Batman: The Long Halloween - Part One
In "Batman: The Long Halloween - Part One," organized crime has a stranglehold on Gotham City. A secret alliance between Batman, Captain Jim Gordon, and District Attorney Harvel Dent aims to end the reign of the Falcone Crime Family but their mission is upended when members of the mob are murdered on every major holiday. The trio finds themselves in a race against time to figure out who the Holiday Killer is and save those they were dedicated to putting behind bars. Things take a turn for the worse when Gotham's super criminal psychopaths take an interest in the murders, launching Gotham into a new era of change. The creative crew includes director Chris Palmer, screenwriter Tim Sheridan, producers Jim Krieg and Kimberly S. Moreau, and supervising producer Butch Lukic.
"Batman: The Long Halloween - Part One" adapts the first four issues of the comic book series. Sounds like a done deal on paper, right? No. Tim Sheridan, Jim Krieg, and Butch Lukic, I think, correctly took those four issues, excised what would drag the pacing of an 85 minute movie, injected a few new scenes that elevate the character work already present at the core of Long Halloween, and tweaked some existing set pieces to create a flowing murder mystery crime thriller. For instance, the whole opening Viti wedding scene in the comic is replaced with a brief cold open of Bruce Wayne refusing Carmine Falcone's request, what this request exactly was is kept vague, and a title sequence with bits of new scenes that sets things up nicely. The death of Johnny Viti is rearranged to post-title and a new scene of Alfred and Bruce talking about "security" augments the initial rooftop meeting between Batman, Gordon, and Dent. Catwoman informing Batman is then expanded on with an innocent chase that informs us on her character and relationship with Batman, as well as taking us to Falcone's dirty money in a more entertaining way in the animated medium. Batman's introduction of the two-faced coin to trick Dent into destroying the money was also a great nuance that adds to Dent's arc and foreshadows his future. Likewise, the history between Harvey and Gilda and their hidden duality is highlighted by the subtle difference of Harvey carrying Gilda back into their home only for it to blow up, a symbol of their deteriorating marriage which comes to head in the later part of the movie on New Year's Eve.
One of the more noticeable changes with the material adapted from second issue is the Irish are replaced by a real life infamous Chinese triad called San Ho Hui. Perhaps, in the current sociopolitical climate with Asian Americans, this change would be frowned upon: the sole Asian characters in the movie are villain gangsters with martial arts and exotic weapons. Granted this movie was going to be released before last year's Superman: Man of Tomorrow and before the more pronounced outcry over violence against Asian Americans, the idea of swapping Chinese in for Irish makes for a more action packed fight sequence is a head scratcher without context of how that decision came down behind the scenes. Still, I didn't find it detracting in the moment but upon contemplation at the movie's end, it did stick out. In any case, instead of starting out in Gordon's office and recalling past events which would kill the pacing and heightened milieu from the explosion, the movie has a better chronological flow of Batman chasing after the bomber Mickey, having a fight in Chinatown, chasing Mickey into the sewers, and defusing a situation with Solomon Grundy. The ruse of Dent trying to impersonate Mickey to get a confession is thrown out in place of two scenes that better gel together and are so much more evocative: Alberto sends flowers to Dent's hospital room on his own accord and totally sets off Carmine, highlighting their relationship, and then the flower delivery, Dent eavesdropping on Gilda's discussion with Nurse Tamara, his subsequent escape to Gordon finding him staring at Falcone's foreboding high rise building in his hospital gown. It all ends with a much more impactful and perhaps cynical take on Thanksgiving. Harvey and Gilda go their own ways, Carmine and Falcone are in the same room but miles apart from each other, Gordon comes home to dinner wrapped for him and everyone else fast asleep, Batman steals a turkey leg on the sly to feed Solomon Grundy while Alfred and Selina ponder what happened. And like in the comic, Holiday Killer murders the gang hired to bump off Dent and leaves behind a cornucopia with the gun.
The third issue is perhaps the most shaved down. The Joker's reign of terror on families is cut down to a brief line later on and instead focuses on the lauded scene with Calendar Man at Arkham Asylum and a perfectly haunting performance by David Dastmalchian and the Joker's confrontations with Harvey Dent and Carmine Falcone. Gilda is omitted, presumably to focus on just the interplay between Harvey and Joker. Sal Maroni's scene is cut down to in media res of him putting his Jokerized henchman Frankie in his trunk and Batman inquires what happened, highlighting Batman's lack of detective experience and foreshadowing a tipping point between the mob and the super criminal fringe. In contrast, a larger action scene of Joker being pursued by Milos only to be killed by Holiday like in the comic.
