By Jeph Loeb
By the time I flipped to the last page of The Long Halloween I had already decided that it was one of the best detective stories I had ever read. I had concluded that, in fact, it should be read in literature classes. Even after a couple of weeks to sit on it I can't really back down from either of those statements. If any medium needs a signature piece, a piece to illustrate what makes the medium worthwhile, comics do, and Batman The Long Halloween could be that. This sounds hyperbolic, I know, and I do not mean to say that The Long Halloween is the best the medium has to offer; rather I am saying that it follows a familiar genre; one known in practically all fictional mediums, and it does so as well as the best of any other. And because of that it serves an exemplary comic book. That when you have a story as entralling as this, with art that perfectly complements it, you cannot put it down.
At it's core Batman The Long Halloween is a three act detective story. In the first act there is the setup. Batman, who needs little introduction. The crime families of Gotham; The Falcones and the Maronis. Harvey Dent, district attourney. Catwoman. The commissioner, Jim Gordon. The second act comes quickly, as members of the crime families begin to be picked off. The third act comes unexpectedly at the end of the book, throwing a curveball at the reader.
The pace of the book is relentless. Each issue (except for a couple) revolves around a holiday and after the first couple the reader realizes that there will be a murder in each. This creates a rather intense sort of anxiety in the reader, who knows a murder is coming within only a handful of pages. If I were to criticize the pacing at all it is that the pacing, which no doubt was done to fit with the theme of each issue representing a separate holiday, makes it more difficult to appreciate Batman as a detective. There aren't enough pages to contain both the movement of the plot forward, the profoundly interesting supporting case, and Batman making progress on the case.
I'm not sure that it matters, however, as this is a whodunnit where you don't care so much about whodunnit. That might be the least interesting part about The Long Halloween. What makes this a defining piece of comic book literature is the world building done by Loeb right from the beginning. From the beginning it feels like you are dropped into Godfather, except with tights and psychotic characters. And at the same time it's as noir as a comic book gets. That Loeb was able to pull those three genres together; noir, gangster, and superhero, together into a seemless, liveable, world is particularly amazing. It's the thing that keeps you glued from the beginning to the end.
As great as the book is, it's not quite perfect. There are elements that didn't have me on the edge of my seat. For example, although the crime family drama was interesting, I can't point to any of the characters that I found particularly interesting on their own. In fact, I can't really remember much about the characters at all. This doesn't, I don't think, point to any weakness of the characters, but probably rather that I'm just not that big of a fan of the crime family genre. For many this won't be an issue, but for me it meant I had to keep notes in order to keep track of what was going on, and who might be Holiday.
I've read many who think that Tim Sale's artwork in this book is an example of a book that thrives despite subpar art, but I couldn't disagree more. There is definitely a lack of symmetry in the art, but I don't consider that to be a weakness at all. It is fitting with the gritty narrative. A polished looking character doesn't belong in the world Loeb has created here. There still is an incredible amount of detail in the art. It's just a little crooked, that's all.
Being one of the only Batman classics I've read, I don't have the perspective to talk about Harvey Dent's transformation in the light of the history of the character. So I have to approach it as though it is his origin story (although I know that it is not). But from that perspective it's still a fascinating look at a character who breaks down at the weight of events that surround him. Harvey is part of the triumvirate of Batman, Gordon, and himself. He feels the pressure to live up to his peers, and at the same time he is the public face for what is happening in Gotham. He feels a religious need to bring order to a city that has lost it. And it is that pressure that, or so we are led to believe, causes him to snap and become Holiday. The truth, as we find out, is that Harvey isn't Holiday. Or at least, he's not Holiday all on his own. He also had his wife paying a role as well.
I have trouble coming to terms with his wife as being in on the act. We are not given a reason for her to become a killer. It feels, rather, that Loeb wanted a good twist and this provided one. Dent was a suspect from the early chapters and it would be too easy to have him be the lone perpetrator. Never the less, these are all minor quibbles. The book succeeds due to it's amazing pacing, wide and layered cast, and world building. As a representative of the best of comic books it would make great learning material in schools, and as a comic fan it's something you are missing out on if you haven't read.