52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week.  Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.

Jeph Loeb

It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be to write an intro paragraph for Jeph Loeb.  There isn’t much to say that even infrequent readers may not already know.  Jeph Loeb has been a presence in comics for many years, writing plenty of critical acclaimed series (like today’s Batman: The Long Halloween) as well as writing for televisions shows like “Lost” and “Smallville”.  Loeb frequently teams with artist Tim Sale, producing one of a kind series for both DC and Marvel.  He’s a writer who seems to have just as many fans as he does naysayers, with those who dislike his work targeting for lacking originality or relying on shock value.  Regardless of what people think of Loeb as a writer, there’s no denying the important contributions he’s made to the industry, giving stories that have helped to only elevate the creative medium we love today.

Batman The Long Halloween

Batman_The_Long_Halloween_CoverGotham City stands as a corrupt city, underneath the filthy fingers of Carmine Falcone.  Seeking to take down Carmine once and for all, the Dark Knight teams with Commissioner Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent.  But the city is thrust into a different type of turmoil than it’s used to when a mysterious killer begins targeting the Falcone family.  Dubbed the “Holiday Killer”, this murderous villain begins killing members of the Falcone family once a month, with the days they are killed on coinciding with a specific holiday.  The end result is one of the most difficult cases Batman has ever worked, plagued by Holiday for over a year as he races against time every month to stop this killer once and for all.  Along the way Batman must also combat not only the complex, romantic relationship he shares with Catwoman, but a “who’s who” of some of Gotham’s most vile villains, ranging from the Joker to Solomon Grundy.  One thing is for certain, after this string of murders, Gotham City will certainly never be the same again.

The dynamite creative force that is Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale bring one of the best mystery stories ever told in the Batman mythos with “The Long Halloween”.  Thematically, this story latches on to the idea of holidays and how personal they can be.  Holidays are considered special, almost sacred days within the year, wherein you don’t have to work, get time to spend with your family, or simply just celebrate some form of occasion.  It’s the almost holy nature of these holidays that makes Long Halloween a fun read, as having murders occur on such special days makes the murders feel as if they’re almost more vile and sacrilegious than they would be if they occurred on the day before, day after, or any random day in between.  It’s just pleasant writing to attack the intimacy of something as simple as a holiday through murder and mystery.

Long_halloween_pg2The perfect example of the intimacy of holidays is on full display during three particular chapters in this story; Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day.  With Valentine’s Day, it’s fairly apparent why murder is so wrong yet fitting, as it’s a day meant for celebrating love but also a day deeply seeded in violent nature because of the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, a bit of irony that isn’t lost on Loeb or Sale as it is the chapter wherein the most murders and injuries occur while Batman’s love life takes a weird turn.  With Mother and Father’s Day, Loeb and Sale do something special, as they touch on how personal of a nature these days have as they pertain to our hero in Batman.  As everyone on the planet knows, Batman was orphaned at a young age due to the sudden death of his parents, something that paved the way for his crime fighting career.  It’s simply stunning to see the way an emotionally damaged and distraught Bruce Wayne handles himself on Mother’s Day, almost literally running from the pain he feels over the death of his mother before ultimately confronting his father’s death in a tearful confession on Father’s Day.  It’s these chapters that show not only how well Loeb and Sale know the character they’re playing with here, but also demonstrate the amount of substance this story has because of how cleverly they approach these holidays in conjunction with Batman and his emotions.

Long_halloween_pg3Beyond all the emotion, all the nuance, that can goes missed by readers, there is one thing at the core of Long Halloween that can’t be denied; it’s a fun mystery to try to unfold.  With each chapter more characters are introduced and then swept to the wayside, activating a revolving door of potential suspects that will leaving you guessing up until the final pages.  Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, your lead suspect is unceremoniously “wacked”, leaving you to retrace your steps and think again on who just might be in frame for these possible murders.  The hints are there, brilliantly placed by the simple, artistic style of Tim Sale.  It’s the type of story that deserves a second or third read just to pick up on all the clues that were laid down and you never noticed.  On top of all this, the payoff in the end is really all worth it.  Where the characters go, who wins and loses, it all makes sense and works marvelously in accomplishing what Loeb and Sale wanted to do; entertain you.

