Fundamental Comics: ‘Batman: The Long Halloween’ and the Price of Justice

Batman: The Long Halloween
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Letterer: Comicraft, Richard Starkings
Editor: Archie Goodwin, Chuck Kim
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: 1996-1997
No. of Issues: 13

 
Introduction: Batman: The Long Halloween (and Two-Face)

Written by Jeph Loeb and with art by Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween is viewed by many comic fans and critics as one of the best Batman tales ever told and the definitive origin story of Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent’s villainous and duplicitous alter ego, Two-Face. Intended to build off the seminal work of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One which depicted the caped crusaders’ first year in the cowl with a grounded and mature approach, The Long Halloween would continue the dark, crime noir interpretation established by the previous title and apply those elements to the story of Batman’s attempt to rid Gotham of the mob and the tragic price that came with that mission.

While Batman: The Long Halloween serves as a sequel to Batman: Year One, Loeb and Sale’s story can easily be read on its own with little lost from the intended experience. Originally published in the mid-nineties as a thirteen-issue series, The Long Halloween has been collected in trade paperback and also released in DC Comics’ Absolute Edition hardcover format. He doesn't serve in an official capacity on the creative team, but comic book icon Mark Waid is often credited for suggesting to Loeb and Sale that they should focus on the early years of Dent’s time as District Attorney and his fall from grace.



The Plot of Batman: The Long Halloween

At its core, Batman: The Long Halloween is the story of Batman, Harvey Dent, and Commissioner Gordon forming an alliance to bring down the mob in Gotham City. In the process of seeking to break Carmine "The Roman" Falcone's hold on the city, servants of justice are corrupted, a soldier is lost, and Batman’s rogues gallery replaces the common criminal element and ushers in the age of the supervillain in Gotham.

As mentioned previously, The Long Halloween takes place after the events of Batman: Year One, focusing on the Dark Knight’s continuing struggle against the Falcone and Maroni crime families. When Gordon and Dent convince a reluctant Batman to team up with a united goal of bringing The Roman down, the three men make a pact to one another to bend, but never break, the rules in order to achieve their goal.

As Batman begins to supply Gordon and Dent with evidence acquired via vigilante methods and apply pressure to Falcone's corrupt business contacts, The Roman begins to push back. It begins to look like the tide is turning on Falcone, but when Batman intimidates the president of Gotham City Bank into rejecting The Roman's bribes and he resigns from his position to avoid laundering money for the mob, Falcone has the man shot to death.

A few months later on Halloween, Johnny Viti (The Roman's nephew and the hitman who executed the former bank president) is shot in the head while taking a bath. The .22 caliber pistol used to kill Viti is left behind by the murderer, along with a baby bottle nipple, which was used as a makeshift silencer, and a jack-o-lantern. Thus begins the bloody reign of "The Holiday Killer," a serial killer who only kills on holidays and always leaves a holiday-themed token with the victim.

Things only escalate from there with Dent's house being bombed the very same Halloween night. Dent and his wife Gilda barely survive. The Holiday Killer strikes on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and on and on, each time taking someone away from The Roman. When Falcone's son, Alberto, is killed, The Roman suspects that his rival, Maroni, is responsible. He goes to war with the opposing Gotham crime family, even going as far as to hire "freaks" he usually can’t abide, like the Riddler, Poison Ivy, and others, in an attempt to protect his family, maintain his control, and destroy his enemies.

The holiday murders continue, but Gordon and Dent receive a lucky break when Maroni agrees to testify against Falcone. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a ploy by Falcone. The Roman's men manage to get a vial of acid to Maroni, who then throws it in Dent's face during the trial. Dent is horribly disfigured and rushed to the hospital, but he attacks his orderlies and disappears into the streets of Gotham.

While Dent is gone, Gordon begins to suspect Dent is the Holiday Killer, while Batman demands proof before believing such a damning accusation. The Holiday Killer is eventually unmasked when he attempts to kill Maroni and is revealed to be Falcone’s son, Alberto, who faked his own death.

