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CSBG Archive

The Reread Reviews — Batman: The Long Halloween

A modern “classic” that inspired some of the key elements in The Dark Knight… well, maybe I agree, maybe I don’t. You’ll have to read to see. There will be spoilers.

This week, I’ll be looking at Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale and, as always, let’s begin with my initial thoughts on the book:

It was competent and did the job, but didn’t really go above and beyond. I’m sure that this was one book that read better monthly in singles where the whole “Who is Holiday?” mystery could keep up the interest. In trade-form, though, it all goes by so fast that it isn’t nearly as engrossing as it should be. As well, the story is so sprawling as far as a cast goes, you never really get a chance to latch onto anyone. We’re supposed to feel for the Dents and I did — but just not as much as I feel I was supposed to. I’ve always thought that mystery stories work best when the narrative perspective is focused on one character — and Batman narrates the story, but we also get scenes that he didn’t witness. Imagine if, during one of Raymond Chandler’s novels, we suddenly got some scenes thrown in that Marlowe wasn’t present for. It would fuck up the story. Now, Loeb does do it consistently enough that it doesn’t become too much of a problem, but it took me out of the story at times. Tim Sale’s art is great and I loved the pages where Harvey Dent is knocked out and Sale’s layout on those pages.

Getting this also gave me a chance to read Steve [Higgins]‘s essay on the identity of Holiday, and he makes a really strong case — one I’d have to agree with — but, as I’ve said before, I’m not the type to care about the solution to a mystery, which could be another reason why this book didn’t wow me. Where other mystery writers can engross you without making the solution of the mystery the only reason to keep reading, I’m not sure Loeb did that. He tried, but didn’t succeed for me.

Steve Higgins, for those who don’t know, is an old friend who began GraphiContent with and we continue to share the blog. Steve is a bit of a Long Halloween fan — at least, big enough of one to have a website devoted to it. There are detailed issue-by-issue plot summaries and notes, plus some essays about the true identity of Holiday, which is left ambiguous purposefully in the book.

I don’t disagree with my comments above; in fact, I’d probably go a bit further after this reading. If this is considered one of the better Batman stories available, then it confirms what I’ve long thought: the major superhero icons may have stuck around for decades, but they have few truly great stories told about them. The Long Halloween is, I’ll grant you, entertaining — in that mindless way where a mediocre mystery is drawn out over 13 issues, filled with smaller stories that mostly go nowhere.

I’ll begin with the Holiday killings since they are at the heart of the premise. I agree with Steve in thinking that Alberto Falcone committed them all and Gilda’s confession is crap. Even though Two-Face says there were two killers and Calendar Man’s switching between gender specific pronouns when discussing Holiday point to Gilda and Alberto being the killers, it doesn’t make sense logically. If Alberto didn’t do the first few killings, why would he suddenly assume the identity of Holiday? There’s no logic there.

Loeb and Sale have never revealed the truth — and that could be, as they say, because they prefer to leave it open for interpretation. Or, it could be, because they spend so much time leaving red herrings that to reveal the truth would mean explaining away all of the loose ends that pop up throughout the comic in an effort to keep a mystery with relatively few clues exciting. Hell, even if you believe the Gilda/Alberto theory, what do you make of Harvey’s hair being wet on New Year’s Eve despite his hat?

The entire story is like that: one mess of “clues” that mostly go nowhere, thrown in just to throw readers off the track. It doesn’t hold together and is sloppy. Over at my blog, I sometimes do a post where I apply Raymond Chandler’s essay “Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story” to comic book mysteries in an effort to see how they hold up to one the 20th century’s greatest mystery/detective fiction writers’ standards. Here’s part of the third note (bolding mine):

It must be honest with the reader. This is always said, but the implications are not realized. Important facts not only must not be concealed, they must not be distorted by false emphasis. Unimportant facts must not be projected in such a way as to make them portentous. (This creation of red herrings and false menace out of trick camera work and mood shots if the typical Hollywood mystery picture cheat.) Inferences from the facts are the detective’s stock in trade; but he should disclose enough to keep the reader’s mind working.

Chandler says it best: what Loeb and Sale do is a cheat. I get the impression that they either had no idea who Holiday was meant to be or they changed their minds partway through — or saw that people were guessing right and decided to throw a few curve balls. Is that the reality? I don’t know and I don’t care, because that’s how it reads. Every goddamn killing is nothing more than trick angles so the identity of the killer is hidden and it gets old. How about when the Riddler sees who Holiday is — but conveniently doesn’t tell anyone?

I could forgive all of these small cheats if the final solution were something spectacular or had that sense of the inevitable that Chandler discusses (that once the murderer is revealed, the reader should smack their heads and shout “Of course! It’s all so obvious now!) and… well, that doesn’t happen here. Granted, that’s a very, very difficult effect to pull off, probably the hardest if you’re also very concerned with keeping as many readers as possible in the dark concerning the murderer’s identity. That focus on the identity of the killer is a major reason why The Long Halloween fails. Yes, you want the mystery to hold until the end, but if you need to pull bullshit swerves and plant false clues to do it, then you’ve lost sight of what matters. And you’re also shit at writing mysteries.

The sad thing is that there is so little to go on with this mystery that the only way to solve it ahead of time is through a lucky guess. The only clues: who is killed. That’s it. There isn’t much else to go on most of the time and it lacks any real sense of drama/interest. I am sure it worked better when serialised monthly, but, as a whole, it falls apart.

