Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Batman: The Long Halloween Part One
"For fans there's a lot to pick up on, but even casual audiences will be able to keep up."

The Long Halloween is another instalment of DC's Animated Universe, drawing from the rich tradition of retellings that inform Bat-history. A continuation of Batman: Year One, this is a Bat-man in transition. Despite his origin in Detective Comics, this is a caped crusader more of the shadows than solutions.

The opening title includes what's easily seen as homage to the painted title cards of Batman: The Animated Series. The work done by Bruce Timm et al possibly did more to reconcile the Batmen of West and Keaton than anything subsequent, striking a balance between the character created by Kane and Finger and the reimaginings by Frank Miller that bookended Batman's career. 1986's Batman Returns (DC animated in two parts in 2012) had his retirement, and 1987's Batman: Year One had his origin.

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All of them have left signals visible in subsequent Bat-media, from the Nolan-verse to the Snyder cut and everywhere in between. There are nods to all of them in The Long Halloween, from mentions that might have you beetling off to look things up and shades of blue that recall the colour Lynn Varley brought to Miller's inks.

There are a lot of influences here - Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale crafted the original 13-issue limited series, but four others are credited with character design here. Tim Sheridan also wrote Reign Of The Supermen, and there's the same mixture of reference and irreverence here. The characterisation of Alfred is particularly droll, he may be a background character but he does not disappear into it. The opening sequence features a number of distinct art styles. While the bulk of the action is in a form reminiscent of the Animated Series, it's more detailed, more given to light and shadow. The actual processes of animation are more easily achieved, but there's a classic feel to this - that slight separation of animated entities from painted backgrounds, detail and delight.

This is a Gotham of giants, verticality and vertigo. Bloody too, animated yes but earning a rating as a 15. Not from language alone, there is violence, and early, and bloody. It's got a certain datelessness in other places, for all that there's a Bat-computer in the Bat-cave and, as is traditional, a turbine and fins upon the Bat-mobile, phones are rotary, not mobile. Anachronism abounds (as the Joker says, "spoiler alert!") but so what?

On Hallowe'en, and then holidays subsequent, figures connected to the Falcone crime family are murdered. This is a transitional Gotham, where the trio of Captain James Gordon (Billy Burke), District Attorney Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel), and Batman (Jensen Ackles) have been making life hard for organised crime. In the disruption to the city's criminal ecology strange fauna are finding themselves. From Catwoman (the late Naya Rivera, to whom this film is dedicated) to the Joker (Troy Baker) through more obscure figures like Calendar Man (David Dastmalchian) villains rise to meet these vigilantes.

Director Chris Palmer is an animation veteran, this is his second (and by extension third) feature credit as director. He also helmed Superman: Man Of Tomorrow, and sixteen episodes of the Netflix Voltron reboot. He's got a good eye, and this feels right.

Though that 'rightness' is part and parcel of that 'comic books are not just for kids any more'. A bit of digging on my part suggests the phrase appeared in print as far back as 9 September 1976, and, well, that was a while ago. Here the notion of 'adult' includes a bit of swearing, plenty of the old kroovy, and a catsuit on Catwoman that probably required both an aeronautical engineer and a seamstress used to wearing goggles. That 'mature' is too often concerned with 'has swearing' than 'has ideas' is an issue comics have been dealing with since Frank Miller at least.

There's a lot going on - not too much to follow. While this Batman never thought he would need to be a detective, audiences have enough to keep up with the revelations. Even those that come after the credits. There's a lot of elements to this continuity. However frequently reimagined, Bat-fans will see a familiar pattern. When the Long Halloween was first published the Batman had been flitting about for 57 years. The date of 1939 appears early in the title sequence on a bridge, doubly keystone. Now as we push past 82 years there's room for other versions of the character again and again.

A different Batman begins, then, and takes us with him. There's origin here of a lot, and more to come. Though as with Joker there's at least one scene where it's informative to count bullets, and that's before we get to other snub-nosed nods to crime's clown-prince previous. For fans there's a lot to pick up on, but even casual audiences will be able to keep up. The central mystery, the identity of the holiday killer, isn't solved. How that mystery is preserved, however, still makes for a satisfying (if gory) end to the act.

Released straight to 'video', as steelbook Blu-Ray and a day later as download, this is easy to get ones hands on, and worth doing so. Even knowing where it's going I am looking forward to the second part, and that's always a mark of a good adaptation.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2021
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Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One packshot
Batman forms a pact with the police captain and district attorney in a bid to take down the head of a crime family... only to find he is also dealing with a serial killer.

Director: Chris Palmer

Writer: Jeph Loeb, Tim Sheridan, Tim Sheridan

Starring: Jensen Ackles, Josh Duhamel, Jack Quaid, Titus Welliver, Troy Baker, Amy Landecker, Billy Burke, David Dastmalchian, Naya Rivera, Fred Tatasciore, Jim Pirri, Alastair Duncan, Greg Chun, Julie Nathanson, Gary LeRoi Gray

Year: 2021

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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If you like this, try:

Batman Begins
Batman Returns