By Steve Morris
The story falls apart pretty quickly as we head into the penultimate issue of The Long Halloween, as yearlong character arcs get brushed over very quickly and the story proves to be a lot smaller than expected. With Harvey Dent having gone on the run, you have a really compelling and interesting plot thread in place which seems like it’ll naturally help lead towards a frantic and powerful finale – instead, writer Jeph Loeb decides this is the time to do a whistle-stop tour through his story to date, as Batman meets at random with the various players in the ensemble and asks them “where’s Harv?”
He doesn’t get an answer from any of them, because – and this is pretty obvious to everyone by this point – Harvey Dent isn’t Holiday. The story has done a fairly weak job of establishing anybody as the killer, which is why it’s been so effective as a murder-mystery to this point. Everybody has been under-characterised, somehow, and so anybody could at this point be revealed to be the true killer. There’s no way of knowing until the final page of this issue who the killer really is, not for sure, but Harvey Dent has been set up so inconsistently as the lead suspect that it’s surely clear to most readers that there’s a twist coming here. That’s how murder mysteries work, after all.
And it’s also clear because he shows up at the start of this issue for a few pages, in which he meets Solomon Grundy in the sewers. After briefly getting pushed around (including getting his injured face dunked in sewer-water, yuck) Harvey calms down the monster by finishing the nursery rhyme which is the only thing that Grundy can verbalise. There’s an interesting idea here, as we’ve seen Carmine Falcone spend the whole of this storyline slowly growing closer and closer to the super-villains of Gotham City – and perhaps this might now be evidence that Harvey is starting to see the same connections himself. He’s sympathetic and understanding of Grundy, which the more forceful Harvey Dent of earlier issues would never have considered. He’s starting to slip from his previous conviction, perhaps? This is all we get from him in the entire issue, though, which seems like a huge waste of time. He’s the most compelling figure at this point, so why would a writer choose to hide his thought process from the readers?
In place of character study on Harvey, who DID just murder his doctor for no reason before fleeing the hospital, so you’d think that’d be more of a plot thread, we instead have Batman flitting round Gotham, talking to various people. What’s interesting about this is that Batman only does this as a way of proving himself to Jim Gordon. The trio who dedicated themselves to rooting crime out of Gotham have achieved so little that it’s almost comical, and the reunion here of Gordon and Batman is terse and angry. Jim now firmly believes that Harvey is the Holiday killer… it’s hard to tell, but it seems like Batman disagrees with that theory. He still goes out looking for Harvey on Jim’s orders, though, which shows just how important it is to him that Gordon sees him as an ally. With the DA now on the run, Batman has to prove himself to the Commissioner that he isn’t also going to be corrupted or defeated.
So he heads off and talks to Falcone and Catwoman, neither of whom offer any answers or anything particularly new to the story. In particular, it’s surprising how quickly Catwoman has been shuffled to the sidelines through The Long Halloween. There’s this suggestion that Falcone is her father, but that’s alluded to so quietly that it doesn’t prove to be a point of character for her. She’s just… around, and that’s all there is to it. Likewise, for all that was made of the redesign of Calendar Man and the new approach to his character, he’s had remarkably little to offer to the overall storyline. He’s stood quietly in his cell, ruminating randomly in ways which are designed to look smart but don’t have any impact. He seems like another missed opportunity amongst the ensemble.
Gilda has nothing new to offer, either, which also seems like a waste of character. There’s still something unsettling about her, glassy-eyed and overly innocent, but the creative team have nothing to say about her. It feels like they’ve spent ten issues starting to tell stories about every one of the characters who appears throughout the series, but they haven’t thought about what arc any of them are meant to go on. So rather than get stories with the characters, we get an opening idea which is repeated every issue without developing further. Falcone is the only one to have some sense of direction, but the reveal at the end might change things around for him too.
Because we learn that Alberto Falcone is Holiday. He’s the one who killed everyone around Carmine. As soon as you see him revealed at the end of the issue, it entirely makes sense that he’d be the killer. He’s only picked off people who are ostensibly rivals to Falcone, to the extent that he’s completely destroyed the Maroni crime organisation. He’s the right choice for the killer, and you can see how he’d weave his way through the story and pick off the various characters he’s been able to assassinate each month. In essence, his unveiling shows the shortcomings of the Dent-Gordon-Bat trio. They went round in circles for a whole year without coming close to identifying the killer, and their entire operation was undone simply by paranoia.
That’s what helps redeem The Long Halloween. A lot of the story falls massively short of the target, but it chooses the right murderer to be at the heart of its mystery story. If you can have the mystery reveal make sense, then you can overwrite a lot of concerns about storytelling choices up to that point. The worry is, however, that we only have one more issue to go, and we’ve yet to have any understanding of Harvey Dent’s new place in the world. He seems to have gone off the rails purely as a distraction from the reveal of Alberto, and it’s hard to see how he’ll be wrapped back into the overall narrative as we reach an end.
It’s a shame, because the reveal is right but everything leading up to it is so underwhelming and unsatisfying. Even Maroni’s assassination at the end feels like an afterthought; just a way for Alberto to wrap up and hit his yearly target. We have a yearly target right here on Shelfdust, though, and we’ve got one more month before we’ll be able to say that it’s been seen through to the end.
So with that in mind – see you for Halloween as we wrap up this whole saga!
Batman The Long Halloween #12: Labor Day
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale
Colours by Gregory Wright
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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