Oh, I’ve been waiting eagerly for this. Ever since I picked up this book and The Long Halloween at the most glorious of comic book stores I’ve ever seen – which you can find in Times Square, New York, if you’re ever on holiday there – and ever since I bought the sequels, Dark Victory and Catwoman: When In Rome, I have been dying to read these. This collection of three stories that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale worked on during their stay under editor of Legends of the Dark Knight, Archie Goodwin, is actually a disappointing start, I must admit. Not terrible or anything, but compare the writing and art of this collection with their following work together, even just by skimming through a few pages, and you’ll see how much they improve.
The art especially just isn’t as incredible as it looks in The Long Halloween, next on my reading list. This is for two reasons, I think. First of all, Tim Sale notably changes his style in a small but significant way between here and his first “epic” with Loeb: by shrouding practically every page and panel in black, he creates a high contrast between characters and their backgrounds, between light and dark scenes, and so on, which looks bloody amazing. Likewise, he appears to use a lot more empty backgrounds where he can, another thing that looks amazing. Here, instead, he hardly ever uses empty backgrounds – they’re far more detailed. Likewise, the pages are consistently very colourful, leading to reason two. Although Gregory Wright, the colourist, would work with Sale again on the next three graphic novels, his colouring is a lot better there – more dark, less light. Of course, you might argue that the story’s collected here are more light-hearted than the tragedy of Harvey Dent that follows, and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, stories with humour or not, I can’t ignore the fact that something seems off about the artwork compared to the noir look that comes next.
Still, like I said, it’s not terrible. In fact, there is some downright unforgettable art on display here. From terrifying depictions of Batman to open the book, to what’s possibly my favourite reveal of the Joker ever, the book has no shortage of amazing scenes and Sale illustrates many of them wonderfully. No doubt I’ll want to talk about every page of his once I finish the Harvey Dent origin story, but suffice it say: this guy has style like no other. The closest comparison to another artist I can think of is Frank Miller, but that isn’t really fair because, as you can see in this image of Poison Ivy, Sale has a very unique and identifiable approach to his character design. Probably the most unusual, though you can’t see it in the Joker reveal of all Joker reveals, is the way he draws everyone’s favourite villain with these huge piano-like teeth, stretching his iconic grin to something that’s impossible, yet amazing to behold. Hell, Batman’s very own cape seems hugely out of proportion with the man himself; impossibly so, but Sale pulls it off. What I wonder about all this if there are those who look at the art and think it looks terrible to the more realistic work of other artists, especially in Batman of all things. There most surely is, but I don’t personally see anything wrong with it. In fact, as of The Long Halloween onward, I bet Tim Sale will find himself as part of my list of favourite artists. Not that I have an actual physical list, mind you, but he will be an artist I’ll no doubt buy future books for alone.
It’s funny how that turned from a criticism of his art in this collection to all out praise, isn’t it? I guess that says something about this book because I have a similar thing to say about Jeph Loeb. Simply compare the quality of the writing here to what he does next, and you can spot the difference as well. Although there’s some moments I consider to be funny or playful on the Batman universe, like Commissioner Gordon inviting Batman to Bruce Wayne’s costume party, dressed as himself, the writing is as inconsistent as the art. The dialogue itself isn’t completely bad either, especially for the more unusual villains like Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter. It’s really just the story’s themselves that aren’t particularly complex or interesting in any big way, which is disappointing in hindsight of how complex The Long Halloween apparently is.
These are fun stories at the end of the day, but nothing more. The first’s been explored enough times, and the other two are simply interesting ideas done in over-the-top ways. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Loeb’s inspiration, besides the likes of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol for the last story, is older Batman comics, the ones part of that era typically called the Silver Age. Perhaps for readers who enjoy their crazy stories, this is worth a purchase. And I think it’s worth a purchase too, not even as a fan of those old comics, but only if you can get it at a cheap price. Sadly, out of all the books I could have bought from that Times Square comic book store, I think this is one I could have bought cheaper through Amazon, and picked up a different book in its place at the time.
But at least The Long Halloween is the other book I picked up. That, Dark Victory and Catwoman: When In Rome seem guaranteed to be stories that I’ll love. Indeed, I may cry if they’re not. The first two are the thickest books I’ve read yet as part of this blog, so I might actually split them into separate parts unless I can do a decent job summing them up. After all this, I think that I am indeed going to read Hush, Jeph Loeb’s other long Batman story with the art of Jim Lee, and after that finally move onto Grant Morrison’s long run. Or maybe I’ll take a break from Batman and read something else. Incidentally, a few more books that were supposed to have arrived have now done so, and I may have hilariously ordered some more. In the time it’ll take me to completely read The Long Halloween, I might actually write a post about those new books, so: until then.