One of the best Batman murder mysteries get its own animated movie that faithfully recreates the original graphic novel… with a few twists.
If you ask any comic book lover what their favorite Batman story is, they will, without hesitation, say The Dark Knight Returns. Some may also cite Frank Miller’s other seminal work, Batman: Year One. They might add in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke if they’re also Joker fans. It’s only after mentioning these — and maybe also Death in the Family, Knightfall, or even Hush — that they’ll finally get around to mentioning The Long Halloween.
As a Batman fan myself, I find this is puzzling. Not only is Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s miniseries considered the definitive Batman as a detective story, it has done as much – if not more – to shape the Caped Crusader as he exists in comics, movies, and cartoons today. Even Christopher Nolan and Matt Reeves both cite The Long Halloween as their primary inspiration for The Dark Knight Trilogy and The Batman respectively. Nevertheless, compared to other Batman tales, it’s treated as an afterthought.
So having already adapting most of Batman’s classic and modern day comic book arcs, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation have finally produced a direct-to-video two-part adaptation of Batman: The Long Halloween, with “Part One” covering the first four issues of the original thirteen part series. In doing so, director Chris Palmer and screenwriter Tim Sheridan have created one of the more faithful comic-to-screen adaptations the studio has ever done.
A classic Batman whodunit that mostly pays tribute to its source material
Set sometime after Year One, Bruce Wayne (Jensen Ackles) is still in the early stages of his war against organized crime in Gotham City. As Batman, he, Captain James Gordon (Billy Burke) and newly-elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) have formed a triumvirate to take down Gotham’s number one mob boss, Carmine “The Roman” Falcone (Titus Welliver). Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Naya Rivera) is also interfering with Falcone’s operations for her own reasons, while her flirtations with Batman turn into something more serious. Falcone, meanwhile, is trying maintain his power, while also trying to persuade Bruce into investing in one of his legit businesses.
But on All Hallows’ Eve, Falcone’s nephew, Johnny Vitti, is murdered in his bathtub by a mysterious gun-wielding intruder. The only clues left at the crime scene are the murder weapon, a baby bottle nipple used as a makeshift silencer, and a jack-o’-lantern. However, the murder is only the first in a series of holiday-themed serial killings, as more of Falcone’s mobsters are killed on Thanksgiving, then on Christmas, and then on New Year’s Day.
Naturally, the killer is dubbed “Holiday,” with both sides of the law wanting to know his or her identity. Dent fingers Falcone as Vitti was a potential witness against his uncle. Falcone’s mob suspects a hitman hired by his rival, Sal Maroni (Jim Pirri). Batman, however, becomes increasingly worried that Harvey himself might be the killer. Then there’s the Joker (Troy Baker), who out of jealousy, hunts down Holiday himself while going on a killing spree of his own.
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One mostly keeps much of the source material intact. What’s been left out are scenes from the first issue, which the film instead shows as a credit montage, some of which uses Tim Sale’s actual panels. While this does get right to the first Holiday murder without wasting any time, it doesn’t do as effective of a job establishing the current state of Gotham or its colorful characters as it should. Not to mention, the passage of time between the different holidays, particularly between Halloween and Thanksgiving, isn’t made very clear save for some lines of dialogue.
That said, there are new scenes which better highlight how the fight against crime in Gotham is having a damaging effect on familial relationships, particularly between Harvey and his wife, Gilda (Julie Nathanson), and between Falcone and his son Alberto (Jack Quaid). There’s also a greater emphasis on action, like Batman and Catwoman’s rooftop chase, or Batman’s fight with three gang members in Gotham’s Chinatown. Also, for those who read the graphic novel as thus know who Holiday is, think again! The last three minutes pulls a surprisingly blood-soaked curve ball that, while maintaining the original plot points, also makes clear that Holiday’s true identity has been radically altered.
It’s also easier to spot the cinematic influences which shaped Loeb and Sale’s original story, too. Film-savvy viewers will see direct parallels with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Batman and Catwoman’s growing sexual tension and the Dent’s escalating troubled marriage feel like subplots taken from an Alfred Hitchcock flick. Batman and Gordon’s interrogation of Calendar Man (David Dastmalchian) – which is just as fantastic as it was in the original comic – could easily pass for a conversation with Hannibal Lecter. And, of course, it borrows a lot from other Batman outings, especially Batman: The Animated Series.
What the movie doesn’t fully recapture, unfortunately, is Tim Sale’s unique art style. While the animation itself is fluid and crisp with strategic uses of lighting and shadow, it doesn’t quite have the same gritty, harsh, film noir atmosphere from the original graphic novel. Nevertheless, some of the character designs, save for Batman and Catwoman’s, echo Sale’s own. Some key moments are also directly lifted from the page, though the actual murders, drawn in black and white with splashes of red in the comic, are done in color instead.
The Long Halloween’s real strength, however, lies with its voice actors. Fifteen seasons playing Dean Winchester on Supernatural makes Ackles an ideal choice for a Dark Knight who knows how to be a tough guy but still has plenty to learn about being a detective. Rivera, in one of her last roles before her own tragic death, is pitch perfect as the voice of the feline femme fatale. Duhamel’s Dent radiates charm and confidence, but also the unsteady rag boiling underneath, just one of many early indications of the villain he’s destined to become. Nathanson, meanwhile, voices Gilda as a woman on the verge of falling apart. And Baker’s Joker sounds so much like Mark Hamill, I had to double check the credits.
Those who are already familiar with the Dark Knight, particularly Batman: Year One, will definitely appreciate Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One. But even causal fans will enjoy seeing Batman taking part in a classic “whodunit” murder mystery. While the story as a whole is still dependent on how well Part 2 does, this sure makes for an impressive first act.
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is Rated PG-13 (for violence, bloody images, language, and some smoking) and is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital. Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two releases on digital July 27, 2021, and on DVD and Blu-Ray August 10, 2021.