Warning: this article contains spoilers for Batman: The Long Halloween.
With the announcement of an animated two part feature adapting Batman: The Long Halloween to movie format came no small amount of trepidation. You see, The Long Halloween, was based on a Jeph Loeb comic. And like the other Jeph Loeb comics converted to movies (Hush and two Batman/Superman stories), The Long Halloween is a bad comic. But the one glimmer of hope that shone through this announcement for me was that the most recent adaptation of his work – Batman: Hush – was a marked improvement on its source material.
Jeph Loeb can’t write mysteries to save his life.
Jeph Loeb can’t write a lot of things – siblings, crossovers, Asians – but he’s especially bad at writing mysteries. Which is a huge problem when you’re writing Batman, whose core competency, besides being obscenely wealthy, is being really good at solving mysteries.
Hush was a particularly egregious example, one that tends to draw out the detractors, because it was so transparent. The “mystery” behind Hush wasn’t really a mystery at all, it was a lazy misdirection with a resolution that was unearned, unseeded, and left major selling points of the story ::cough cough Jason Todd’s resurrection:: pointlessly unresolved.
Hush had a mysterious new villain wrapped in bandages masterminding an onslaught against Batman by all of his top tier rogues. Eventually he’s revealed to be Tommy Elliot, a retconned old friend of Bruce’s, mad at the Waynes because Tommy tried to kill his parents when he was a kid, and Bruce’s father saved them. Only at the very end, it was revealed that the Riddler was actually the mastermind behind it all, with no warning or preparation or hints that this twist was coming.
The reason Hush endures today is because, prior to his charity fundraising sketches for the BINC Foundation, Hush had the absolute best work of DC Publisher Jim Lee’s career. The watercolor flashbacks in this story are still so good that they render the narrative wholly irrelevant to a reader’s enjoyment of the page. And the one thing Loeb does very well is find extremely talented art partners and then give them an excuse to draw everything that makes a comic character popular. So we got an awesome Jim Lee Joker, and an amazing Jim Lee Clayface, and Jim Lee drawing Poison Ivy brainwashing Superman, and so on.
The same went for Tim Sale earlier in Loeb’s career. The Long Halloween was a 13-issue “mystery” about an early-in-his-career Batman trying to track down a holiday themed killer with the help of Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. Sale gets to draw lots of fun stuff – Joker, an incredible Catwoman design, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Two Face – on his way to a climax that reveals, out of nowhere, that the killer was actually Harvey Dent’s wife, trying to get him to spend more time with her. Most people who weren’t dazzled by Sale’s artwork responded to this twist, which again was seeded nowhere in the prior issues, with a head scratch. But Sale’s art was good enough that the story became a classic, to the point where Matt Reeves is said to be leaning on the story as he puts together The Batman for the big screen.
The reason I’m not dismissing the animated adaptation out of hand is because of the work the DC Animated team did on Hush. That movie dialed back the red herrings and headfakes, and narrowed the focus to the Riddler, so that when the twist hit, you could actually see it coming. A good mystery changes everything that came before in the story by recontextualizing it. It’s not a tacked on shock that invalidates earlier events.
If they can do the same thing with Batman: The Long Halloween, there’s a good chance we get the animated masterpiece that so may people think the comic is.
The animated version of Batman: The Long Halloween will arrive as a two-part event in 2021.