The narrative problems really bug me. The manner in which comic stories are told really bug me. If you’re using a first-person narrator, actually write the story in the first person! Writers want to write Batman from the perspective of Batman, but also want to show scenes beyond Batman, and that doesn’t always work. There are no rules, of course, and no one should be limited for the sake of “that’s how things are done,” but this style is so convenient and lazy. It’s one thing if you’re using both first- and third-person perspectives for a specific effect, but Loeb isn’t doing that here. He just wants to be able to write Batman’s narrative captions and show whatever else he feels like. It’s sloppy. (The worst offender I’ve ever seen in this regard is Brad Meltzer in Identity Crisis where he goes through a revolving door of first-person captions for no reason other than just because.)

Detective stories (which this is) work best when written in the first-person. That’s the way it is, because the detective is the main character and who you want your readers to have a connection with. To make the reader interested in the mystery, it helps to show the detective struggling with it — we learn what the detective learns and we feel like we are integral to solving the mystery. Showing events that detective doesn’t witness breaks that connection and turns the story into something else. Now, The Long Halloween is more than a detective story, but its primary function is a mystery. It may be about other things, but the core of it is the mystery — that’s the central event in each issue and what drives the story forward. And the manner in which Loeb writes this series robs it of its power. Say what you will about Brian Azzarello’s Broken City, but it works twenty times better as a detective story because we never leave Batman. It’s written in the first-person, so we only learn information through Batman. Writers think that because comics also have pictures that that doesn’t mean the same rules apply (films have the same problem often), but that’s crap. First-person is first-person is first-person.

So that leads me to ask: why does Batman narrate certain scenes at all? Is it necessary? We learn information about characters and events that way, and provides some insight into his mind, but… is any of that essential? If you rewrote scenes to get rid of his captions, would the book work just as well? I don’t know, but these are questions I can’t help but ask.

There’s a single panel where it becomes blatantly obvious that Loeb has no idea what he’s doing. It’s the single panel in all 13 issues where a thought balloon appears. One panel. One instance. In the entire story. Does that make sense to any of you?

On page 12 of issue four (page 118 of the trade), the Roman is at a New Year’s party and thinks,

WHAT A LOVELY NEST OF VIPERS I’VE SURROUNDED MYSELF WITH…

…IF IT WEREN’T FOR ALBERTO THERE’D BE NOBODY I COULD TRUST…

Part of me wants to give this panel a certain power, to elevate it as an example of brilliance, that, somehow, standing alone, it suggests something more than it really does. But, really, what it suggests is that Jeph Loeb fucked up. One thought balloon in 13 issues. Never used before this panel, never used after. It delivers no useful information other than possibly working later to prove that the Roman and his son thought up the Holiday killings together, but, if so, what does that tell us about Loeb’s skills as a writer that he has to plant that clue in an horribly obvious, blatant manner? This panel stands out. It stopped me dead when I was reading this again. It’s the only panel that stands out to me since it’s an anomaly, something that should not be — it’s a goddamn mistake that points to the shoddy, haphazard construction of this entire book. It’s not a “mistake” that actually makes this work of art better in some way, it’s just an easy-to-point-to example of Loeb’s command of his craft — which is lacking.

Beyond the narrative voice, the story is constructed in a manner that also doesn’t work. The idea of a holiday killer is a good one, but since each issue coincides with one of those killings, the plot stops and starts weeks apart. This wouldn’t be a problem if Loeb would have events happen off-panel, but he refuses to do so. When Dent and Gordon begin suspecting Wayne of being connected to the Falcones around New Year’s, they seem gung-ho on nailing this rich prick, but, because of the story, they don’t actually do anything until Valentine’s Day. They wait a month and a half to even question Wayne? Really?

One positive about the story construction is that Loeb does fill issues with smaller self-contained plots that fit into the larger picture. It becomes a bit too much of a “parade of Batman villains,” but works well, for the most part.

The Long Halloween is more than a mystery story, showing how Gotham shifted from regular corruption to a town run by freaks. Or does it? With Batman and Catwoman in full force at the beginning of the story, and the only Rogue we see for the first time here being Two-Face, where does the shift actually happen? It’s, no doubt, meant to be subtle, but does it actually happen at all here? (Also, if I recall correctly, it was dealt with more explicitly in Dark Victory.) There is a comment or two about the Roman hiring “freaks,” but they’re there from the beginning, so…

One of the main narrative arcs is the story of Harvey Dent and how he eventually becomes Two-Face. While I’ve read criticisms of The Long Halloween, this subplot is rarely the target of any negativity and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. I’ll begin talking it through and we’ll see where I end up, okay?

First, the friendship between Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent. It’s talked about, it’s hinted at, we see them work together, we see them get close to socialising outside of the office, but… do we ever really see any strong proof that these two guys are buddies? Does that pose a problem? Being close at work isn’t the same as being friends, even with two workaholics like these guys. It may be the closest either gets, but is that the same thing? I remember a line or two at the beginning of Dark Victory as Gordon takes Dent’s turn hard, discussing their friendship, except the examples he gives are never shown here. Beyond that, there’s the relationship between Dent and Batman — where Dent and Bruce Wayne are at odds for some lovely dramatic irony (he said, voice dripping with sarcasm). Together with Gordon, they all agree to take down the Falcones, and work together early on in the series, but they grow apart quickly.

There’s Harvey Dent and his wife’s relationship, which is very typical “husband works too much, wife is lonely,” but with hints that something just isn’t right with Gilda. We don’t get a whole lot of this, though. Actually, that’s a big problem with this series in general: we don’t get a whole lot of any subplot. Loeb tries to do a bit of everything and accomplishes nothing in the process. There’s so much he wants to squeeze in that there’s no room for it all except in the briefest of scenes. Now, if he was better at pulling those scenes off or pacing, that wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s all vague suggestions and characters telling us how things are rather than showing us. The emotional core of this book just isn’t there for me.