Now accepting the mantle of Two-Face, Dent reappears on Halloween night, releasing the inhabitants of Arkham Asylum and murdering Falcone and his daughter, decided by the flip of a coin. Afterwards, Two-Face turns himself in to Gordon and Batman, mysteriously telling them that there were two Holiday Killers. Adding to the mystery is the fact that The Roman's son, Alberto, has confessed to every single one of the murders.

The final scene of the book sees Gilda, on Christmas Eve, preparing to leave Gotham and packing her and Dent's belongings. Seeming slightly off and talking to herself, Gilda suggests that she was the Holiday Killer and started the murders to help bring down Falcone in order to give her and Dent more time and the possibility of raising a child. Gilda also states that she thinks Alberto was lying during his confession and that it was Dent who continued the killings after she stopped around last Christmas. In our final moment with Gilda, she reveals that she believes that her husband can be cured and that they were made for one another, stating "I believe in Harvey Dent."


Reception at Time of Release

During its issue-to-issue release, The Long Halloween was extremely well received by readers. Unlike the multiple Batman crossover books that were being produced by DC Comics at the time, The Long Halloween offered a compelling and moody mystery that didn't require extensive knowledge of previous stories or force readers to buy multiple different titles to keep up with the story.

While The Long Halloween clearly continued the trend of darker, more character-driven, and more adult-themed Batman stories established by the release of previous titles like Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Loeb and Sale's story also had a noticeable influence on the Batman books that followed. Going forward, many creators continued to mine elements established by The Long Halloween, such as the disdain and conflict between Gotham's more conventional criminal elements and the supervillains that make up Batman's rogues gallery. Further titles would also continue to explore the alliance between Gordon, Dent, and Batman.

Batman: The Long Halloween also earned a number of awards after its release, including the 1998 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series. The success of The Last Halloween led to multiple collaborations between Loeb and Sale, many which were also incredibly successful and critically acclaimed, including Batman: Dark Victory and Catwoman: When in Rome, which both follow up The Long Halloween.
 


Critical Analysis

As mentioned in the introduction, Batman: The Long Halloween has long been considered the definitive telling of Harvey Dent's downfall and the origin of Two-Face. Dent, depicted as a passionate steward of justice who slowly cracks under the pressure of a city where the odds are stacked against the "good guys," represents the enduring question of whether the ends justify the means. Whether examining the District Attorney’s alliance with a vigilante like Batman, his murderous actions as the Holiday Killer, or his representation as the price Batman and Gordon "pay" in order to bring Falcone down, the question of how far one should go in order to complete a “noble” mission is threaded into the DNA of this story. Loeb’s original proposal for the miniseries states this perfectly when it describes the ending of the yearlong plot by explaining that, “In an ironic way, Harvey has made good on his promise - to bring down and destroy The Roman Empire - but at the cost of his sanity, family, and soul.”1

The Long Halloween's real and enduring contribution to the Batman mythos is its harrowing and horrific origin story for the character of Two-Face. Few, if any, of the Batman tales that followed tapped into the pathos and horror of the character the way The Long Halloween is categorically known for. Both Loeb and Sale excel in depicting Dent's corruption, both morally and physically, with Sale's artwork being every bit as impactful as the plot and dialogue it accompanies. When Dent looks dumbfounded at the acid flying from the vial, about to hit his skin, we feel every bit as pathetic and helpless as the District Attorney does. When Dent writhes about viciously on the ground as the acid eats its way into his face, we literally wince, hearing his screams in our heads. And when Dent emerges, reborn as Two-Face and depicted in Sale's style as a burn victim who has lost half their face, it's no wonder that Christopher Nolan turned to the visuals from The Long Halloween for inspiration when he suitably scarred Gotham's "white knight" (portrayed by Aaron Eckhart) in the groundbreaking feature film, The Dark Knight. The Long Halloween has also served as a creative "well" to return to for many comic creators, so much so that Two-Face's origin story in this book has become generally accepted canon in almost every Batman story told since. Furthermore, similar to the way graphic novels like The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns have provided inspiration for films such as the recent Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, multiple Batman films, animated features/series, and video games have used or re-imagined the events established by The Long Halloween. David S. Goyer, writer of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, has named the book as a source of inspiration for the Nolan films, not only taking Two-Face's origin from Loeb and Sales' work, but also incorporating concepts like the quote, "I Believe in Harvey Dent," and its multi-layered meanings. The Arkham Knight video game series makes several references to the events that take place in The Long Halloween, and the fourth season of the Gotham TV series also claims to be inspired by the award-winning graphic novel.

