descript and notable of Batman’s included villains, reimagined as a veritable Hannibal Lecter. Here, Loeb writes Day as cult leader, with Sale drawing Day all the more creepily, not to mention Sale’s Two-Face/Calendar Man hybrid (who’s really, underneath, actually Batman).

In the special, the scenes with Batman and Gordon on the rooftops also particularly shine, with Sale introducing a nice muddiness to his usually crisp (but distinctly wobbily) lines, and Gordon often in shadow, just iconic glasses and moustache. Sale takes more liberties in redesigning Robin here than he did in the more traditional Dark Victory, with epaulettes fastening his cape, suggesting less sidekick, more young prince.



So, with Batman: The Long Halloween Special, the saga ends on uncertain ground. After Dark Victory’s uplift-trending ending, the special returns us to a difficult place — Batman mistrustful, lashing out, keeping secrets. We read comics, of course, for the characters to be in conflict, and the circumstances here are beyond anyone’s control. And it is, again, a closed loop — Long Halloween stories only affect themselves. One must see it I guess as a light cliffhanger, something that assuredly worked itself out over time and whose characters persevered in the end, as they always do.

[Includes creator bios]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I am not a fan of Bruce constantly keepinng secrets from his friends and acting like a self righteous jerk. That has been his depiction in media for decades and it getting old. That said I am happy Tim got to draw one last story before he passed away. RIP Tim Sale


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