BATMAN:THE LONG HALLOWEEN (1996)
Written by Jeph Loeb, Illustrated by Tim Sale
This ode to Frank Miller's "Year One", itself a noir take on Batman's early career, provides a note-perfect genre piece that should thrill anyone looking for a Batman whodunit. The story has Batman, early in his career, taking on the mob and a serial killer who strikes on holidays. The story is drum tight through thirteen issues (350+ pages), set from Halloween to Halloween, with a poetic pacing and use of graphic tension found only in top-notch graphic novels. Harvey Dent is heavily featured along with a young Jim Gordon. For Batman scholars, Dent's presence alone provides a backdrop of foreboding.
The usual rogue's gallery weaves through the book, including a jealous Joker, out to outdo the serial killer, a cornered, yet elegantly neurotic Riddler, and a wildly abstracted, sensual Poison Ivy, along with a little more mind-altering mayhem from the Scarecrow and Mad Hatter.
What I appreciated most about Jeph Loeb's telling is that the criminals are reduced to their elemental symbols, where a gesture or a glance conveys as much as a panel of narrated text. The clues are perfect red herrings in the grand whodunit fashion. Fans of Batman know bad things are going to happen when a stranger passes a rose to a character who then pricks their finger on its thorns. Similarly, even a hardened Gotham detective shudders upon seeing a murder victim with a smile on his face. My only misgiving about this book is that if a reader wasn't acquainted with Batman and the usual Arkham cast, the subtletly of this telling will almost certainly be missed. On the other hand, this'll be a great place to start an education.
Tim Sale's art is compelling. Noir's a difficult effect to convey in comics, and it comes through beautifully in a shadowy, mostly gray and earth tone palette behind strong inking. This cool, muted ground provides the perfect foil against which to contrast the costumed villains, ratcheting up the tension another notch.
For a comprehensive site about ''The Long Halloween'' visithttp://www.vacuumboy9.com/tlh/ .