The adaptation of the fourth issue is also shaved down, rearranged, and added on for a better narrative flow. It instead begins with Alfred reminding Bruce of the need for him to maintain his dual life, convincing him to go to Falcone's charity event on his yacht. Falcone's speech about family underscores the grip and influence he has on the city with all of its elites gathered in one room - his rival Maroni, the Mayor, the Bishop, Bruce as well as puts an exclamation point on the divide between himself and his son when he calls Bruce the son he never had. The divides continue when Jim and Barbara witness the tension and bickering between Harvey and Gilda, ending in them going their separate ways (and essentially exit the movie) then Selina decides to break up with Bruce. Then the big set piece of the final act is Joker attempting to gas Gotham Square on New Year's Eve because it is a 50:50 shot at killing the Holiday Killer. While all that is happening, the greater intrigue is when Alberto meets Selina and he feels compelled to vent his frustrations on her and leans in to kiss her only for Selina to awkwardly reject him (perhaps hinting at the sometimes used element of Selina being a daughter of Carmine) and Batman arriving to accuse Alberto of being the Holiday Killer. His reasoning is somewhat sound but he watches in horror as the Holiday Killer takes out the next target. Also stay for the credits or fast forward, because there's one more scene to leave the audience on a "Oh No!" and likely again to provide a better narrative flow, in this case into Part Two.
While this isn't a 1:1 adaptation like "Batman: Year One" was, "Batman The Long Halloween - Part One" comes pretty close. It honors the core of Jeph Loeb's story and makes it work as a moving picture. Maybe if the powers that be approved a four part movie, then all 13 issues could be adapted. Based on just Part One, Sheridan, Krieg, and Lukic appear to have made the logical choice of cherry picking the iconic parts of the story, getting rid of what works for comic but not for a movie, making it a strong character piece for all the principal players rather than just making just another Batman movie, and honoring the complexity of Loeb's murder mystery. As for the identity of the Holiday Killer, the production crew had three choices: do the same thing as the comic or change who the person is. The latter is something that was done for Hush on "Batman: Hush" and Jack the Ripper on "Batman: Gotham By Gaslight". It seems like this crew took the same approach and we may have a new Holiday Killer. There is nothing too definitive pointing to who it is in that Shadow-esque costume. Gilda perhaps because of the theme of children of Carmine being targeted, Gilda's inability to have children, and the baby bottle nipple used as a suppressor. Lacking any evidence, for some reason I'm getting the feeling the culprit is Two-Face in control of Harvey Dent's body similar to how he operated in "Batman vs. Two-Face".
Part One boasts an impressive voice cast. Jensen Ackles's take on Bruce Wayne and Batman only made me wonder why wasn't he case in the role sooner. Both are nuanced and just as great as his take on Red Hood/Jason Todd in "Batman: Under The Red Hood" years ago. The late Naya Rivera's Catwoman is mercurial and playful and adds a tone of levity to the movie. Troy Baker reprises the Joker with his Mark Hamillian tone. Josh Duhamel delivers a stoic, but slowly cracking Harvey Dent. Billy Burke also is a perfect match for Jim Gordon. Titus Welliver's Carmine Falcone is intimidating and imposing worthy of "The Godfather." David Dastmalchian chews up every second of the movie with Calendar Man. Worthy of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Dastmalchian gives life to Loeb's creepier and more sinister take on the C-lister. Alastair Duncan reprises Alfred from "The Batman" and it feels like no time has passed since that animated series. Julie Nathanson's Gilda Dent hints at something from her past being bottled up and her emotions slowly erupting.
In what is edging slowly towards ubiquitous, The Long Halloween - Part One was animated by three studios based in South Korea: Edge Animation, Studio Grida, and Maven Image Platform. I'll emphasize this isn't is a detriment to the quality of the movie. If anything, perhaps we're seeing better quality animation by having the work load split up and each piece plays to a studio's strong suit like action scenes or drama. One of the stand outs is Gotham City itself. In contrast to "Superman: Man of Tomorrow" and even "Justice Society: World War II," the city is appropriately gilded. A lot of black and gray buildings with hints of gold. I think even an attempt to mimic the hand painted background art of old seen in classics like "Batman: The Animated Series" to capture that dark deco/crime noir sensibility. The action scenes were a lot of gritty and in your face so you can see and almost feel the impact whereas in the past movies, you have that sense of distance from it in a way. The I suppose unconventional camera angles that follow Catwoman when she's in action, specifically the early chase across the roofs when she jumps to the clock tower then dives down to the train were surreal. Or some shots feel like they've been ripped out a classic noir movie such as the death pose of Antoni at the bottom of the stairwell visualizing the imposing scale and power of Carmine Falcone.
