Batman: Long Halloween & Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb
A new Batman comic is always fascinating because the reader never knows what incarnation of their hero is about to be presented: numerous writers having provided widely differing interpretations of the crime-fighting Dark Knight. These various interpretations have recently led to the publication of an acclaimed popular academic tome [Batman Unmasked by Will Brooker] tracing how the Batman has been seen, and used, by film producers, gay activists, pop artists and internet fan communities. The most potent reimagining remains Frank Miller's awesome The Dark Knight Returns where we see the Batman understood as a damaged, near psychopathic vigilante struggling as hard with his own demons as he ever has with Gotham City's criminals. Miller, who crime fans will know from his Sin City books, also wrote the respected Batman: Year One which tells the story of when Bruce Wayne first became Batman. Miller's noir credentials shine in this dark and brutal tale of Wayne's and the young Jim (later Commissioner) Gordon's first investigations. The Long Halloween also takes us back to those early days. It lacks Miller's wordplay - in his Batman work his writing is as strong as it is sometimes weak in the later Sin City titles - but compensates with Sale's great artwork: visually sumptuous with beautiful use of shadow, many pages are dialogue free allowing the book an almost filmic pace. The story focuses on the almost stereotypical mafia empire of Carmine "The Roman" Falcone, a character from Year One who is accompanied by a number of other familiar villains - notably Harvey Dent. Dent is District Attorney but soon he will be known as Two-Face, and here we get to see the first flowerings of his criminality. Dark Victory continues the story of how the orphaned child Bruce grew into our strange detective hero and how his ties with Carmine in his early years formed the course he was to take in the future. Sale's artwork is as powerful as it is has ever been here and Dark Victory makes a very convincing case that Sale and Loeb are one of the best teams working in the genre at the moment. It also makes the case that of all comicdom's characters the flawed, ambivalent, messed-up Batman - whether as gay icon or psychopathic avenger - continues to offer good writers wonderful chances to add to the compelling, modern mythos he so beguilingly embodies.