A common complaint levelled at many modern Batman stories is that, too often, they don’t give the World’s Greatest Detective much room to exercise his actual detective skills. Aside from a little CSI work in The Dark Knight, we’ve yet to see a cinematic Batman stretch any muscles beyond the ones he uses for punching. In this respect, WB and DC’s animated movies have tended to redress the balance – Mask of the Phantasm, Hush and Under the Red Hood have all depicted varying degrees of a cerebral Batman, with big mysteries for him to solve. And now, the most sprawling yet: an adaptation of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s celebrated epic, The Long Halloween.
Set in the early days of the Bat’s career, the story follows Batman (Jensen Ackles) as he investigates a series of murders within Gotham’s primo mob family. Someone is knocking off wiseguys – but who? And why? At the same time, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) finds himself under fire from both mobsters and the Joker (Troy Baker), setting him down a dark and dangerous path to… well, we all know where.
There’s a lot to get through, and The Long Halloween is broken in half, giving its story and characters room to breathe. Duhamel’s Dent is particularly well-served by the additional screen time, not constrained by the need to squeeze both the noble DA and his monstrous alter-ego into the same story. If it feels overly familiar, that would be because Nolan’s The Dark Knight was loosely based on the same tale. Both of which follow in the footsteps of the Animated Series episodes Two-Face, parts 1 and 2 - the best Two-Face origins story to date, in any media.
And it’s Dent, rather than Batman, who feels like the main character. The Long Halloween is packed full of mobsters, monsters and madmen; there’s the Joker and Catwoman (the late Naya Rivera, who the film is lovingly dedicated to), Solomon Grundy, Calendar Man, Falconis and Maronis. It’s little wonder that Ackles’ Batman gets lost amidst it all. This is a relatively young and inexperienced Batman – not yet master detective, still fumbling to comprehend the magnitude of the case before him. Jensen Ackles’s gruff performance is Batman-by-numbers, but the Supernatural veteran at least makes for a plausible dimwit detective.
Like 2019’s Hush, this adaptation hews closely to the plot of the book while making key changes to surprise those who might have already read it. Only time will tell whether Part Two flubs the ending (again, like Hush), but this is so far faithful in tone and story. Visually? Not so much. Aside from a gorgeous opening credits sequence, Tim Sale’s artwork is thrown out of the window, in favour of a more polished art-deco animation style (previously seen in Superman: Man of Tomorrow). While this is miles better than the shoddy animation of previous DC animated movies, it’s a disappointment to those who loved The Long Halloween specifically for its artwork and hulking great Batman.
Adapting the first half of Loeb and Sale’s behemoth Bat-book is no easy task. Part One is mostly setup, building towards the twists and turns of the second half, and the inevitable fall of Harvey Dent. This it does well, particularly where Dent is concerned. Batman himself might be slightly lost, but he gets some excellent action sequences and the most gorgeous Gotham City to play in since The Animated Series. Can Part Two stick the landing? Find out later, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. Mark it in your calendar, man.