Continuing the Batman addiction in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, I thought I'd try my hand at reading some Batman comics that are regarded as the best of the best.
An Offer He Can't Refuse
The Long Halloween is primarily the story of how Harvey Dent became Two-Face. It is also a gangster story, a Catwoman story, and a story that manages to include just about every single one of Batman's villains, while not having any of them be the culprit of the ongoing mystery. With a feel reminiscent of The Godfather, The Long Halloween is probably the first time I've ever read a Batman comic that feels genuinely like something out of film noir. It is gritty, hard-boiled, and the mystery is incredibly hard to crack. And it simultaneously manages to call into question everything we know about Batman, as well as many of the people he surrounds himself with.
The premise of The Long Halloween is initially simple. A serial killer is killing people on holidays, leaving souvenirs at the scene of every crime that are themed to each holiday. On Christmas, he leaves a snow-globe. On St. Patrick's Day, a leprechaun statue. On Thanksgiving, a cornucopia. And nobody can figure out who it is. Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Batman... Each of them investigate the killings and are completely stymied.
Simultaneous to this are the intrigues of the Falcone and Maroni crime families. You've got the whole Godfather-esque picture: low-level thugs, seemingly refined gentlemen of the upper echelons, and the Italian weddings and celebrations. Because of their schemes, their members seem prime suspects. However, there's also the problem that, for the most part, Falcone family members are the only ones being killed off by the Holiday killer. Why would the gang be killing their own?
On top of this, other villains in the city actually get to the point where they feel they have to act out because of all the attention the Holiday killer is getting. The Joker decides that nobody is allowed to supplant his position as primo-criminal, and so tries to stage a grand crime that will revert attention back to him. Other villains, such as Poison Ivy and the Riddler, hire out their services to the gangs, who appear to be trying equally hard to find the Holiday killer themselves. In addition, Catwoman is slinking around, seemingly always hiding and watching wherever Batman appears to be.
The result is an insane shitstorm where villains are lashing out, the gang families are getting increasingly disruptive, and the Holiday killer flits about without anyone able to figure out who he is, much less stop him.
I Believe In Harvey Dent
The Long Halloween is a story that manages to tackle an enormous amount of tricky story elements and still manage to come out amazing. Not only is there a lot of stuff going on, but it also manages to make time for contemplative character moments that surprise you with their poignancy. There's a moment halfway through the comic where Dent and Gordon realize that, like Batman, they are leading double lives in how often they stay away from home to bring criminals to justice. We end up seeing a good deal of their home lives, their wives; and the dichotomy between the characters is remarkable. Gordon somehow manages to maintain being a caring husband and father despite his constant absences. By contrast, Dent's marriage is constantly under strain, heartbreakingly so. Gilda Dent (his wife) is so deeply in love with him that she finds it hard to cope with Dent's career and, as things get more dangerous for him and he inevitably snaps, it's genuinely hard to watch as she tries so hard to help him and for it all to be in vain. This is a marriage that should be perfect and the stuff of movies but, instead, is twisted by the events around them to the point of fading away, no matter how much Gordon and Batman try to help.
To that point, I would say that The Long Halloween handles Harvey Dent's fall with more depth and passion than The Dark Knight. The Harvey Dent of this story is zealous to the point of being willing to break the rules, making more sense that he would take matters into his own hands when his mind breaks. In addition, with the character of Gilda, we genuinely yearn for Harvey to succeed so that he may return home as if, through hope and will alone, we may ignore the fact that Harvey is doomed to fall. He is essentially Batman if Batman didn't have money and was bound to operate within the rules of law. And that's interesting to think about because, in another life, Harvey Dent could have been Batman.
Altogether, I loved every minute of this comic. The mystery managed to cast suspicion on every single character (including Batman himself, at one point), and I was completely unable to predict who the Holiday killer turned out to be. Throughout this trail of crumbs, we're treated to one epic race after another, as Batman and the others try their damnedest to find the killer before each holiday comes to pass. On top of this, we're treated to the romantic back-and-forth of Catwoman, the efforts of Bruce Wayne to combat the gangsters economically, one villain encounter after another, and more. And, finally, the art is both beautiful and gothic; Batman has never looked so fearsome and inhuman.
If you're looking for a really good, effectively written, and gangster/mystery/noir/Batman story, this is one comic definitely worth buying.