TLH3

As we enter the festive period in The Long Halloween (making this two years in a row that Shelfdust has had a Joker-filled Christmastime, oh dear), we find the story liberally hijacked by Batman’s most famous villain. The issue starts with him finding out about the Holiday killings, and it’s his reaction to it that informs most of what happens in the rest of the pages. By starting with Joker and then cutting to Batman, the issue makes one thing clear – Batman is still quite a few steps behind what’s really going on here.

Literally, in one case, as he tracks down rival gangster Maroni only to find that Joker was there only a few minutes ago. As Batman begins Maroni’s second terrifying interrogation experience of the evening, it’s clear that this is not the unbeatable Caped Crusader of later stories. He may still be calm and clear, but he’s also still developing into his role as he deals with both street-level crime bosses and supervillains alike. Maroni calls him out on it, in fact, calling back to this issue’s central thesis, first brought up in a scene where Jim Gordon and Batman walk through Arkham Asylum.

On the way, Gordon suggests that perhaps it’s Batman’s presence which had led Gotham to fill with supervillains in costumes, each of them with a more troubling history of violence than the last. That’s not exactly an original thought for Batman stories, which have a long legacy of considering whether it’s the presence of an implacable heroic figure in the city which has prompted so many crazy enemies to rise up and rail against him, to try and prove their worth. Bane springs to mind most immediately there, I suppose.

But Batman immediately shuts Gordon down, which is a bit of a disappointing choice for Loeb to take, but a little typical for him. Ideas tend to get thrown out in The Long Halloween at random, with only a handful of them getting given any exploration. It’s as though putting one line of dialogue suggesting Batman is the cause of villainy is enough, and the creative team can sit back with their hands behind their head, safe in the knowledge that their job has been done. It’d be nice to have a little more substance though, and curiously enough that sneaks in with the arrival of The Joker.

The most interesting idea in the comic is the reverse of Gordon’s suggestion – it’s the idea, posited throughout this issue, that it’s actually the villains who have encouraged Gotham to flourish with ever greater and greater crime. The Joker spends this issue wracked with jealousy that he has been supplanted in the pages of the local papers by Holiday, and so he goes on a manhunt through the city in an attempt to find his new rival. In doing so he murders several gangsters, threatens Falcone, beats Harvey Dent and accidentally implicates himself in Holiday’s Christmas shooting. Villainy begets villainy.

Joker’s campaign is deliberately attempting to overshadow Holiday, and it’s to the credit of the script that he doesn’t manage to do so. The issue paces things so just as we’re getting wrapped up in Joker’s over-the-top actions, we’re suddenly caught off guard as the page once more drains of colour and Holiday claims his next villain – Falcone’s personal bodyguard, who barely matters to the story at all other than as a reminder that this is Holiday’s story, and Joker is just a bystander here. Joker does show that overpowering nature of the costumed villain throughout the issue, though, breaking into Falcone’s penthouse with consummate ease and threatening who is meant to be one of the featured characters in the story.

That level of autonomy is fascinating. The other characters are playing into a standard noir/gangster style story, with the DA and his team bending all the rules as they pursue enemies who have the upper hand over them – and then off to one side you have the classic Batman villains like Joker and Solomon Grundy, just wandering around and having their own side-stories which only briefly skate into Batman’s orbit. They act as the unpredictable element, even as the creative team seem to be running a “guest star of the week” sort of gig. We know that Holiday, Falcone, Dent and Batman are the core of this story and will be featured as the end-game for Loeb and Sale’s story, but throughout we get these reminders that supervillains are and will always be a part of that same world.

As part of that, the issue introduces us to a revamped version of Julian Day, The Calendar Man. It’s a version of the character which stuck, again vamping off established media in order to give the reader something recognisable to connect to Calendar Man moving forward. There’s a clear hatful of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter liberally dumped onto what had been a fairly silly character, and it results in a still fairly silly but fun villain. Again, this is an idea which is thrown out with no immediate point (Batman says a few words to Calendar Man and then walks off, bored, rendering the entire three/four page sequence a bit irrelevant) but I suppose people would’ve been upset if the character hadn’t been used in this holiday-themed murder mystery.

One thing gets raised which does help remove some of that “guest star” predictability which might have otherwise overtaken the series: the idea that Batman has had it easy with his first few months. There’s an obvious ‘main’ holiday in October, November and December – but as they head into the New Year, there are going to be several holidays each month, and Batman’s going to have to work overtime to make sure he covers all of them.

The idea that the central three heroes are exhausted is key to The Long Halloween, and it’s unsettling to know that their next case lies only one week away from today. So with that said…

See you at New Year’s Eve!

Batman The Long Halloween #3: Christmas
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale
Colours by Gregory Wright
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft

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