A Cold Day in Winter
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 1
It seems like BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. is a hard character to adapt, at least in the context of single films. Yes, there have been some good Batman films, but it does feel like, especially in his animated attempt, Batman's adventures have proven lacking. There's a lot to his character to encompass -- his large Bat-family, his wide variety of rogues, the needs of the characters contrasted with the plot -- and it doesn't feel like there have been a lot of sucesses in that department. For every decent film, like Son of Batman, there's a bunch of dreck that comes out as well.
Often the problem comes down to DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. forcing Batman, and his stories, into a format they were never meant for. Batman can be cool and interesting but he's a poor fit for Soul of the Dragon, for example, while some of his better comic arcs, like Hush, suffer when they're crammed down into a single animated film. Thankfully it does seem like DC has learned some of those lessons, or at least learned it for this film, as Batman: The Long Halloween gives the story space to breathe while keeping the focus on a small set of characters. It's both more intimate, and darker, than most Batman stories, just like the comic arc it's based on.
The first thing DC gets right with this adaptation is that it divides the comic arc into two halves, putting the first half (encompassing the holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years) into this "Part 1", while the rest of the comic series will come out in "Part 2" later this year. The original comic arc was 13 issues long, a long tale by any measure (as most arcs run for about six issues), so giving the arc space to breath here across two films was a smart and savvy move indeed.
As noted, this movie takes place across four holidays, but it would be more accurate to say that it takes place across four murders. Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent as all called in to investigate the murder of Johnny Viti, nephew of Carmine Falcone, shot and killed in the tub in his apartment on Halloween. At first the cops, and the Bat, think this is a mob-related hit and while it's investigated not much is made of the crime at the time; criminals kill other criminals all the time. But then another bloody crime scene arrives on Thanksgiving, this time involving a group of Chinatown enforces all associated with Falcone and all shot dead 'round a table. The same signature is left, too: a gun with a baby bottle rubber nipple on the end to silence its shot.
The crimes drive all three men to buckle down and focus, which then puts stress on all their relationships. Dent starts to lose touch with his wife, Batman and Catwoman grow distant, and Jim keeps setting aside the need of his kids for the case he's working on. Batman, meanwhile, is no closer to solving the crime each month as another, and then another, body falls with the same signature gun left behind. Who is "Holiday" and why does he keep killing Falcone's men?
Originally intended to kick off a new continuity that actually, instead began with Superman: Man of Tomorrow (and continued in Justice Society: World War II), Batman: The Long Halloween had the same artistic style as those other films. It'd dominated with flatter colors but hard, thick outlines, making an effect that feels more old-school, retro and Art Deco. It actually works well here as the film featured an older Gotham, one that seems to come from the 1940s or 1950s. The cars are older, everyone is using old, corded phones, and there's nary a bit of neon in sight. This is meant to evoke the Gotham of Tim Burton's Batman, I'm sure, and it works.
What also works is the focus on characters here. Although the crimes are the meat of the story and the film jumps from one holiday to the next, skipping weeks or months in the process, we get to follow the characters through their major beats at each stage. We watch the flirtatious play of Catwoman and batman near the start of their relationship, followed by the heartbreak as the grow apart. The film gives everyone, from Alfred to Jim, Barbara and Harvey, time to grow and change and evolve and we get the sense of who they all are as people.
That said, I do wish just a little more time was spent on certain moments. The chemistry between Selina and Bruce is so strong that, even as they're growing apart, it feels like they're still connected. A little more focus on certain beats, certain moments that would sell these character scenes even more would have been good. This is a minor quibble, but I would have liked even more development even though I know that would make this film even longer than it already is (and in two parts, no less). I guess it's a good thing, in a way, because it means I want to spend more time with these characters, not less.
Some viewers are going to be annoyed, of course, that this film doesn't end with any clear-cut answers. As this is one long case, done over two films (and 13 issues), the end of the case -- solving who Holiday is and what their motivation might be -- can't happen in this first film. We get about as much of an "ending" as this film can have with Batman fighting Joker and stopping some evil scheme, but it's hardly related to Holiday and leave us just wanting more in the way of answers. The film has those in short supply, and instead of a cliffhanger we're left with all the heroes dejected because they still haven't cracked it.
That's a downbeat ending, but fitting for this film (and the comic it's adapted for). And ti does speak to the strength of this adaptation: this isn't a pat adventure but a deeper exploration of Batman and that kind of thing takes time. I appreciated that DC was willing to take the time with one of Batman's most famous (and most beloved by fans) cases in his run (unlike how they mangled Hush). This was the right move, make no mistake.
Now we just have to hope that when the second half comes out in a month, that it's able to live up to this quality and give us a solid ending. There's still time for DC to bungle this but, right now, the first half was good enough that I have hope the second will be just as good.