What really strikes me as odd is how little growth there is in Batman over the, what, 16 months this story covers. He’s still very new at this and he’s the same old Batman we know from now. Not too many rookie mistakes, very confident, very modern model of perfection. This story takes place very much at the beginning of his crime fighting career and it doesn’t show. Despite his role as central character and narrator, he’s also a bit of a cipher. He believes in Gotham, Harvey Dent, etc. He’s haunted by his parents’ deaths. He’s got the surface elements we know make up Batman, but no depth. I honestly can’t tell you anything about this Batman that sets him apart from how he is in other books.

While I’m thinking of it… when Poison Ivy takes over Bruce Wayne for a month (Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day), where is Alfred? Does she discover that he’s Batman? Christ, what a fucking mess.

Tim Sale draws quite well. Except for his Batman. His Batman is just awful. He can’t draw muscles in a convincing manner and it stands out. Other than that, some great work. He’s a very suggestive artist, only using the amount of lines necessary to get the point across. Very excellent use of light and shadows. He draws regular people better than anyone in a costume. Actually, I’m not a fan of any of his non-regular people depictions. I do think that one of the problems in the writing stems from Loeb writing far too much towards providing Sale with opportunities to draw big, beautiful pages — which I don’t understand since Sale is clearly capable of doing more intricate work. While the first issue is a solid read, each successive issue seems quicker and less detailed story-wise as panels-per-page counts fall. Really, though, I love Sale’s work here most of the time.

I want to keep going, to point out all that I find wrong in this story… but why bother? It will just be more of the same. How is this story considered one of the better Batman stories? Is the character so lacking in truly great stories? Or are readers just suckers for third-rate mysteries, noirish art, and rewritten Godfather scenes?

Maybe I’m being too hard on this book. That’s certainly possible. You can write this off as another case of some asshole online hating on Jeph Loeb if that makes you feel better. I didn’t set out with the intention of tearing the book apart when I reread it. I didn’t go out of my way to spot these faults. They jumped out at me.

Next week, something I like hopefully.

58 Comments

I feel the same in many ways. It seemed good enough to be better, but fell short.
Other then SUPERMAN many of Loeb’s works have turned out to be duds.
HUSH make a big splash but left no impact, SUPERMAN/BATMAN went from from fun to bad, and THE ULIMATES.. please.

I don’t blame him for HEROES however, he may have been one of the few guys that could have stopped the bleeding.

I think Loeb’s Challengers of the Unknown is still great, though… So much so that I often question whether he actually wrote it.

I was going to point out Challengers of the Unknown, as I actually featured it in Comics You Should Own. I think the good thing about Challengers is that it was his first comic work, so he hadn’t developed all the shortcuts yet, plus he wasn’t “Jeph Loeb” yet, meaning he wasn’t aware of his own celebrity and how he could get away with stuff and people wouldn’t mind.

Beyond the narrative voice, the story is constructed in a manner that also doesn’t work. The idea of a holiday killer is a good one, but since each issue coincides with one of those killings, the plot stops and starts weeks apart. This wouldn’t be a problem if Loeb would have events happen off-panel, but he refuses to do so. When Dent and Gordon begin suspecting Wayne of being connected to the Falcones around New Year’s, they seem gung-ho on nailing this rich prick, but, because of the story, they don’t actually do anything until Valentine’s Day. They wait a month and a half to even question Wayne? Really?

And this is my single biggest problem with the book. I like the Long Halloween, but for me it falls apart in that it takes Batman & Gordon AN ENTIRE YEAR to solve the mystery. I think Chris Miller had a good idea when he tried to incorporate The Long Halloween into his DCU timeline (www.dcutimeline.com). Rather than push everything in the DCU back a few years to leave room for the story, Miller chose to interpret it as just Holiday THEMED killings happening over the course of a few weeks. Although not the author’s intent, this actually makes the story work a bit better.

Great analysis, Chad. You crystalized a lot of things I’ve thought about this book for some time. The Long Halloween does a lot of things right, and Loeb & Sale have an undeniable chemistry between them, but at the end of the day it just seems like a greater story than it actually is.

I like the Long Halloween. It brought me back into comics after a four year hiatus, though I admit my talent for criticism back then left a lot to be desired (still does, but less so). Basically, a comic was good if I was not bored by it, and as you say, LH is certainly entertaining, if arguably mindless. Stil, I’ve reread LH a couple of times after tackling better, tighter works from what is generally considered the classics of comics, just to see how it would hold up, and I still find it to be enjoyable.

First, note that I agree with many of your points. Of course, the parting revelation is ludicrous, a festive, holiday-themed middle finger to fans trying to piece together the mystery based on, you know, logic. Still, Loeb/Sale sprinkle a lot of nice little touches in LH, many of which your friend gets at in his annotations. I also feel like this vvvv

One positive about the story construction is that Loeb does fill issues with smaller self-contained plots that fit into the larger picture. It becomes a bit too much of a “parade of Batman villains,” but works well, for the most part.

is a much more central part of the Long Halloween than your essay makes it out to be (it’s almost the essence of the book, imo). I’d love to go through the trade and write a little response piece here, but I don’t have the time right now, maybe when I resuscitate my blog for Batman and Robin in June. Anyway, great column, as always. The Reread Reviews have steadily nosed their way into my favorite CSBG features. Keep it up!

OK, found the link to Chris Miller’s site where talks about The Long Halloween. Go to: http://www.dcutimeline.com/DCTL_4_TL.html#Yr2 and scroll down a bit.