So the emotional core of Batman coupled with the significance of the holidays as a central theme makes The Long Halloween a fairly compelling story.  What’s the ingredient that makes it an instant classic though?  In my mind, it’s undeniable that the relationship shared between Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent is the final piece to elevating this story to heights untouched.  It’s mentioned in the foreword how the relationship shared between these three characters actually influenced the trajectory of the hit Batman film “The Dark Knight”.  Upon reading this story you can absolutely see why, as the dynamic shared between these three characters is so rich and makes plenty of sense.  The three men basically assemble a spectrum of justice, wherein Commissioner Gordon is the far left end, Harvey Dent is the far right, and Batman is smack dab in the middle.  Gordon represents the law and the rules that must be adhered to, being the noble voice who sacrifices his own personal gain for the betterment of Gotham.  Harvey Dent is the man who embodies justice, responsible for deciding the severity of the punishment and making sure that it is served.  Harvey wants to see those doing wrong suffer, within the confines of the law, but still feels as though the law doesn’t necessarily equate to justice (something that serves to be a fundamental part of his villainous counterpart, Two Face).  Batman is a gentle balance of both, going outside the confines of the law to bring forth justice but still ensuring that the justice is fair within the confines of the law.  To put it simply, and far less wordy, Batman works outside the law to ensure that the law remains in place.  The dynamic shared between these three characters is dramatically under appreciated and, to a further point, still remains largely untouched.  It blows my mind that someone else hasn’t tried to mine this trio for further fascinating stories because the dichotomy of these three characters together is utterly amazing and should be valued far more highly than it is.

If there was ever to be a complaint about this thrilling Batman tale, it would have to be in regards to the amount of characters introduced.  As I pointed out above, the number of characters brought into the story actually keeps you on your toes, never allowing you to comfortably settle into your decision on who Holiday may be.  At the same time, the overload of characters can be a bit confusing, with the number of Falcone family members being seemingly infinite whilst you also have to try to remember the members of the rival Maroni family.  The further you get into the story, the easier it gets to keep track of characters, as the influx of meaningful characters does slow down considerably but it can still be difficult for some readers to manage two families, plus the Dark Knight, plus the Gordons, plus the Dents, and let’s not forget all the Batman villains who pop up in between everything.

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Collects: Batman – The Long Hallowe’en #1-13

Best Character: Harvey Dent

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption:  “I believe in Harvey Dent.” – Gilda Dent

Best Scene/Moment:  Bruce speaks honestly about his father (Chapter Nine – Father’s Day)

Best Issue:  Chapter Eight – Mother’s Day.  It’s hard to pick out just one issue from this collection because it’s like picking out a piece of a puzzle as your favourite piece.  Sure the piece may look cool but it works best with the other pieces to actually complete the puzzle.  Nonetheless I picked this issue because of how it concludes.  It’s taut, filled with a surprising amount of tension as we have a frantic Bruce running from his own life.  This issue doesn’t do much for the overall story but I get surprisingly stricken with a sense of helplessness during the finale of this issue every time I read it.  If a writer is that good wherein he can make you feel the anxiety of the lead character, then you know you’re reading something special.

Why You Should Read It:  You’ll read this because it’s simply one of the best Batman stories ever told and, to a further point, one of the best mystery stories within Batman’s world.  Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale do amazing work in just thirteen issues that I feel goes under appreciated because readers get so wrapped up in just reading the story and solving the case with Batman that they miss out on some of the amazing psychology of the work.  The theme of the holidays and their importance to Batman, Harvey’s “loose” moral code, Jim Gordon’s difficult dual life, it’s all there for the reader to see, wrapped up in the brilliant trio dynamic shared between the three title characters.  Tim Sale’s design work is also utterly flawless on this series.  Together Loeb and Sale have crafted one of the finest Batman stories ever written and it’s surely one you can’t miss.