09 September 2008

Faster than a DC Bullet, Issue #4: Batman: The Long Halloween

Comic trade paperback, ~368 pages
Published 1999 (contents: 1996-97)

Borrowed from a friend
Read August 2008
Batman: The Long Halloween

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Colors: Gregory Wright
Letters: Richard Starkings

DC Universe Timeline: Twelve Years Ago
Real World Timeline: 1987-88?

(Much like the same authors' Superman For All Seasons, this could pretty much be set at any time. In the DC Universe, it follows on the heels of Batman: Year One, covering eighteen months in Batman's early career, from June to December of the following year. I'm uncertain how much time has passed since Year One because I don't have that book on hand anymore.)

You know, there's this thing about Batman. There are a lot of people out there who like Batman more than they like Superman. And I'm actually okay with that, because I know that when it comes down to it, Superman could beat Batman in a fight so easily, and that's what matters most of all when you're talking about superheroes. What I'm not okay with is their reasons. "Batman is more realistic than Superman." Or "Batman is more relateable than Superman."

Excuse me, what?

Who on Earth can relate to a man who saw his parents brutally gunned down in an alley when he was eight years old, spent his young adult life traveling the world and being trained by the greatest masters of martial arts, science, and awesomeness, and now uses his billionaire wealth and mega-corporation to fight crime in the alleys of Gotham City dressed up as a giant bat? He's nothing like anything anyone has ever experienced! Superman, on the other hand, is an ordinary decent person who woke up one day to find out he could fly. And shoot lasers out of his eyes. Incredible unrealistic in a sense, but-- you could be Superman. You could not be Batman.

As more more realistic? I think Batman's lack of superpowers make him less realistic, not more. Superman's powers come from a yellow sun and his Kryptonian heritage; if you happened to have that, you could do all of the things Superman does. Batman has got no excuse for the fact that he can do all of these amazing things. He just can. And no matter how much you or I trained, no matter how much we hung out with Liam Neeson in the mountains of Tibet, we could not be Batman.

This, I think, is the fundamental root of my problem with the Batman comics I have read so far in this incredibly drawn-out blogging series. (I mean, one comic a month? How hard can this be?) The Superman we see in Superman For All Seasons is a guy we can relate to, as I hammered home in that review again and again. Even the one in Birthright fairs pretty all right. But Batman... he's never really depicted as a character. He's just there, this force of nature that spends all his time disappearing mid-conversation with Commissioner Gordon and kicking people in the face. You never get a feeling that he's an actual person, a man with struggles and difficulties and problems.

Except for once. In chapters 8 and 9 of The Long Halloween, which take place on Mother's Day and Father's Day, respectively, Batman's long, drawn-out hunt for the serial killer known only as "Holiday" is paralleled with his youthful memories of his parents. Of course, Batman does everything he does as part of some almost insane devotion to his long-dead ancestors. And here, that really comes through-- you feel that when Batman's failed, he's not just failed himself, he's failed his mom and his dad. And for a man who's spent his entire life making up to them, that's a pretty crushing blow. For once in the book, you know what it is to be Batman. And these chapters were my favorite parts of the story.

Not that the rest of it is terrible. But... what it seems to come down to in the end with this, just like Batman: Year One is... it's not as good as Batman Begins/The Dark Knight. Everything this comic does, those movies do better. In them, Batman does feel like a person you can relate to and understand. His actions really do feel like a struggle. I think that's because the movies use his supporting cast, especially Alfred, much more effectively. In this comic, much like Year One, Alfred is a two-scene nonentity with no real impact. And I think Dent's descent into Two-Face was much more effectively handled in the films-- the coin thing feels incredibly random here, as it's scarcely mentioned before he goes evil. In the movie, it's an integral part of his personality from the beginning.

Of course, not being as good as Christopher Nolan's Batman films is hardly the worst criticism you can give something.

This comic is good. It's got some problems-- most of the time, it feels like our protagonists are just standing around waiting for Holiday to kill someone else. Which I suppose might happen with real serial killers, but it makes for dull reading at times. The final solution as to who Holiday is is at first a cheat and then just muddled. But aside from that, the story is decent enough.

Most of the supporting characters are well-handled, especially the members of Batman's Rogue Gallery. I really like how the Joker, the Mad Hatter, Solomon Grundy, and the Scarecrow were handled. I really liked how the Riddler was handled, which is surprising, as I usually find his character pretty stupid. Catwoman confused me more than anything else: in Year One Selina Kyle's a prostitute, in this story she's part of Bruce Wayne's social circle. The gangster stuff was very well done, too, and probably some of my favorite parts-- another area where these comics obviously infuenced the Nolan films.

Jim Gordon continues to be awesome. Actually, I really like the stuff with the GCPD in general; Wikipedia tells me they got their own comic book series called Gotham Central, and I mean to check it out someday. This small group of people in their enternally-losing battle can't help but be appealing.

Tim Sale's art, of course, is fantastic, aside from the occasional panel where Batman is somewhat over-muscled. Overall: it was decent, but the lack of real character in Bruce Wayne/Batman prevents it from becoming great. Not so much a mixed bag as just... average.

Note that this originally appeared on my old LiveJournal and included pictures back then. Sadly, the pictures are lost in the mists of the Internet.

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