The whole site great reading if you’re into comic book timelines.

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 10, 2009 at 12:53 pm

and DARK VICTORY, the LONG HALLOWEEN follow-up, was quite an intense sequel.

Of all the Loeb/Sale collaborations to this day, Challengers of the Unknown remains my fave.

I really wasn’t fussed on either Long Halloween or Dark Victory or Hush, despite wanting to like them a lot. Loeb can do character moments well, but not a whole lot else with Batman it seems, and his one shots with Sale were much better than either of the epics. But yeah, I found all three of the aforementioned stories to be great ideas, with great art, and some good moments…that absolutely fall apart as a broader story. Which is a shame, really.

If you want a good Batman book, read Arkham Asylum or No Man’s Land.

I’ve yet to read their Challengers of the Unknown, but will keep my eye for it.

Cass, I would love to read a more detailed response.

I wanted to like LH. I really did. But when Wizard, of all places, has to publish a 2-page explanation of the ending of your story, that’s a problem. It’s actually nice to see someone else who notices that the Emperor’s got no clothes on, as almost everyone else I’ve seen seems to WORSHIP this story (and by extension, Loeb as a writer). I stopped giving him my money after this. And I haven’t missed a single thing.

I loved the story when it originally came out, haven’t read it in a while, though…

This seems to have become the acclaimed Batman story it’s okay to trash, but if you cast a critical eye over Arkham Asylum or Dark Knight (particularly the last couple of books), you could find a lot to complain about there too.

You know, Chandler’s rules should be required reading for ANYONE plotting a mystery story. It’s damn hard. I think the only two writers in comics who’ve pulled it off regularly are Max Collins and Mike Barr.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

May 10, 2009 at 4:59 pm

The other galling thing, for me, about TLH’s readership is that everyone credits Loeb for much of the Two-Face material….even though Loeb himself (in the TPB introduction) points out that he was using Andy Helfer’s Post-Crisis Two-Face origin story (which was where Adrian Fields, for example, was introduced as Maroni’s mole and eventually killed by Dent) from Batman Annual #14. Sadly, TLH has utterly eclipsed that annual in the collective memory of fandom.

I like a lot of TLH, I must admit, especially the way Loeb uses the Joker. (Killing everyone just to make sure Holiday dies is a pretty nice bit of Joker-logic, for instance.) And it’s one of the few places Frank “Whores whores whores” Miller’s quickly-jettisoned Catwoman revision actually works. Additionally, the stuff with Grundy — albeit coming on the heels of James Robinson’s revamp of Grundy — works quite well.

Pity about the main plot, though.

The art was fantastic, story extremely mediocre. I agree with all points or this review. Same thing happened with HUSH. Amazing art, bad writing. How does jeph loeb always get the best artists?

“Or are readers just suckers for third-rate mysteries, noirish art, and rewritten Godfather scenes?”

Yeah, that’s pretty much why I like it. Interestingly, I would have thought the book works better collected, rather than spending a year wondering who Holiday is only to get no real answer, if you read it all at once then the lack of conclusion is so galling. Honestly I didn’t really care who Holiday was, but for the readers who did, and obviously they can’t criticised for doing so, I can see why TLH would be so frustrating. Anyway, no matter how bad you think TLH is, you have to agree that it’s better than when Loeb rewrote the story, just worse, in Hush.

Three thoughts on this:

One point that was left out: Loeb kept hinting at another mystery which was never developed in this story. I’m talking about Catwoman’s obsession with the Falcones. Right through the last issue, he kept having Catwoman and/or Selina Kyle show up at Falcone events or spying on the family, sans explanation. Yeah, it’s explained in the last few pages of the sequel, but TLH is NOT, NOT, NOT a complete story to the extent that this dangling thread just kept dangling.

Two: yeah, I agree that it doesn’t hold up well in trade. Looking back, I think it did work well as a monthly, between the suspense and the fact that (IIRC) each issue’s publication did coincide with its corresponding holiday. (Christmas and New Year’s are a week apart–were the release of the comics as well?) In a straight sitting, you lose that sense.

Three: the Red Hulk’s identity is going to suck big time, isn’t it? All the clues are pointing at one guy, which means it WON’T turn out to be him, right?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 10, 2009 at 6:29 pm

This seems to have become the acclaimed Batman story it’s okay to trash, but if you cast a critical eye over Arkham Asylum or Dark Knight (particularly the last couple of books), you could find a lot to complain about there too.

You’d find some faults, but nothing on the level of Long Halloween.
Dark Knight and Arkham Asylum are works that are rather true to themselves, and don’t cheat the reader.
Morrison and Miller are both too good of craftsmen for that.

Also, I don’t believe Long Halloween is acclaimed, it’s popular.
Most reviews tend to be negative.

Me thinks you loves the book, and are upset to see Chad poke some holes in it.
That’s fine, but be a man about it – defend it if you want, don’t try bring down the classics you didn’t like to it’s level as a means of defense.

Come back and say why having one thought balloon isn’t sloppy, or why it’s a good idea to have a fake out confession come after the real confession? etc etc

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 10, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Noty enough blockquote thingy’s!
I apologise to your eyes!

Wow, Chad, I agree so much with you that I wrote my last blog post hitting on the same ideas. What surprises me is that this book is so “acclaimed” by general reviewers, but it seems to me that among hardcore comics fans opinions are much more mixed.