While often praised, The Long Halloween has also received its fair share of criticism, especially when it comes to the use of the characters of Carmine Falcone and Arkham Asylum inmate Julian Day (a.k.a Calendar Man). Many of the scenes featuring Falcone, such as his introduction during his nephew's wedding day, have obvious nods and/or lifts from gangster films like The Godfather. When it comes to the Calendar Man, it's hard to not see the obvious inspiration from the depiction of the cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, in 1991's The Silence of the Lambs.

Further criticisms of the book included Sale's unique art style and surreal character designs, especially when it comes to characters like the Joker and Poison Ivy. Some critics and readers also take issue with the reveal of Gilda as the original Holiday Killer, suggesting that it's completely unbelievable that the housewife would be able to systematically take out multiple, hardened members of the mob.



Relevancy Today

Batman: The Long Halloween contains many strong themes that continue to be explored and contemplated not only in superhero comics and media, but also in the best crime fiction, noir, and dramas being crafted today. These themes did not necessarily originate in The Long Halloween, but Loeb and Sale's work demonstrates clearly how a Batman story can be used to explore complex and layered concepts and key aspects of the human condition.

The corruption of “good men,” especially civil servants, and the debate if the ends justify the means, specifically when it comes to matters of crime, murder, and injustice, are still extremely present in the cultural zeitgeist of today. From the inspiration offered by The Long Halloween, Nolan’s The Dark Knight film gave us a Harvey Dent who claimed, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” It’s a line of dialogue that, even though it never appeared in the graphic novel, feels like it belongs within those pages; it is a phrase that has perhaps even more meaning now than it did when the film was released in 2008. Whether considering the ethics of immigration bans, drone warfare, the death penalty, or one of the hundreds of other complex and controversial methods we use to protect citizens and administer justice, we live in a world where we are constantly juggling a deadly duality that asks us how much of a price we’re willing to pay. How many lives do we lay down in order to protect the majority? How many rights do we give up in order to “guarantee” our safety? Just how much of ourselves are we willing to scorch in order to save the rest?


Further Points of Interest:

- Loeb has stated that the alliance between Gordon, Dent, and Batman was inspired by The Beatles. Here’s a quote from interview with Loeb featured in the Absolute Edition of Batman: The Long Halloween:

“That spark I got from watching the BEATLES ANTHOLOGY documentary - I was fascinated by the idea that here were four young men who were as close as could be, and because one of them turned away - put very simply, because John left with Yoko - it destroyed them. I looked at Harvey and Bruce and Gordon and Batman - I tend to think of Batman and Bruce as separate characters - and the creation of Two-Face seemed like an important turning point in Batman’s life. So the Beatles of it all became part of the backbone of the story.”

- Gilda Dent refers to her husband as “Apollo,” and it has been speculated that this is a possible reference to the Harvey Apollo character who became Two-Face in the 1940s Batman newspaper comic strip.

- The Long Halloween, in addition to the one mentioned previously, won the following awards:

Eisner Award - Best Graphic Album Reprint (1999)
Wizard Award - Best One-Shot or Mini-Series
CBG Fan Award - Favorite Limited Series
Diamond Gem Award - Reprint Trade Paperback/Hardcover of the Year

IGN also ranked The Long Halloween as fourth on their list of the 25 best Batman graphic novels of all time.

 

 

1 Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, Absolute Batman The Long Halloween HC (New York: DC Comics, 2007), 392.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 March 2018 05:33

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