Happy Halloween, guys! I figured I’d take a little more time to sit on this review and upload it at an appropriate moment – especially considering its release was only a few days away from this very special occasion. What are you guys doing for your spooky celebrations? While you think about that, I’d like you to indulge me for a few moments before the review really kicks off.
For me, Halloween was always a sort of forbidden fruit. Much like the comics my parents put in the closet for a year for being too “mature” (they ended up being eaten by rats), Halloween didn’t seem very accessible to a kid in the suburban hills of Australia: a country not particularly fond of the tradition. Of course, that was until I got a group of friends to help jump start trick-or-treating in my suburb! For the years I was a child, a few of us were able to get the entire street into the craze – making sure we had pillow cases full of treats by the end of that night, every year. Those of you who live in Australia would know that isn’t something to scoff at.
One day, I realised I was a little too old for trick-or-treating. I want to be clear, here: in no way did I enjoy this! If I could still harrass the neighbours I barely speak to for confectionaries, I’d gladly do so – but there comes a time where you have to take a step back and let someone else take the reins. So, instead, I dressed up as a scarecrow, and I sat at the doorway to my house for the entire night. My hope was that trick-or-treaters – the generation after me, I suppose – would come along to our door, and I’d be able to get a good few scares in for their trouble. It was exciting for me, because I felt that despite my age, I’d found a way to continue participating in this thing that I so very much loved.
No one showed up that night.
This is the sad thing about things you love – eventually, for one reason or another, they come to an end. My long Halloween nights faded into memory, just as my neighbours had all but forgotten what they used to do on October 31st. There’s nothing wrong with missing it – making something new from it, even – but trying to capture something you can’t quite recreate is a sweet, but often fruitless gesture.
You see where I’m going with this.
The Long Halloween Special is written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale – the same team that handled the original epic all those years ago, along with follow-ups such as Dark Victory and Catwoman: When in Rome. Importantly, this also includes Richard Starkings, who handled lettering in the original – but not original colourist Gregory Wright, who has here been replaced by Brennan Wagner. I’ve read all of these books quite recently, and I like all of them for various different reasons – though in popular culture, the original story is the only one to capture such an avid following. I’m not here to talk about the original, though I’ll be touching on it several times. Ater all, this is both an epilogue to that tale and, presumably, a predecessor to another.
I’m sure I seem overly critical about this special so far, which is especially strange considering I actually liked the issue. I’m sure people in the comments will mention the discrepancy between my opinion and the score, but I think it’s important to show both sides of the coin here. I have a lot of disagreements with the book’s existence, but that doesn’t stop it from being a pretty good time when you’re reading it.
Let’s start with the obviously good parts – for example, Tim God Damn Sale, people. When I think of the best Batman artists in the business, I can’t see many people who top this guy. Sale single-handedly created one of the most distinctive and memorable artstyles you’ve ever seen in a Batman comic, and that’s not just because it’s different than your cookie-cutter superhero aesthetic. Plenty of unique artists have tackled Batman, and so many of them are amazing – but not all of them know just how to portray the gothic, mythic dark fantasy of the dark knight, jagged ears and long, crooked faces making heroes and villains looking like they’re leaping out of a perverted storybook.
That’s just as true here as it was all those years ago, too. I will say that several pages feel a little sloppier – a double-page spread that has way too much negative space for its own good, for example – and I don’t like everything about how his style has changed over the years. Some of that may be due to the differences in colourists, of course; while Wagner does a great job portraying Gotham’s warmer colours, I don’t think it’s always appropriate for the tone of the story. Some of Sale’s best pages are the ones almost entirely in black and white, which capture the sinister and ominous feeling of the original to nigh perfection. Really, any critiques I have are not enough to stop any comic fan worth their salt from appreciating more work from a legendary creator in Batman’s world.
What’s fascinating about the story of The Long Halloween Special is that, for a moment, you almost forget it’s been over twenty years since the original. You don’t need to read anything other than the original comic to understand what’s going on here – though I’d also recommend reading Dark Victory, which covers the introduction of Robin. The story picks up threads that one could argue were left dangling at the end of The Long Halloween, such as the fate of Gilda Dent and the looming resurgence of the Calendar Man. The former is well-written but hardly used, whereas the latter is the main driving force of the book. I’ve always liked how Loeb writes Calendar Man, but his plot borders on the cartoonish here. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you, but it doesn’t seem to gel with the tone of its predecessors (with the possible exception of When in Rome). The climax of the story is especially silly, and while I can’t pretend I dislike silly, it definitely doesn’t capture the same feeling as the iconic comic I remember so vividly did.
This is an ongoing theme throughout the book: that slight disconnect between this issue and the tale that preceded it, almost a creative uncanny valley. It’s fun to watch Calendar Man start a cult, murdering people and robbing banks… but it doesn’t feel like that’s what you should expect from a sequel. It’s incredibly sweet to watch Barbara Gordon (in a proto-Batgirl costume) trick-or-treating with Robin, but that feels out of place in its own way. I think the most egregious example of this is in Batman’s narration, though. To me, there aren’t many people that do a better job than Loeb at capturing that pitch-perfect Bruce Wayne narration, but that too doesn’t quite meet the standards of the original. I mean… just imagine these lines in the original book:
It’s hard to tell if these are nitpicks or not. They feel like nitpicks, especially since I still had a good time, but what they add up to is a story that feels like The Long Halloween in everything but spirit. We’ve seen a lot of nostalgia-baiting continuations of classic stories in literature lately, and while this one has the groundwork for a good story, it’s not particularly concerned with feeling like a natural continuation. Whereas the original story was sombre and foreboding, this one is charming and almost fun. The original was a fascinating look into the collapse of the mob in the wake of the supervillain, a dynamic which is thoroughly absent here. For better or for worse, it’s a sequel that’s tonally dissonant from its first instalments. So, the question must be asked: is this a change in a creator’s outlook and perspective, or is this a cash grab? From what I’ve seen, the answer is often both – but I suppose such is the way with comic books.
- You want more of– well, no. The Long Halloween isn’t what you’re getting here, but you are learning more about Harvey and Gilda’s relationship.
- Calendar Man taking the spotlight sounds like a good time to you!
- You’re interested in reading more from the dynamic duo of Loeb and Sale – I personally am still waiting for Loeb to comment on the discrimination he was accused of on Daredevil, if I’m honest.
- I mean, I feel like Robin and Batgirl trick-or-treating does warrant some extra credit here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane – because despite my critiques, I definitely have. I’d say you’ll have a good time with this book, even if it does feel a little like tasting a meal you used to love that isn’t quite as good as you remember. Sale’s art is a little messier, Loeb’s writing a little weaker… and while that doesn’t stop me from having fun, I notice the final pages of this book are quite keen to tease a follow-up. If they’re really going to do more, then I think this creative team needs to take a good long look at what they’re making, and ask themselves this: do you want another Long Halloween?
Or do you want something more?
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch