Batman Haunted Knight by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale is a collection of three books that appeared over the course of three Halloweens between the years 1993-1995. Yes that is over twenty years ago, but they very well may be some of the earliest collaboration from the writer/artist team that created arguably the single best Batman storyline ever written. I can hear Frank Miller fandom starting to rise up but just sit your silly ass back down and listen up. The book and storyline I am talking about is of course, The Long Halloween. If, as a Batman fan, you don’t know The Long Halloween then just go sit yourself in the corner over there and slap the crap out of your candy ass. And when you are done, slap yourself some more.
The first story in the book is Fears. It is a tale of Scarecrow come to visit Gotham with his fear gas in tow. He has huge plans this Halloween for the city. Batman of course knows what is coming and confronts the villain. In the battle Batman inhales the gas which has little immediate effect but lingers enough to weaken him. He notices himself a little slower and weaker and criminals he could have easily have handled put up much more of a fight. But it is not Batman who is in danger, but Bruce Wayne, who weakened by the gas falls under the allure of a beautiful strange and unknown woman; Jillian. In this state and under the spell of Jillian, Bruce Wayne wonders is he really needs to be the Batman. Scarecrow captures Captain Gordon and it is then that Batman remembers why he is who he is. He battles Scarecrow and save Gordon. Alfred on the other hand, suspicious of Bruce Wayne’s new girlfriend and the changes she has brought, investigates Jillian for himself and finds that she a black widow. A woman who marries rich men and then they die suddenly leaving her all their wealth. He confronts her and drives her away. Batman is incensed that he did not see this for himself, to which Alfred responds:
“I don’t pretend to be an expert on the human heart…but I suspect that learning the truth about…Jillian…must be very difficult for you. Wondering how such a great detective could have made such a great mistake. I offer you this thought. Perhaps it wasn’t Batman who made the error…but only Bruce Wayne.”
The second story involves the Mad Hatter. A villain straight from Alice in Wonderland. The Hatter is in Gotham and children are going missing. Batman confronts the Hatter but is stabbed and shot. He falls to the street and ends up on Crime Alley. The very place his parents were killed.
Meanwhile we look into an early window of life in the Gordon household. James Gordon and his wife are adopting a young red haired girl called Babs. Gordon is having a difficult time as he tries to set down rules to a headstrong and independent young girl. Babs eventually decides to run away and ends up in the arms of Jarvis Tetch, The Mad Hatter.
The Hatter is setting up his own tea party with the missing children and it is up to Batman and Gordon to save the children and get Babs back.
What Loeb and Sale do so well in this book is the memories Batman has of his childhood with his mother before the night it all changed. And then the boy himself dealing with the loss of parents.
Book three is the best. A rendition on Halloween night of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Batman battles the Penguin and after an especially brutal and taxing battle returns home to rest. That night he is visited by four ghosts. The first his own father, warning him of the others to come. First comes Ivy, then the Joker and finally, the Batman himself.
This tale is the story of how Batman has taken over Bruce Wayne. That the Batman is all there is and Bruce is nothing. No friends. No confidants save Alfred. No life. Being the Batman has consumed him until there is nothing of Bruce Wayne left. Ivy shows him visions of his past and how he has isolated himself in his quest to become the Batman. The Joker shows him the reputation he has earned. Listening to children fearful to come to Wayne Manor on Halloween night for trick or treat. Fearful of the isolated and dark house owned by the mysterious Mr. Wayne. A house they all feel must be haunted. Finally Bruce is treated by Batman to a view of his own death and there is no one to mourn the man they never knew was the Batman.
Bruce awakes the next morning and it is Halloween. Because the spirits can do this in one night you know. He begins the Wayne Foundation to help the less fortunate. To ensure that his name, his family’s reputation live on. He will do good for the city of Gotham as Bruce Wayne and not only as Batman. It ends of course on Halloween night. The walkway to Wayne Manor lit up and the home full of light. The gates are open and Bruce Wayne waits on the doorstep for the children to arrive and say, “Trick or Treat!”
As you can see, much of these tales have to do with Bruce Wayne as they do with Batman. This is something that Loeb and Sale excel in like no other. He is a human being. A hurt and suffering man at times, but still a man. Not just a caped crusader.
A terrific trio of tales and the perfect lead up to the best Batman story ever.
The Long Halloween.