Batman: The Long Halloween
The reinterpretation of Batman for the screen continues to take an interesting turn in the new animated release Batman: The Long Halloween. The two-movie adventure, which premiered as a combined deluxe-edition saga on OTT over the weekend in India, continues to focus on the caped vigilante’s abilities as “world’s greatest detective,” a tagline that Warner Bros. and DC Films have been aggressively phrasing urgency lately, with The Batman starring Robert Pattinson releasing earlier this year.
A standout comic thriller featuring art deco animation with noir vibes to match, The Long Halloween plunges Gotham City into murky chaos as murders begin in the family of notorious gangster Falcone. The film, based on a 13-part graphic novel series created by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale in 1996-1997, is unusual for a number of reasons. For a change, the city’s law enforcement officers, led by Batman, Commissioner James Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, find themselves back to protecting Falcone, a criminal they were trying to catch. The gangster and his family appear to be the target of a mysterious killer who identifies himself as Holiday due to his penchant for committing murders only on public holidays. Second, Batman isn’t fighting a superhuman villain from another world here. It’s an idea that humanizes the superhero as he must race against time and solve the tide of crime using his intuition and investigative skills. The twisted drama that carries the narrative positions The Long Halloween as a classic detective story rather than a superhero flick, although Batman is given ample latitude to engage in some spectacular VFX-packed action that should keep fans entertained.
Batman’s identity as the pre-eminent detective has never really been explored in film before, although the idea isn’t new to hardcore fans who feed on comics featuring the masked crime fighter. While it might be a bit difficult to pinpoint exactly when it started, the epithet, which compliments Batman’s detective skills, finds mention in comics published over 50 years ago. In a February 1970 issue of DC Comics entitled Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, Batman describes himself on the front page as “the greatest detective alive”. Several characters in Batman’s world have repeatedly spoken of his investigative skills, including his adversary Ra’s al Ghul, who often referred to the caped hero as a “detective” for his ability to read a crime scene accurately.
However, films starring Batman have avoided focusing on this aspect over the years. That may have to do with the fact that New Age movies – from Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight classic in the 2000s to Zack Snyder’s mind-blowing Justice League – were primarily interested in portraying the character to use as DC’s trump card the box office battle for superhero supremacy. Batman needed to inspire awe to live up to his bill as DC’s most lucrative star rather than vying for an image as Sherlock Holmes in superhero attire. That’s one reason the element of extravagance also gave a boost to his alter ego Bruce Wayne – a trait best expressed in the Justice League scene where Flash, in his everyday avatar as Barry Allen, asks Wayne what superpower is and the latter coolly replies: “I am rich”.
When director Matt Reeves decided earlier this year to strip the character of all the jazz with The Batman, he kept Bruce Wayne away from almost every major action in the film. Perhaps one felt that Wayne’s behavior as a philandering billionaire might hamper Batman’s repositioning as a credible detective serious about solving crimes. Also, the franchise wanted you to know that over the years, Batman has begun to dominate the character’s thought process more than Wayne. The idea added a dark edge to Reeves’ directorial film The Batman and also works for Chris Palmer’s The Long Halloween.
Both “The Batman” and “The Long Halloween” highlight the protagonist’s ability to read people’s minds correctly. Either way, we spend little if any time in his high-tech lair inventing outlandish gadgets that fit his superhero calling. Rather, he is looking for clues to solve the mystery. Reeves’ film had aptly cast the Riddler (played by Paul Dano) as the villain – what better challenge than a villain who leaves puzzles as clues to officially mark Batman’s transition into the detective zone.
In The Long Halloween, Batman actually admits how stressful it is to continue his job as a detective. “I thought it was about keeping criminals off the streets. I never thought Batman would have to be a detective, a good detective,” he says. Screenwriter Tim Sheridan sets the mood right from the start when, in an early scene, Batman impressively identifies details of the specific type of weapon used in a murder simply by inspecting the crime scene. With the police process at the heart of the story, Dent and Gordon are almost as important to the script as Batman. Like the Matt Reeves film, The Long Halloween is about Batman and not Bruce Wayne. Director Palmer and writer Sheridan ensure that recurring conversations remind us that Batman is positioned here as a detective, not a superhero. “You may be aces at fistfighting, but you have a lot to learn about detective work,” Gordon jokes in one sequence. In another scene, Dent mocks Batman’s abilities when he makes a mistake, saying, “Not really a great detective, huh?”
To Batman’s benefit, the character seems more poised than any crime-fighting comic book hero for a believable makeover in that direction. For one, he has no natural superpower and relies heavily on his ability to see things beyond the obvious. The Long Halloween Double Bill, like The Batman, continues to position the vigilante as the people’s messiah. Only his approach to crime-fighting is now rooted in intelligence rather than brawn. Don’t mention that Batman with a bat mask, flying cape and skin-tight costume as a detective is sure to make an amusing picture.
Batman: The Long Halloween Deluxe Edition is available on BookMyShow Stream
Vinayak Chakravorty is a critic, columnist and film journalist based in Delhi-NCR.
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