Long Halloween fails on all levels as a “mystery story”, and Dark Victory is even worse — it has the exact same plot, although Loeb actually reveals the killer, but the killer has no motivation to murder the people who she murdered. Whereas Long Halloween has several “red herrings” that make much more sense then the actual reveal (done for shock value, obviously), Dark Victory has a villain who was HAMMERED into the solution with no motivation. How can you tell a mystery story with a culprit who has ZERO motivation for the crimes committed? And the fact that Batman and Gordon take a full year to “solve” each mystery is inexcusable — the Moench/Collins/O’Neill/Dixon/Dini Batman is not written as this poor of a detective.

Also, the Poison Ivy plothole in Long Halloween is gaping — and what about Loeb’s insinuation that Bruce Wayne is in jail from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day? I find it a bit hard to believe he could not afford bail.

Or are readers just suckers for third-rate mysteries, noirish art, and rewritten Godfather scenes?

This is my least favorite part of both Long Halloween and Dark Victory. Loeb rips off of Godfather, Goodfellas, and a number of other crime/gangster films so deliberately that it comes off as poor writing — as if Loeb does not know how organized criminals act, so he just wrote them into scenes from his favorite movies. It wasn’t cute or clever when people in my undergrad creative writing course did it, and it isn’t cute or clever when Loeb does it.

Stephane Savoie

May 10, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I’ll say what I always have: TLH is a badly written comic pretending to be a good one, and most people fell for it.
And THAT is probably Loeb’s greatest achievement as a writer.

“The art was fantastic, story extremely mediocre. I agree with all points or this review. Same thing happened with HUSH. Amazing art, bad writing. How does jeph loeb always get the best artists?”

He’s incredibly likable and lets them draw whatever the hell they want whether it serves the story or not?

He’s like the perfect possible Heroes Reborn or early Image writer.

Oh wait.

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 10, 2009 at 8:35 pm

@ADAM:

You should read Loeb/Sale CATWOMAN: WHEN IN ROME mini-series. That kind of follows up on Selina’s obsession with the Falcones.

Other then SUPERMAN many of Loeb’s works have turned out to be duds.

This should read “Including Superman, every last thing Loeb has written in his life has turned out to be a dud.:

I was going to point out Challengers of the Unknown, as I actually featured it in Comics You Should Own. I think the good thing about Challengers is that it was his first comic work, so he hadn’t developed all the shortcuts yet, plus he wasn’t “Jeph Loeb” yet, meaning he wasn’t aware of his own celebrity and how he could get away with stuff and people wouldn’t mind.

I have to respectfully disagree Greg. Challengers was typical Jeph Loeb, but even shittier because he hadn’t yet learned to ripoff great movies like Godfather, Presumed Innocent and Silence of the Lambs to camoflauge his bad writing yet, nor rely on older but more obscure comic stories to augment his superhero characterization scenes. I tried the book based on your COmics You Should Own piece where you promised it would be a good Loeb book for people who don’t like Loeb books, and it turned out to be hands down the dumbest Loeb story I ever read. And as a guy who finds them all retarded, that’s saying a lot.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 10, 2009 at 10:47 pm

This should read “Including Superman, every last thing Loeb has written in his life has turned out to be a dud.:

Teen Wolf rulz!

Having followed along with this as it came out, I’ll happily confirm that the monthly suspense worked quite well.

I’ll also add that I was looking forward to this project greatly when it was announced, because the three annual Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Specials from Loeb and Sale that had preceded it were all, in my opinion, terrifically excellent. I don’t think Long Halloween lived up to these earlier works, but they themselves remain outstanding works in my opinion. I bought them as they came out but I believe they were later collected as Haunted Knight. They remain my favourite Loeb/Sale works and I recommend them heartily!

I’ll add that the end of Long Halloween certainly failed Chandler’s tests, mentioned above.

I think Loeb’s Challengers of the Unknown is still great, though… So much so that I often question whether he actually wrote it.

Weird isn’t it? After reading Challs, I thought “THIS is the guy who should be writing Superman”.

It turned out I was wrong.

Still love Tim Sale’s art though

“You’d find some faults, but nothing on the level of Long Halloween.
Dark Knight and Arkham Asylum are works that are rather true to themselves, and don’t cheat the reader.
Morrison and Miller are both too good of craftsmen for that.

Also, I don’t believe Long Halloween is acclaimed, it’s popular.
Most reviews tend to be negative.

Me thinks you loves the book, and are upset to see Chad poke some holes in it.
That’s fine, but be a man about it – defend it if you want, don’t try bring down the classics you didn’t like to it’s level as a means of defense.

Come back and say why having one thought balloon isn’t sloppy, or why it’s a good idea to have a fake out confession come after the real confession? etc etc”

ouch.

I never said the review was wrong about the multiple plot holes (which I noticed at the time), but for me it rises above those flaws, in a large part due to Sale’s art.

I’m just saying there are sacred cows that get away with no criticism whereas TLH is, in my opinion, over-criticised. For the record, I don’t dislike Dark Knight (it’s one of my favourite stories), but after a fantastic first issue it does go off the rails a bit towards the end.

Arkham Asylum is not a great Batman story by Morrison’s standards, and Dave McKean’s art looks cool but is wrong for Morrison’s hyper-detailed style of scripting.

It must be insanely difficult to write a perfectly coherent fair-play mystery over 13 separate issues – Raymond Chandler could always go back and fix chapter one if he changed his mind halfway through, but you can’t do that when chapter one has been printed, published and in the back issue bins for six months.

Loeb’s failure to get everything right doesn’t take anything away from the fact the story is just a hell of a lot more fun to read than something Arkham Asylum.

Teen Wolf rulz!

