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The history of the Batman franchise is rife with hits and misses. For every Dark Knight Trilogy, there’s Batman and Robin. On the animation front, there have been more animated films over the last nearly 30 years than there have been live-action adaptations. The quality of these animated films varies, with some standing out as exceptionally good while others have been down-right awful. Batman: The Long Halloween Part One and Part Two definitely settle into the former rather than the latter, largely due to the voice cast and the art style that meshes well with the adventures of the Caped Crusader.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the films yet.
The Long Halloween as a comic has long been considered one of the best Batman comics to be produced in the last quarter century. Originally published as a 13 issue limited series in 1996 and 1997, the comic is designed as a sequel to Batman: Year One, one of Frank Miller’s limited series that helped explore the early years of Bruce Wayne as he becomes the masked vigilante that terrorizes the underbelly of Gotham City. At its core, The Long Halloween is a transitional story, showing Batman before he becomes the World’s Greatest Detective and the change over from his original pursuit of taking down the Mob in Gotham City to dealing with the supervillains we all know and love that make up his Rogue’s Gallery.
For those that have watched The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan, some of the scenes in The Long Halloween are going to seem eerily familiar, particularly the meeting at the beginning of Part One where Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon, and Batman meet on the rooftop of a police station to discuss how they’re going to take down Carmine Falcone. This is rather deliberate since Christopher Nolan used both Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween as inspirations for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The similarities end there, however, as this is an entirely different story, one more suited to Batman as the growing detective and force for good in Gotham rather than a blockbuster movie (although there are moments like that which stand out in both parts of this film).
The voicework for the film is rather good, with Jensen Ackles returning to the Batman franchise after portraying Jason Todd in Under the Red Hood. Alastair Duncan, best known for voice work in the Mass Effect series and other video games, provides a delightfully droll performance as Alfred Pennyworth. The other main standouts are Titus Welliver (from Amazon Prime’s Bosch) as Carmine Falcone, Troy Baker as the Joker (who manages to come close to Mark Hamill’s brilliant performances over the years), and Julie Nathanson as Gilda Dent, the heartbroken wife of Harvey Dent. Out of the voice cast, the one that stands out as not being on the same level as the others is Josh Duhamel (famous for his role in the first two Transformers films) as Harvey Dent, at least in Part One. For much of the first film, Duhamel is prone to shouting his lines more than I think is necessary. When Part Two roles around and Harvey is transformed into Two-Face, Duhamel’s performance is spot-on, providing a menacing tone as the Two-Face personality grows to the forefront.
The art style for the films fits the Batman aesthete quite well, similar in many ways to Batman: The Animated Series, which I adored watching as a kid. Gotham City as a setting works best when it is soaked in grays and blacks, mirroring the corruption that took hold and overran the city. In The Long Halloween, Gotham is as much a part of the character of the story as Batman and the rest are, since it is in this grimy, crime-filled place that Batman is born and thrives. The retro art-deco designs from Batman: The Animated Series return in this one, with many of the cars and buildings looking like they came out of the 1940s and 1950s. There’s a griminess to the city that fits the story of a murder mystery very well, pulling from the film noir tropes that Batman has drawn inspiration from for decades now.
The story itself is a murder-mystery, as an unknown vigilante dubbed Holiday starts taking down mobsters during each holiday, starting with Halloween (hence the title). One would think that the point of the story is how Batman finds and apprehends the killer but that’s not the story being told here. The version of Batman we’re seeing here even admits that he isn’t much of a detective as the bodies keep piling up. The focus of this story is how Gotham City changes due to the appearance of Batman and others like Holiday, the Joker, Poison Ivy, Solomon Grundy, etc. Under the control of Carmine “The Roman” Falconi, the Mob ran a tight ship but it was “ordinary” street crime. The change from mob bosses like Falconi being the biggest threat to people like the Joker is a jarring change in the setting, one explored as the toll taken on Batman, Gordon, and Dent begins to come to the forefront.
The transformation of Dent into Two-Face is a slow boil, not occurring until roughly the halfway point of Part Two. The signs are there from the beginning, particularly during the scene where Catwoman leads Batman (who calls in Harvey) to a warehouse owned by Falconi where all of the Mob’s dirty money is being stored. A veritable mountain of cash is discovered, which Batman and Dent both conclude has to either be moved or destroyed (since due to the obscene amounts of corruption in Gotham City, confiscating it would only allow it to fall back under Falconi’s control). The decision is left to a coin flip, with a coin that has heads on both sides. It’s the first time Dent leaves a decision to the flip of a coin, the trademark he’ll later use as Two-Face.
Overall, I found these to be an excellent addition to the animated pantheon of Batman films. With a snappy art style, fine voice-acting, and a tightly-wound plot, Batman: The Long Halloween Part One and Part Two are definitely worth the watch if you’re a fan of the long-running crusade of Gotham City’s Dark Knight.