Dave Galanter
December 1st 1969 - December 12th 2020
He was loved.

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Member Since: Sat May 17, 2008
Posts: 1,431
Subj: Negative Review of LONG HALLOWEEN
Posted: Fri Jun 04, 2021 at 01:29:09 pm EDT (Viewed 144 times)

Call me a negative nelly, but sometimes I love when sacred cows are skewered!

Here is a great review:

The Long Halloween is a highly regarded Batman saga which helped establish Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale as an IT pairing in comicdom. Mixing brooding psychological insight, with film noire archetypes of gangsters, plus various super villains, while also re-telling the tragic origin of Two-Face, The Long Halloween is regarded as something of a modern classic.

If only it were so.

Why mince words? The Long Halloween is a thinly plotted, occasionally illogical, exercise in style over substance, where even the "characterization" is wanting. Stranger still, it's a mystery which, like with Hush, doesn't make a whole lot of sense, offers almost no clues, and which, when resolved, leaves you more puzzled than you were to begin with.

It's a "mystery" in which Batman and his colleagues seem to do almost no actual investigating -- there are no clues to be sifted, no alibis to be verified. Mid-way through the series the characters recap what they know -- and you realize there's been almost no progression since the first issue! As well, Loeb just seems to pick things up and drop them willy nilly. The Riddler appears in an issue and sees something, then disappears from the story. Next to nothing is said about him for the next few issues, until Batman suddenly tracks him down in a bar, determined he saw something relevant. Huh? If the Riddler had a relevant clue, why didn't Batman track him down earlier -- why wait 4 chapters (and, in Batman's time, four whole months!) before pursuing the matter? Worse...the Riddler doesn't offer much that was relevant -- save a cryptic line that, perhaps, Loeb saw as a clue. But in order for it to work, we need to believe in it, we need to understand how the Riddler knew -- or inferred -- what he knew. There's another sequence -- irrelevant to the main case -- where the Roman hires some super villains to knock over a bank and Batman instantly concludes the Roman is behind it -- but why?

Another example of illogical plotting is a sub-plot wherein Harvey Dent suspects Bruce Wayne is connected to the Roman, and pursues it to the point where Bruce is actually arrested and put on trial -- except it's never explained with what "crime" Bruce is being charged! It's preposterous!!! Of course, comics writers have long been notorious for their inability to understand the law. (And, as if Loeb himself realized it made no sense, after threading it through a number of issues, he drops it with just a single line!)

When you get to the end of the saga, I'll admit Loeb surprised me a little bit...but partly that's because Loeb, well, cheats. It's impossible to anticipate who Holiday is because even by the end it's unclear. In the final chapter, no less than three people are identified as Holiday, and it's unclear if one or more is lying, or which murders the various Holidays committed -- since even the confessions require the confessors to infer things of which they have no direct knowledge. Though maybe that was deliberate, as Loeb and Sale did a sequel mini-series, Dark Victory, and so maybe they wanted a deliberately vague ending.

If some of this sounds familiar, it's because Loeb pulled something similar in Hush. In fact, Loeb even uses a similar red herring to throw us off one of the alleged killers.

Loeb also fails to realize his reality -- which is a Gotham almost completely under the thumb of the Roman. Maybe because this was intended as a sequel to Batman: Year One, Loeb felt he didn't need to re-establish that premise. But here we see the Roman involved in very little criminal activity, making the heroes' driving obsession with bringing him down without context. In fact it's ironic that the story is meant to follow on the heels of Batman: Year One (in which the Roman was introduced), yet in other ways doesn't gel with it -- in Year One, Selina Kyle (Catwoman) was a prostitute, here she's a society debutante; in Year One, Gotham was rife with police corruption, here, there's barely a hint of that.