He had a cowriter on Commando and Teen WOlf. I’m convinced the cowriter along with Michael J Fox’s and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s charisma are responsible for all the good parts in either movie.

Weird isn’t it? After reading Challs, I thought “THIS is the guy who should be writing Superman”.

I considered Superman scene one of the most heavy-handed, insincere and maudln portions of the book. After reading Challs, I thouht, “THIS is the guy who shouldn’t be writing ANYTHING.” Turns out I was right.

I’m just saying there are sacred cows that get away with no criticism whereas TLH is, in my opinion, over-criticised. For the record, I don’t dislike Dark Knight (it’s one of my favourite stories), but after a fantastic first issue it does go off the rails a bit towards the end.

Really? Really I think TDKR gets better as it goes on. For me the first issue is the weakest (which isn’t to say it’s weak).

Arkham Asylum on the other hand isn’t too much of a sacred cow. It’s not close to being one of Morrison’s better works for me and the lettering on The Joker makes him almost unreadable. Not bad though.

Sorry to steer you wrong, T.! I hope we’re still pals!

This should read “Including Superman, every last thing Loeb has written in his life has turned out to be a dud.

T. & I seem to be some of the leading Loeb-bashers (is it really bashing if you legitimately would like people to re-evaluate an author’s work?)

“Superman For All Seasons” doesn’t even go as far to rip off of movies — it rips off scenes and themes so directly from Man of Steel that I am surprised it was even published. I haven’t read Loeb’s run on the actual Superman titles, but if it’s anything like Loeb’s narration-heavy writing in all his other works, it’s probably bad.

Actually it’s funny how most people who have reviewed Loeb’s run on Superman/Batman say that one thing they don’t like about it is the dueling Batman/Superman narration boxes. But the thing is, Loeb’s been doing that for years — he’s the ultimate example of the “telling, not showing” writer. In some cases the art alone can tell the story — and when you are working with an artist like Tim Sale, the art SHOULD be telling the story. But Loeb fills the pages up with little narration boxes to restate the same points off and off again.

And yes, I’m aware Frank Miller does the same thing, but Miller’s narration is often far more interesting, dramatic, and, in some cases, humorous, than Loeb’s.

“Actually it’s funny how most people who have reviewed Loeb’s run on Superman/Batman say that one thing they don’t like about it is the dueling Batman/Superman narration boxes. ”

Um… trust me, that’s far from the worst thing people say about his S/B run.

If people thought of Loeb as a “great” writer, I never saw it. He’s good, often very good, when paired with Sale (DD Yellow, of course, being one of my favourite comics stories), but that’s largely because he’s very good at tailoring his stories to the artist he’s working with – he never asks them to tell a story that isn’t right in their wheelhouse, which is why his stories work so much better when reading them than talking about them afterwards. Contrast “Hush”, which took full advantage of Lee’s desire to draw Batman by allowing him to draw EVERYTHING about Batman, with “For Tomorrow”, where Azz took advantage of Lee’s desire to draw all things related to Superman by… barely featuring any of the iconic Superman characters.

It’s like football: if I’ve got a team with a good running back but no WRs, I’m not going to institute the run and shoot. Loeb has Tim Sale draw iconic images, he has Jim Lee draw larger-than-life images, he had Michael Turner and Ian Churchill draw lots of creepily sexualised teenagers, and he has Ed McGuinness draw loads of action and movement.

As for the timeline-related structural issues, they’re certainly there, but I’m perfectly willing to handwave those in the names of making the story fit the holiday killings theme. This obviously wasn’t Batman’s ONLY case, and a year to catch a serial killer isn’t unusual at all.

Sorry to steer you wrong, T.! I hope we’re still pals!

Why are you apologizing? You have a right to state an opinion! Anyway, you’ve steered me right far more often than you’ve steered me wrong.

@Stephen- I think you’re giving him too much credit by suggesting he tailors the stories to suit his artists. It seems to me that he simply lets the artists do the heavy lifting. The Long Halloween and Dark Victory might seem suitably moody and noirish- but it’s not like Loeb’s writing is doing anything to create that effect- it’s all done through Sale’s artwork. There’s no noticeable difference in the scripting/plotting between TLH and Hush- it just that the different artists create different atmospheres.

Um… trust me, that’s far from the worst thing people say about his S/B run.

He’s not saying that’s the worst thing people say about his S/B run, just that it’s most common criticism. Which I agree with. It’s not the worst thing by far, but it is the one critique that came up most often among reviewers, even among people who liked the run.

He’s not saying that’s the worst thing people say about his S/B run, just that it’s most common criticism. Which I agree with. It’s not the worst thing by far, but it is the one critique that came up most often among reviewers, even among people who liked the run.

That’s exactly what I meant. The #1 criticism of Loeb’s S/B that I see (even from those who enjoy it) is the dueling narration boxes. I’ve seen at least 3 or 4 webcomics parody it. Is there more wrong with it? Oh boy, yes indeed. But the most frequent target of contention is the dueling narration boxes.

Is it the worst thing that is said? Nope, but I just wanted to point out the most frequent criticism of S/B, yet many people do not criticize Loeb’s other work when he does the exact same narration box garbage (look at most pages of Hush to see what I mean).

But yeah, the S/B dueling narration boxes are more obviously painful because Loeb is trying to say “They’re so different, BUT THEY’RE THE SAME BECAUSE THEY THINK ALIKE!”

Sorry, that above “Anonymous” is from me. Forgot to enter my info!

Tom Fitzpatrick: You missed my point. I’m aware that the follow-up was in “When in Rome,” and in fact, the connection was explained earlier in the last issue of Dark Victory. My point is that the obsession was an unnecessary plot dangle that made the TLH incomplete (aside from the ambiguous ending).

