Batman: The Long Halloween – a comic that should be a movie

Feature Rob Leane
2 Jan 2014 - 06:25

With Batfleck set to debut alongside Superman in 2015, Rob reckons The Long Halloween should be the next Batman story to be filmed...

Published by DC between 1996 and 1997, Jeph Loeb’s 13-part Batman series could be the perfect starting point for a new Batman franchise, which is surely something Warner Brothers are hoping for into as they try to build their own cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s.

The tone of this celebrated comic run is known to have influenced Christopher Nolan’s world building in Batman Begins, but the actual plot and structure of the story could be an excellent way to launch a new series with an older, more experienced Batman.

As Warner Brothers looks to re-establish The World’s Greatest Detective (no, not Sherlock) as a seasoned crime-fighter who has been active for several years, a text like this filled with pre-established versions of popular characters could be a unique, attention-grabbing way to reintroduce Gotham to the screen without the need to rehash any old plot points or origin stories in the way that garnered so much negativity for The Amazing Spider-Man.

The plot follows a year in the life of The Dark Knight as a string of murders on national holidays leave him stumped and push his detective skills to the limit. The victims are all linked to the Falcone crime family and The Bat is fully submerged into the dark underbelly of Gotham to seek out the killer.

Proudly displaying Batman’s skills of detection would be a welcome change to the Nolanverse where one of the few criticisms was the fact that Batman’s espionage attempts mainly included punching people in the face and shouting questions at them. A chapter near the end where Batman is undercover as a prison security guard would be particularly thrilling to watch unfold on the big screen.

Following Batman through this yearlong investigation would also be a welcome change to the usual closing act epic punch-up which is quickly becoming a super-cliché. Batman Versus Superman (featuring Wonder Woman) is sure to be a huge Zack Snyder picture filled with massive fights and unfathomable explosions and in the wake of Man of Steel and Avengers Assemble, a superhero film which plays out more like a gritty detective thriller could really capture audience’s imaginations.

The plot of The Long Halloween also allows for cameos from villains, which could be an effective sounding-board for which characters Warner Brothers could tackle next. In the comic, Batman’s search for the murderer known as Holiday leads him to the Riddler who survived an encounter with the serial killer. Catwoman and Poison Ivy also open the doors for some great female performances and even the Joker appears to attack Gotham Square on New Year’s Eve, distracting Batman from his investigation.

At the same time Harvey Dent, still district attorney and notably one-faced at this point, begins to think that Bruce Wayne might be the killer due to an link between his father and the murder victims, which leads to a court case scene which could allow Affleck some time to prove himself outside of the cowl. Trips to Arkham also allow appearances from enigmatic imprisoned suspect Calendar Man and a break-out attempt by Scarecrow. If Affleck’s Batman has been fighting crime for years, the idea that all these costumed psychopaths exist already would surely be more believable than attempting to reintroduce any villain already established by Nolan.

Potential problems

Despite the presence of all these established villains, there is one villain who gets an origin story in The Long Halloween which would cause problems for a direct adaptation, and that’s Harvey Dent’s transition into Two-Face. Aaron Eckhart’s version of this story in The Dark Knight is still fresh in the memories of movie goers, especially considering that Two-Face’s legacy was a key narrative point in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.

Any attempt at recasting the Two-Face origin story on screen at the time that the next standalone Batman film might hit screens (2017, anyone?) would undoubtedly seem like a rehash compared to the 2008 version. This isn’t a completely unavoidable problem though; there’s a lot crammed into this 369 page comic and the story would still hold up without the Two-Face factor, although more emotion might need to be injected in other areas to make up for it.

A bigger re-casting issue would be the impossible task of finding a new Joker for the New Year’s Eve set piece. Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in his tragic final role is truly iconic and many believe it equals, if not surpasses, Jack Nicholson’s turn in Burton’s Batman. Again, the story could survive without the Joker part but the problem of recasting Batman’s nemesis must be faced by Warner Brothers at some point.

Unlike the Two-Face story, which is overtly similar to the 2008 screen version, the Joker’s appearance in The Long Halloween is relatively short and completely disparate to his archaic appearance in The Dark Knight. This could actually be a chance to fleetingly reintroduce the character without risking the whole movie, where the search for Holiday would be the main story.

With the casting of Affleck as Batman it’s clear that Warner Brothers aren’t afraid of trying different things, which could lead to a better decision than if they simply went looking for someone to do their best Ledger impression. Previous hot rumour for the part Johnny Depp is arguably too similar to Ledger to pull it off in his own unique way, with their similarity highlighted by Depp’s appearance as another side of Ledger’s character’s personality in The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus.

To cast an older Joker who has been battling Bats for years brings two suggestions to mind. Jack Nicholson is one, but returning to a role he played so well in the 80s might not be a wise choice for him at the age of 76. There’s a fine line between an older Joker and an OAP one after all. Mark Hamill is the second name that jumps out, seeing as his run as the go-to voice of The Man Who Laughs in animations and video games (most recently Arkham City) has been a firm fan favourite for years.

One recalls reading an interview with Carrie Fisher saying that JJ Abrams had hired personal trainers to get all the older Star Wars cast members back into shape for the new instalment and if this is true, Hamill (now in his fifties) may finally look the part for a brief screen appearance in the role which has kept him busy post-Jedi. Fans of his earlier audio performances surely couldn’t argue with his credentials. Whoever steps into the clown shoes is sure to come under a mountain of scrutiny though, which might overshadow the movie and put Warner Brothers off the idea.

There is also the small matter of slightly resettling the narrative. Despite the returning villains and established supporting characters, the comic itself is actually a follow-up to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which is set (as you might have guessed) in the early days of The Dark Knight’s crime fighting career, which is why the Joker isn’t behind bars and Two-Face doesn’t yet exist.

It would only take a few changes (such as removing the Two-Face origin as discussed earlier) to resettle the narrative a bit later into Batman’s career. The main bulk of the story, Batman investigating a mysterious killer surrounded by the ongoing threat of his growing rogue’s gallery, would work beautifully as a movie which could establish a new Batman without another screen depiction of his parents’ death.

Will it ever happen?

It’s a complete certainty that Warner Brothers are hoping for an Avengers-sized box office behemoth with Batman Versus Superman, which would inevitably allow them to spin out a new Batman series with Ben Affleck in the cowl. 

Seeing as our new Dark Knight is believed to be a seasoned crime fighter who has been battling baddies in Gotham for many years, they may be looking for a source material which already includes established villains rather than needing to reintroduce them, which would set them back further in trying to set up a wide-scoped shared universe to rival Marvels.

So a story like this is likely to be the next we see of live action Batman after 2015. This writer’s money is on a 2017 release if they manage to negotiate the casting complications listed earlier.

What would you like to see in the next standalone Batman film? Let us know in the comments below!

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