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One of the seminal stories in the Batman canon is having a much-deserved moment.
The Dark Knight Returns gets plenty of love, but the regard in which Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale is held by fans grows with each passing year. Now, in the midst of a 25th anniversary celebration of that Eisner Award-winning 12-issue story first published in 1996-97, the story has received an acclaimed two-part animated adaptation from DC Animation and also a new sequel in the form of a 48-page comic, Batman: The Long Halloween Special ($7.99, available now). To mark the occasion, we talked with the powerhouse duo about their return to Gotham and at the end, you've got a four-page sneak peek at the comic.
Once again written by Loeb and drawn by Sale, with colors by Brennan Wagner and lettering by Richard Starkings, it takes place some time shortly after the Holiday Killer had tormented Gotham City. The new story revolves around Harvey Dent/Two-Face returning to Gotham with his wife, Gilda Dent, due to a conflict with Calendar Man. We'll keep it spoiler free, but fans of the original tale know there remains some loose ends to the original story. The Long Halloween Special resolves one of them.
For Loeb, returning to comics after spending the past several years in television overseeing Marvel's TV unit for the past decade (he stepped down in 2019 after Kevin Feige was put in charge of all Marvel TV output as well as film) was rather easy. In fact, he says all it took was a phone call from DC Comics editor-in-chief Marie Javins to get the ball rolling. Then again, revisiting perhaps the apex of his comics career appeared inevitable to Loeb, given that he kept hearing about the Long Halloween everywhere he turned. "It was a combination of things, like Matt Reeves, who I know, talking alot about the influence [of the comic] on The Batman movie. You have to remember, that movie was going to come out this year," Loeb tells SYFY WIRE during an interview. "And then hearing about the animated movies that DC did, which Tim and I had nothing to do with, but it was just in the air."
The writer added that the comic comes up quite often in conversation, whether it's with friends or fans. "There's not a day goes by that someone doesn't reach out and want to talk about some of the secrets and make guesses and talk about how the book affected them," he says. "Which as a writer and a co-creator and a co-conspirator with Tim, is incredibly rewarding."
Loeb says returning to Gotham didn't just reunite him with Batman and his rich supporting cast; it also brought him and Sale back together. "Tim and I have been talking a lot about this, how it really reunited us as friends," Loeb says. "We used to talk all the time when we were working and then when we weren't working, we talked a lot less. So that I'll always treasure. It was in many ways more important than the book."
As deep as the influence of the Long Halloween - and you can see it clearly across Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy, especially Batman Begins and The Dark Knight -- the creative magic of the Loeb-Sale partnership goes even further. One of the most celebrated duos in comics, they've crafted hits not just at DC, but also at Marvel with their string of "color" books like Spider-Man: Blue, Captain America: White and Hulk: Gray). A good bit of that success may be due to the level of trust and understanding they've developed.
Loeb, who says he writes a story with the artist in mind, views his artistic collaborator as the director of the script. "It's a tremendous, tremendous help. There aren't very many writers in comics that do that," Sale says. "They typically will write their script maybe in conjunction with an idea that the editor had or something else, but not really with a lot of input or even thought towards what the artist does well or likes to do. Throughout Jeff's writing career in comics, he's always tailored his stories to the strengths of the artists could do or not do. That seems very logical to me, but it is unusual. It's a lot easier to work in that way."
It was also easy for Sale to return to drawing the Caped Crusader, even after a quarter century. He cemented himself in the pantheon of iconic Batman artists with his distinctive take on Bruce Wayne's alter-ego, with the flowing cape and long ears. In fact, he jokes that he's become known as "the giant ears Batman guy."
That look he established decades earlier remains consistent in Batman: The Long Halloween Special. "The version of Batman that I had - his body language, the cape, the ears, the face - in The Long Halloween is pretty much the same as I draw today. Looking back, I think that is pretty much true with the rogue's gallery, too. All except for Calendar Man, who Jeph has completely re-imagined, and so I did as well."
This new chapter in the saga also focuses a great deal on the strengthening friendship between Jim Gordon and Batman. The masked vigilante trusts Gordon. Loeb, who has made no secret of his affection for the character, says Gordon occupies a unique place in the maelstrom that is Gotham City.
"Gordon is literally the only honest man in Gotham," Loeb said. "Batman, by being Batman is a lie. You can call it a secret, but it's a lie. And Gordon is there to balance Batman to make sure he doesn't go over that line. He's not an orphan. He doesn't have any of those traumas that Batman has. In many ways he doesn't understand Batman, which is sort of fun."
To Loeb, the relationship Gordon and Batman forge at this stage in this still-early phase of his career is a friendship that remains unspoken. "[Batman] doesn't even say he's his friend. It's just...it's a working relationship for him where I truly believe that the Gordon has, if nothing else, a responsibility to this man and, and respects him."
The Gordon-Batman relationship also provides one incredibly funny moment when Gordon asks Batman if Robin, the Boy Wonder, could go trick-or-treating with his young niece, Barbara Gordon [SPOILER ALERT: he does, in the most Batman way possible].
For Loeb, Sale's layouts and pacing of the moment is what helped land the bit. "What makes it work for me, and I'll let Tim talk about it because rhythm is so important to him, is the beat before he asks the question," he says. "It gives the reader the moment to go, he's both reacting to what Batman has just said, which is this horrible thing about Harvey, but he also is trying now to, okay, at some point, you're going to have to ask this question."
"It just cracks me up," Sales adds. "That kind of mixture of, I mean, it's not like Batman is having a fun time. He said he would do it, and here you go. So that mixture of humor and Batman being half a dick, half stoic, all Batman, it was just so much fun to draw."
The Long Halloween Special is a self-contained story but it certainly leaves room for more exploration of this period in Batman's career. There will certainly be discussion around what unresolved questions are answered and not answered concerning the true identity of the other Holiday Killer, and especially if Batman has figured it out. Both men appreciate that DC has largely left the Long Halloween mythos in their hands and hasn't done any spinoffs from it without them. And as for returning to do another chapter, both men seem eager to do so.
"We've left that door open," says Loeb. "But that's obviously DC's decision to do so. It's always fun when you're telling a mystery to leave some work. If you're going to answer some secrets, then you have to leave some secrets. Whatever you may have thought you learned in reading this, Tim and I know that maybe you didn't figure it all out, and maybe we will have that chance to be able to explore that more."