The hypothesis that seems to be popular in this thread is that Jeph Loeb always had those writing faults, they’ve just gotten far more pronounced in recent years. And The Long Halloween seems to be placed as the break-out work for Loeb, which contained the seeds of what would become the awful quality evident in Ultimates 3, Wolverine: Evolution, large portions of Heroes, and elsewhere. But the story was very well-received at its time, and became established as a Bat-Classic; the faults are most prominent now that Loeb’s maintained popularity by writing dreck comics.

Not to insult anyone who bought it ( lord knows I’ve bought a lot of bad comics too, both unintentionally and intentionally ), but is the lesson here to be very careful about which creators you spend your money on, lest they become popular and start phoning it in?

A better comparison with ‘The Long Halloween’ than ‘Arkhham Aslylum’ would be the brilliant 12 part ‘Batman: Journey into Knight’, written by Andrew Helfer which covers similar terrain of an early year in his career but does it in far more interestimg ways. I tracked down the whole story after reading a single issue and thinking it was the best written batman story i’d read in years… Can’t understand why it hasn’t been collected yet…

Random Stranger

May 11, 2009 at 3:27 pm

The Long Halloween has the same fundamental flaw as a lot of other very popular but not really good stuff: there are moments that are very cool but it falls apart when you try to assemble them into a coherent whole.

Not to insult anyone who bought it ( lord knows I’ve bought a lot of bad comics too, both unintentionally and intentionally ), but is the lesson here to be very careful about which creators you spend your money on, lest they become popular and start phoning it in?

I don’t think he started phoning it in later, he was always phoning it in. It’s just that his collaborators are worse and he has run out of things to rip off, so there’s less to distract from the awful quality. But I don’t think he was working hard or doing better work in the past and started phoning it in later. If anything, I think in Long Halloween he was phoning it in before by just relying on his collaborators art and storytelling and ripping off scenes wholesale from old Batman books, Presumed Innocent, Silence of the Lambs, and Godfather I and II and doing very little in the way of original contribution. Now with his current Marvel writing, there is a lot less blatant ripoffs than his works with Sale. I’d say rather than phoning it in, this is probably the most effort to contribute original writing he’s made in a long time. And that’s the problem, he can’t write. He needs to go BACK to phoning it in by finding stuff to rip off wholesale like he used to and doing less actual writing just like he did when with Sale.

THANK YOU! I stopped collecting new comics in 1989 (right after the Batman movie came out), but over the last few years I’ve grabbed a few things and read them. About 2 months ago I read the Long Halloween as I saw it mentioned a lot as a satisfying read. While I didn’t HATE the book, I picked out who the killer was very early (and I’m no good at solving mysteries) and I wonder if it was from that thought balloon you mention. It just seemed so obvious. And then I just didn’t buy the reveal at the end that there were 2 killers. That left a sour taste in my mouth. The series was enjoyable in spots, but a HUGE disappointment overall.

About a month ago I finally read Arkham Asylum which was originally released a couple months after I stopped buying comics. Man, I hated that book. I had no idea who the non-Joker villains in the book were supposed to be, the art was annoying to the extreme, and it was filled up with psycho-babble that I just don’t care about. I have the 15th Anniversary Edition which has Morrison’s full script in it. I may have enjoyed the book to at least SOME extent had Dave McKean not ignored Morrison’s script direction completely. I have to imagine that Morrison must have been livid when he got those pages back (but it was too late to change artists?), and I agree that the Joker’s dialogue was unreadable in more than one place. I can’t believe this story is considered a Top 5 Batman story. Almost complete garbage with absolutely no fun attached.

Now with his current Marvel writing, there is a lot less blatant ripoffs than his works with Sale. I’d say rather than phoning it in, this is probably the most effort to contribute original writing he’s made in a long time. And that’s the problem, he can’t write. He needs to go BACK to phoning it in by finding stuff to rip off wholesale like he used to and doing less actual writing just like he did when with Sale.

Which is the essential problem: Loeb’s “best” work (other’s opinions, not mine) is fully rooted in continuity, and as a result much of the plot has already been written by others (Superman for All Seasons, Batman: Hush, Spider-Man: Blue, Hulk: Grey, Daredevil: Yellow). And/Or his “best” work is so heavily ripped-off of movies (Long Halloween, Dark Victory) that he’s just writing filler scenes in between movie and continuity beats. Thus, as T. points out, his poor writing is exposed when he tries to work with something original (S/B and reportedly his current Marvel work, which I have not read). So he tries to actually write scripts from scratch and even the once-popular acclaim he cultivated turns against him because he can’t write anything original worth its salt and never could in the first place.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 11, 2009 at 7:05 pm

I never said the review was wrong about the multiple plot holes (which I noticed at the time), but for me it rises above those flaws, in a large part due to Sale’s art.

Well I can’t see it that way, as it’s a story driven comic, not a mood or character piece – the writing dominates.

I’m just saying there are sacred cows that get away with no criticism whereas TLH is, in my opinion, over-criticised. For the record, I don’t dislike Dark Knight (it’s one of my favourite stories), but after a fantastic first issue it does go off the rails a bit towards the end.

I disagree both that TLH is over critized, and that DKR goes off the rails towards the end.

TLH is constantly pushed as a classic, and yet in no way lives up to the other Batman classics, such as Arkham Asylum or DKR.
Do those two have faults, sure, but nowhere near the level of TLH – and heck, TLH doesn’t even try to rise to the level of the other two – it works soley off of storylines and ideas put in play by others (both directly in the Batman world, and from other media), and does nothing new with the character – which whatever you may say, both AA and DKR set out to do, and did.