And as for character? Well, there's not a lot. Batman isn't a man -- a complex, three dimensional human -- in a bat suit, he's "Batman", a grim super hero, with about as many character nuances as a brick. Likewise, Jim Gordon is pretty thinly drawn, as are the mobsters (mobster Maroni's motivation is particularly inconsistent). I sort of liked Loeb's take on Catwoman as more a playful, happy-go-lucky figure (though I'm not sure that gels with the usual take on her), but even her motivation seems muddy as Batman frequently asks why she's doing what she's doing or whose side is she on and she responds with some coyly ambiguous quip. I've like Loeb's dialogue before (moreso than his plotting which is often thin and illogical) but here, some of the lines are meant to be heavy on portentousness, as the dialogue is driven by the themes and scenes, not by the characters. In fact, occasionally Loeb throws in lines that frequently hint at something to come...that never does come.

Which leaves Harvey Dent, who's transformation into Two-Face is re-told here. And even he isn't particularly well defined. He's supposed to be obsessively determined to end crime, but we get no insight into why, what drives him, nor is it even consistent (in one scene, an aide comes to him with information, and Harvey brushes him off, saying it'll wait until morning...not quite the actions of a man driving himself to the edge with his obsessive crime busting, is it?) Loeb even ignores dramatizing key scenes...like the moment Harvey starts using his coin to make decisions.

Just a few years before this, Two-Face's origin was re-imagined by Andrew Helfer in Batman Annual #14. Re-reading it recently it's a much better, much smarter, much more character driven, much more plausible story than this 360 page leviathan.

Considering the art in The Long Halloween: I've liked Sale's work before, with his eclectic use of heavy shadow, and his somewhat cartoony figures that are nonetheless vivid and expressive. And it is frequently striking and effective. But Sale loves to indulge in big panels -- frequent splash pages or two page spreads -- of Batman or Catwoman flying through the air. And, you know what? He probably shouldn't. Because I'm not sure Sale really has a firm enough grasp of anatomy to indulge in such extravagances, as his limbs can kind of seem awkward, and he crams in muscle lines that I'm not sure conform to any actual human muscle.

Of course Sale's indulgence in big panels, and Loeb's tendency to write minimally, often with just a few words per panel, results in a book that reads a lot quicker than it should. In fact, in some reviews of the series, fans gushed about how fast it flew by. Well, duh!

I haven't even commented on Loeb's tendency to throw in super villains (as in Hush) but without bothering to really write plots for them. They crop up, Batman beats them up. Period. Nor have I mentioned how Loeb likes to borrow ideas from other sources -- such as a Godfather-like opening at a mob wedding, to Batman consulting an incarcerated Calendar Man for insight into the killer ala Silence of the Lambs (though when did the Calendar Man, who I thought was just a second string villain, became yet another sinister psychopath?).

Oh, sure, I know I can be harsh after just one reading, and a second reading might soften my opinion. But when the mystery plot is thin and illogical, when the super hero adventures are barely more than occasional fight scenes, and when the characters seem poorly defined and developed, I don't know what to say.

There are some comics where I'll review it by saying it makes me glad I still read comics...unfortunately, The Long Halloween -- precisely because it's so well regarded by "serious" comics fans (even spawning the sequel, Batman: Dark Victory) and is considered the peak to which the medium should aspire -- actually makes me wonder why I still bother with comics. Ouch. Now that's harsh.

Okay: reassessment-after-a-second-reading time: As often happens, my initial snide passion has defused somewhat. This time I read it almost entirely in one day -- which on one hand, is a compliment to it, on the other hand, reinforces my point about how the big panels and frugality of words makes it a quick read, when you can breeze through a 360 page comic in just a few hours! Little of my above criticisms have changed -- some were even reinforced (even knowing the "solution", I didn't find much in the way of hidden clues or character nuances I missed the first time) -- but, as I did with Hush, if I take it as just a big, dumb, comic book extravaganza where the emphasis is more on the opulent visuals and moody colours, rather than as some serious whodunnit? or profound human drama, it can be more enjoyable. I've given it an extra half star rating and, who knows, maybe after a third or fourth reading I'll boost it again. But it remains frustratingly vapid and insubstantial.

Still, I can always re-read Batman Annual #14.


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