Monday, October 5, 2015

REVIEW: BATMAN THE LONG HALLOWEEN


INTRODUCTION 
As part of my Batman Day eComic haul, I picked up BATMAN THE LONG HALLOWEEN. I knew going into it that it was an older work and definitely looked the part, but I also know it's quite famous. I've heard it referenced by a number of people who are more up on the comic world than I am and I have played Batman video games where there are alternate costumes based off of this graphic work. Most notably was Rocksteady's ARKHAM CITY where players who have the Catwoman pack can play as her using the bright pinkish costume which she sports in this comic. Other than the visual side of things, I really didn't know much about the story at all, other than that it's famous so I figured I'd give it a shot.

HOW I RATED IT 

4/5 There are some things that definitely make this a little rough around the edges, but overall, it is one of the most compelling and engaging graphic works that I have read to date. I had a really good time with this and definitely understand why there is so much buzz around this wonderful collection.

CHARACTERS 
Obviously, the principal character in this story is Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Batman we get here is pretty much the batman that we'd expect and what little we get of him as Bruce Wayne was also on par with my general expectations. One thing that is a little different is that Batman doesn't really have any allies insofar as the "bat family" is concerned. There are some small snippets with his trusty butler, Alfred, but those come toward the end of the story-line and really just aren't all that significant. I'll admit that this is a bit of a disappointment since I love Alfred, but  his taking the back seat in this adventure does allow characters like Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent to have a bit more time center stage. Their relationship with Batman felt VERY similar to how these characters interact with one another in the Christopher Nolan films (I believe this work was one of his inspirations). As any Batman fan might expect, we do get to see the metamorphosis of Harvey becoming the villain Two-Face, but this is a very drawn out process which was nice since it let me get to know Dent as a DA. Both Gordon and Dent have families which are featured in numerous chapters of the work. Harvey has a young wife and is looking to get settled with her in Gotham City while Jim has a family that is well underway. It was really nice to see these hard as nails men in a more family-oriented scenario and getting a glimpse at this side of them made it all the more heartbreaking to witness Dent's decline.

On the more supernatural side of things is Selina Kyle/Catwoman who is not precisely an ally of Batman, but is also not strictly against him. There is even a relationship between Selina and Bruce outside of the costumed world, but they don't seem to know the true identities of one another (at least Bruce doesn't). Other classic villains make appearances like the Joker and the Riddler while more obscure foes like Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, and Solomon Grundy round out the cast. All of these are really more of side-conflicts though since the real source of tension comes from the gang war between the Falcone and Maroni families. The majority of the plot is actually centered around this sort of mob warfare in a way that Fox's GOTHAM seems to have borrowed some pages from for their first season. We get the sense that the presence of super-villains is a relatively new development - one possibly born from the actions of the Dark Knight himself. Lastly, there is the villain known only as Holiday, but more on that in just a moment.

WORLD/SETTING 

The general setting of this piece is a fairly standard version of Gotham city. Batman isn't exactly new on the scene since he already has a relationship with Captain Gordon and the Bat Signal is a thing, but I did get the sense that this was still fairly early on in Batman's crime fighting career. We also look at the world largely from it's criminal underbelly. It's a real cloak and dagger atmosphere where Gotham's crime families go at it with some interference from Falcone's sister, a Chicago mob boss who has known designs for Gotham. It's a world where enemies act as friends and family members can't be trusted. Batman's only real allies are Jim and Harvey, but as mentioned above, one of these cops eventually betrays his trust. Both Batman and Catwoman get on Falcone's radar (aka hit-list) which gives them a common bond of sorts, but this relationship is a rather shaky one.

The real pull of this tale is the character known only as Holiday. He or she is called Holiday because they kill once a month, you guessed it, on a holiday. It all starts on Halloween night and continues for a year until Halloween comes around a second time. This means that each chapter brings readers into a different month of the year, more importantly to a significant holiday within that month. It was sort of like watching a television show that only consists of holiday specials. There's Christmass, St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and a whole bunch more. I got the sense that there was a lot of different things happening in between each of these days, but that the main focus was always on trying to stop the Holiday Killer. The year gets dubbed "The Long Halloween" by the crime families since it is them who are getting hit the hardest by this illusive serial killer. By the end of this year of killings, the world is a rather dismal and dark place.

PLOT/TONE 
Batman stories sometimes struggle with the balance between darkness and light. Some iterations of the character are edgy, but don't cross a line such as with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movie trilogy. Then there are some that like to go a little overboard and could be considered a bit distasteful. Fox's Gotham has been a regular offender of this lately between the Dollmaker episodes last season and a more recent one from this current season where an alarming number of GCPD cops are unceremoniously gunned down by a band of psychopaths. Fortunately, BATMAN THE LONG HALLOWEEN is just the right mix of dark and heinous deeds with daring heroic acts. The story is gripping and brimming with suspense. All of the villains are genuinely terrifying, especially in the unique art style that the book takes on that makes all the bad guys look extra creepy.

It's definitely a plot that takes its time to build. There are a lot of moving parts to it all and a lot of questions left out in the open until the very last chapter. Because of this, it is a little tough to really get into. I'd say about a third of the book really just lays the foundation and then things start to pick up. There was no point where I wanted to give up on it or anything, but I was certainly glad when all of the pieces started coming together and the intensity finally ramped up a bit. It was also nice to have a story that didn't really offer any kind of alternate version to Batman's origin. As a reader, I didn't really have to know a whole lot about that universe in order to enjoy this book. Every villain, big or small, is given an introduction of some kind. It probably helped that I know a LITTLE bit about it all, but I don't think said knowledge was totally essential.

THE ART:
Easily one of the weaker points for me, the artwork featured in this novel is a bit rough. It's definitely got a distinctively older feel to it, but it also didn't bother me as much as most older comics do. It has this surreal sort of vibe to it where everything looks a tad off. I think it's a look that definitely fits the overall tone of the piece and while I wish the visuals had a bit more polish and depth to them, there are definitely some shots that are very lovingly rendered. There's really not much more to say on this end. If this is one area that has you on the fence as a reader, then I'd just try a sample of it or even Google search for some images to get a feel for what you're getting into. For me, the story was well worth the less-than-perfect art.

CONCLUSION 
THE LONG HALLOWEEN is a tale that's sort of a standalone Batman plot-line. It's not so different from what some fans may already know and love, but it does take some familiar components and use them in new and clever ways. The story is one of the best Batman narratives I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing even with the older, less polished art style. I don't know if this is necessarily something that will appeal to everyone, but it's definitely worth giving a try, especially if you are a fan (even casually) of the Batman universe.

BATMAN THE LONG HALLOWEEN can be found on Amazon in eBook, Paperback, and Library Bound editions.

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