With Jon Suzuki at the supervising character designer, the team refined the concept art of Otto Schmidt and continues to be a killer combination. One detriment to this adaptation to many may be that it doesn't mirror Tim Sale's art style in the source material. In an ideal conditions, any art style can be adapted. In reality, time and money matters. The biggest challenge in deciding the style for any animated movie much less adaptations is making sure it animates consistently and for the case of adaptations still somewhat recalls the source material. Sometimes, a comic book artist's style is antithetical to animation. If you had enough time, like four years to devote to making the movie, hire the best people to do storyboards, revise, revise, and revise the drawings until they look like Sale's art jumped off the comic book pages and on the screen, and a bigger budget that these DTVs do, then sure, they would probably adapt Sale no question. But they don't, they have a strict schedule. The best compromise they can do in cases like this is use the comic artist's style as inspiration and streamline. You can see with some characters are closer to Sale's style than others. Like Sale had a very specific design for the Joker like his 'Beetlejuice' teeth. Another thing to consider is that this is Sale's style filtered through European artist Otto Schmidt then cleaned up by Jon Suzuki and the design team assigned to the movie. So instead of going through one stage of design, it's more like two stages of homogenizing. But at the same time, they are trying to honor Sale's interplay of light and dark to get that noir effect. Or the fault could be that if this movie is part of the continuity started in Superman: Man of Tomorrow, because then it is slave to staying within the constraints of that new style by Schmidt, rather than a stand alone and more akin to Sale's exaggerated style.
The sneak peek previews the next movie in the DC Universe line, "Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two," out on July 27 on both digital and August 10 on Blu-ray. The preview is 9 minutes and 10 seconds and shows off a lot of finished animation, animatics, comic book panels, and comments from cast and crew. Writer Tim Sheridan signals Part Two takes all the threads of Part One and ties them up in a bow and leads to major changes – all the fractures and cracks leads to the decline of all things, the alliance between Gordon, Dent, and Batman and the dominance of organized crime. Josh Duhamel, Jensen Ackles and Titus Welliver comment on the corruption of Harvey Dent and the rise of costumed rogues. Sheridan bookends the preview with promising more villains, more holidays, and higher stakes. It will certainly be interesting to see what of the remaining 9 issues gets adapted and what gets excised.
The DC Showcase short paired with this movie is "The Losers," an infamous World War II era unit comprised of soldiers from all military branches who take some level of pride in their collective bad luck and casualties they've suffered in their careers. Clocking in at 16 minutes and 4 seconds, The Losers have the task of escorting a special agent named Fan Long from the Chinese Security Force on a secret, surprise right?, mission to secure a research facility on an uncharted island. They discover there's more to the mission when they're attacked by dinosaurs in sea then on land. The Losers soon antagonize a group of raptors and are separated. Fan Long's true mission is soon uncovered as is what the Chinese are doing on the island, trying to study and weaponize a tear in space-time in order to leap frog ahead of the nuclear arms race. The Losers make the ultimate sacrifice and take some heavy ordinance into the tear and trigger an explosion to seal it off so no one can ever misuse it. While the short may cater more to the hardcore comics fans, it's not too difficult to glean the story, like the comics it is influenced by, highlights the dirtier aspects of war, the secrets and lies that permeates through it like a thick fog and the decent people who get entangled in it. The short is produced by Rick Morales, directed by Milo Neuman, character designs by Steven Choi, Dan Panosian, and Zak Plucinski, written by Tim Sheridan, and animation by NE4U, Inc. The cast is comprised of Ming-Na Wen as Fan Long, Eugene Byrd as Jones, Dave B. Mitchell as Gunner and Sarge, Martin Sensmeier as Cloud, and Dean Winters as Storm.
The look backs on past releases include "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One and "Batman: Gotham By Gaslight" while the DC Vault classics are the "Batman: The Animated Series" episodes "Christmas With The Joker" and "It's Never Too Late". This release lacks any trailers. No real loss there. The overall special features were sparse. Not even a 10 minute featurette about the history and legacy of the original "Batman: The Long Halloween" comic book series. Sure, the DC Vault classics have surface level parallels with aspects of Part One. Overall, it felt like the 2022 deluxe edition that combines both movies might have all the cool stuff and potential sales will be lost on these single releases in anticipation of the deluxe one.
"Batman: The Long Halloween - Part One" is a recommended purchase. While I took issue with the bare-bones special features and hold out on the 4K version until the deluxe edition next year, the movie itself was phenomenal and any Batman story that focuses on its crime noir roots, a mystery, and the detective aspect of the Caped Crusader, I'm in. Tim Sheridan took on a daunting adaptation that I may not be completely sold on being done with only two movies, but from what I've seen with the first part, he dispelled my indifference and replaced it with intrigue and anticipation for what his conclusion entails. "Batman: The Long Halloween - Part One" immerses audiences back into the duality of Gotham City; a world ever falling towards darkness, casting a corrupting shadow in its wake, and those who endeavor to keep hope alive. Did you solve the mystery before Batman?
Main Feature: 4 out of 5
Special Features: 2 out of 5
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5