It must be insanely difficult to write a perfectly coherent fair-play mystery over 13 separate issues – Raymond Chandler could always go back and fix chapter one if he changed his mind halfway through, but you can’t do that when chapter one has been printed, published and in the back issue bins for six months.

It must be, and he failed to do it.
That in no way excuses it, or justifies it as why it’s considered a classic by some.

Loeb’s failure to get everything right doesn’t take anything away from the fact the story is just a hell of a lot more fun to read than something Arkham Asylum.

Well, it depends on what you mean by fun.
I enjoy reading Arkham Asylum for it’s creepy mood, and twisted takes on established characters, and what it is saying… everytime I read it, there is something new to take away (it’s a very dense work, and I’m not the smartest cat out there).
Long Halloween I don’t enjoy reading at all.
So, I argue that LH is more fun to read than AA, because I don’t have fun reading it, but do the other.

I have to imagine that Morrison must have been livid when he got those pages back (but it was too late to change artists?),

Or he was ecstatic – that’s some beautiful art… I’ve never heard of Morrison or DC ever even considering an artist change on AA.

“Well I can’t see it that way, as it’s a story driven comic, not a mood or character piece – the writing dominates.”

Really? Let’s agree to differ then, because first and foremost I like TLH as a mood piece.

Raymond Chandler’s rules for mystery are dead on, and Loeb failed in that regard. However Chandler also said that the solution to a mystery is just ‘the olive on the martini’, not the be all and end all.

The mystery element doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but who cares, if it’s entertaining? The first season of 24 is fun to watch but if you try to analyse it you’ll quickly realise they were making it up as they went along and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Loeb and Sale make a great team on TLH, and they’re even better on DD Yellow and the original Halloween specials. Just because Loeb screwed up the olive doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the martini – it’s okay to think Stan Lee’s dialogue is execrable and still enjoy the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four for what it is.

McKean’s art may be beautiful on a page-by-page basis, but it absolutely lacks ANY storytelling ability and it is obvious that he has no interest whatsoever in painting superheroes or supervillains. I think he would have been happier if he was allowed to put Batman in street clothes for the entire story. If you read Morrison’s script for Arkham, he kept asking McKean to make sure he put things charged with symbolism in the art (or something else to make the story more clear) and McKean failed to do so. I’m calling the emperor nude when it comes to AA.

I’d call TLH a mood piece as well. I don’t think anyone would disagree that TLH is style over substance, but if you can enjoy the style irrespective of the (lack of) substance then you’ll enjoy the work. I think in the end it just comes down to what you can and can’t look past.

Say what you will about Brian Azzarello’s Broken City, but it works twenty times better as a detective story because we never leave Batman.

Uh… I really like Broken City. What’s so wrong with it in your opinion?

I rather like it as well, but I’ve read negative criticism in various places about Azzarello’s overbearing narrative captions (which I think is a criticism that has some merit).

I don’t think anyone would disagree that TLH is style over substance, but if you can enjoy the style irrespective of the (lack of) substance then you’ll enjoy the work.

And the style of the story is mostly contributed by the atmospheric art of Tim Sale. Which is why for years I continued to buy Loeb’s work hoping that the story would FINALLY match up with the excellent artwork. Needless to stay, I eventually just stopped buying anything with Loeb’s name on it because the writing NEVER held up, no matter how good the art is.

Yet Loeb STILL gets a whole lot of praise — I once pointed out on my blog that on DC’s list of “30 Essential Graphic Novels” — http://dccomics.com/sites/essential30/ — Loeb has FIVE (Hush vol. 1 & 2 are counted as 2 works for some reason) — that’s more than Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Brian K. Vaughan, Bill Willingham, Marv Wolfman, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Brad Meltzer… AND JUST AS MANY AS ALAN MOORE.

Seriously.

Mike Loughlin

May 12, 2009 at 1:39 pm

TLH, Hush, Dark Victory, and Superman: For All Seasons are considered “classics” & “essential” because they sold well. That’s all. Witches, Challengers, and Catwoman: When in Rome may be of comparable quality, but they didn’t sell as well. I’m sure Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis,Civil War, Avengers Disassembled, One More Day, and any other strong seller of dubious quality will be considered “essential classics” in the near future, too.

What I took away from the Loeb/ Sale collaborations was the imagery. The plot of TLH was a part of its success, true, but full-page spreads of the Joker & Grundy, Poison Ivy with all that leaf-hair, villains bursting into the courtroom, and stylish black & white flashbacks were just as integral.

I don’t even remember the plot to Dark Vistory (a bunch of stuff happens, then Robin comes along), but I do remember how Sale drew some sequences with a gorgeous painterly line. Similarly, the “cool moments” in the Red Hulk book stand out while the plot is just kind of there. (Am I the only one who thinks he’s Glen Talbot, or is that what everyone thinks? Ultimately, does it matter?)

I don’t go out of my way to buy a Loeb comic- there are so many better options- but I won’t refuse to buy one if an artist I like draws it.

“And the style of the story is mostly contributed by the atmospheric art of Tim Sale.”

And I wouldn’t disagree with that. What I would say is that Loeb’s writing, to me at least, doesn’t detract from the art, and it was, as far as I can tell, his idea to rip of the Godfather etc. so he should at least get some (if very little) credit for what Sale drew, even if he had nothing to do with how Sale drew it.

If you want to understand why Loeb;s works are considered classics, the best description I’ve ever found was here:

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2007/07/17/comic-dictionary-grace-notes/

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