TLH2

Holidays are all about families being brought together, spending time with their loved ones as they continue on established traditions that have been with us for centuries, or at least since Coca Cola invented them. The Long Halloween’s greatest secret pleasure is in subverting that ideal, instead using the holidays as an opportunity to break families apart and show how changing traditions cause nothing but strife.

If you take the comic as having two sides – you can see why it might, given one of the main characters – then we have the heroes and we have the villains. The villains are mobsters, the definition of family values in American fiction. As depicted in countless movies and television shows, mobsters consider their entire extended team to be a family, who look after one another and treat each other as brothers and sisters. This series, which leans heavily on the idea that you’ve seen The Godfather at some point, is no different. Carmine Falcone has what he believes to be a noble idea of family, and is hell-bent on ensuring that the traditions of the Falcone crime family continue on as they ever have.

This issue sees him calming down the mother of the gangster who was killed last issue, distracting her with discussion of Thanksgiving meals and cooking. He wants everything to feel normal and routine, which is why he’s pushing so hard on the idea of the holidays being important: they’re a time for a family to regroup and come together, which is just what he thinks they need after being targeted by an unknown assassin. As this series goes on, it’s morbidly entertaining to see the characters wise up to what the Holiday killer is up to, and actively start to dread the arrival of each new family holiday.

The heroes, meanwhile, seem to have been shattered, as part of a gambit by Harvey Dent to try and implicate Falcone in the bombing which ended last issue. Dent is thought to be dead for most of the issue, before he pulls off a face mask and reveals he was there the whole time. His dedication to this cause exceeds even that of Jim Gordon and Batman, and those two are missing out hugely because of their personal obsession with bringing justice to the city. As Falcone points the importance of spending time with family during Thanksgiving, the comic makes it clear that Gordon is making a huge mistake by ignoring his family during this time of year.

After referring to the fact he’s at the station during Thanksgiving, Gordon ends the issue by going home to an empty house, his wife presumably driven to distraction by his absence. His family are being split up by the holidays (and the Holiday killer) too, but in a different way to Falcone’s extended friends and family. Likewise, Dent’s pursuit of justice here is proven to be laughably pointless, as he spends time away from his badly-wounded wife in order to fail to pull offan incredibly overcomplicated sting operation on a group of mobsters connected to Falcone. As if to prove the point that Dent’s campaign is full of intent but lacking impact, those mobsters (called “The Irish”) are summarily executed by Holiday at the end of the issue. Gordon and Dent missed Thanksgiving for no good reason at all. If anything, they know less than they did before.

Finally, let’s turn to Batman, who doesn’t have much going on for Thanksgiving anyway. It appears that Bruce Wayne already lost his chance with Selina Kyle back at Halloween, so here we have an issue where he keeps the cowl on the whole time, both in flashback and the present day. The flashback exists purely so the creative team can bring Solomon Grundy into the story for a bit, as Batman chance-encounters the guy whilst pursuing one of The Irish through a sewer. That does lead Batman to return to the sewer at the end of the issue, though, as he chooses to bring a meal to his adversary. It’s nice to see a few shades of grey in operation here, even if they’re offered in a hugely basic manner.

Part of the long-form nature of this particular comic (which runs in ‘real time’ so to speak, publishing a 13-issue story across a real-world year span) is that you get to see Gotham react to crime in a way that regularly-serialised comics struggle. The death of Johnny Vitti has basically been forgotten now, with the heroes showing very little interest in who killed him – or why. Instead, they’re all focused on Harvey’s house being bombed, because the Holiday killer hasn’t had the chance to become a serial killer yet. Falcone is still the goal, and the high stakes adventure of last issue have been replaced by more procedural attempts to take down “The Roman”. We’re only in the second issue and already we’re getting some down-time, which is actually completely fascinating.

With few super-villains out there to fight, Solomon Grundys aside, Batman has to plan more detective than Dark Knight. He doesn’t have any need to wear giant suits or arrange complex plans – his goal here is to take down a crime family, while staying somewhat on the right side of the law. All told, it’s pretty low-key stuff for him, and seeing the character command an interrogation scene with Gordon is some of the most entertaining Batman material to have been published. By jumping way back in time, this series allows us to see a halcyon time when Gordon, Dent and Bat were all still on the same page, breaking down crimes together and trying to establish justice in Gotham City.

So really, when I talk about holidays being a time for families, and for traditions being formed – all three of them are actually in exactly the right place. They are the family they need, and that’s precisely what makes The Long Halloween to compelling as a long-form tragedy. Even as we see Batman establish relationships that’ll be hugely important for him… we know that the holidays are eventually going to take that partnership away from him.

See you at Christmas!

Batman The Long Halloween #2: Thanksgiving
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale
Colours by Gregory Wright
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft

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