‘Batman: Long Halloween’: Loeb and Sales’ masterpiece gets animated (Blu-ray movie review)
WASHINGTON — Writer Jeff Loeb and artist Tim Sales’ seminal comic book murder mystery tracing the early years of the Dark Knight now debuts as a two-part animated movie from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. This Dynamic Duo of DVD packages includes Batman: Long Halloween — Part One (Rated PG-13, 1:78:1 aspect ratio, 85 minutes, $29.98) and Batman: Long Halloween — Part Two (Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 89 minutes, $34.98).
Sold separately, this pair of direct to Blu-ray Loeb and Sales releases offer an almost three-hour adaptation of the 13-part Batman mini-series from 1996. The package takes viewers into Gotham City’s underworld and introduces a vigilante serial killer nicknamed Holiday.
Specifically, mob boss Carmine Falcone’s friends, partners and relatives are being systematically murdered. The carnage begins one Halloween night and continues over every following major holiday for an entire year. It’s up to police Capt. Jim Gordon, Batman and his romantic interest, Catwoman, to investigate and stop the assassin.
Meanwhile, Gotham City’s criminal element is also getting purged by an ambitious young district attorney, Harvey Dent, who comes under suspicion while lending a hand to stop Holiday.
Life gets more complex for all our heroes after the Joker escapes Arkham Asylum. Subsequently, Two-Face and Solomon Grundy liberate a rogues’ gallery of Batman’s most notorious, incarcerated foes. As expected, they wreak havoc on the city, complicating the primary task at hand for Batman and his team.
Worth the purchase price?
Viewers will relish the simmering story and the occasional violence while learning the origin story of Two-Face and watching scenes such as the Joker buzz bombing Gotham and a fight between Poison Ivy and Catwoman.
I’ve mostly been a naysayer regarding Warner Bros.’ animation and DC Entertainment’s cartoon adaptions of its comic book series. But I’ll readily admit the companies delivered a genuine winner with their current “Batman: Long Halloween” package. For the most part, it hews closely to Loeb and Sales’ dark take on the Dark Knight and the product is well worth its price tag.
Besides a focused, well-defined plot that never strays too far from the original source material and some strong vocal performances by Jensen “Supernatural” Ackles as the Bat, Naya Rivera as the Cat and Josh Duhamel as Harvey Dent, viewers get a visual style that’s a perfect fit for the drama.
The animation offers a tip of the cowl to Bruce Timm’s original, gothic vision of the Batman universe from the early 1990s with upgrades that offer character design similar to the “Archer” television sitcom.
What to look for in this quality production
Locations especially are exquisite to examine such as the entrance to Wayne Manor looking like the gates of an abandoned cemetery; or the skylines of the city, buildings and back alleys looking wiped over with sandpaper for some extra gothic grittiness; and all set behind foreboding watercolor skies.
Dark drawn lines around characters and reinforced on their faces offer a cel-shaded appearance of stark two dimensions popping from the screen. The effect looks great on Batman’s cape and cowl in motion or watching characters such as Falcone and his age lines or the Joker’s twisted, hardened appearance.
Animation techniques to look for
Some of the action also takes on a motion comic appearance involving slightly animated cutouts that you might find in Mr. Sale’s library. This becomes most notable when the Mad Hatter and Scarecrow ride in on a horse cart through a cemetery.
The sum of all animated parts truly takes shape in moments such as Batman jumping across rooftops with a full moon behind him, a Fourth of July fireworks display over Gotham with neon tendrils cascading down a grey watercolor sky and Batman’s fiery encounter with Scarecrow’s fear toxin.
The animation looks better and more stylish than previous efforts, but viewers should still read the original source material just to admire the beauty of Mr. Sale’s haunting and detailed imagery.
The first part of “Batman: Long Halloween” offers a 16-minute DC Showcase animated short introducing The Losers, a ragtag group of WWII outcasts (Capt. William Storm, Gunner, Henry “Mile-a-Minute” Jones, Sarge, Pooch, Johnny Cloud, and Chinese Special Agent Fan Long) originally seen in a DC Comics’ series in 1969 created by Robert Kanigher.
The story covers the team exploring a mysterious South Pacific island inhabited by prehistoric beasts and, despite some bloody dinosaur battles and unexpected carnage, never resolves to a satisfying conclusion.
Next, a welcomed “From the Vaults” feature gives viewers two full 22-minute episodes — “Christmas with the Joker” (first vocals of Mark Hamill as the Clown Prince of Crime) and “It’s Never Too Late” — from the classic “Batman: The Animated Series.”
More best extras
On the “Batman: Long Halloween — Part Two” Blu-ray disc, viewers get the 16-minute DC Showcase animated short starring Golden Age comics hero “The Blue Beatle,” that has him team up with Captain Atom, The Question and Nightshade as they battle Doctor Spectro.
The animation style pays a refreshing homage to the vintage “Marvel Super Heroes” cartoons from the 1960s from Grantray-Lawrence including cheesy sound effects and a theme song. The short offers a hilarious and welcomed visual nostalgia trip.
Equally worth watching? Check out this packages dive back into the vaults. There, they unearth for our viewing pleasure the two-part “Two-Face” origin pair of episodes. This vintage material appeared way back in 1992 in “Batman: The Animated Series.”
Both discs compile a fairly useless supply of preview featurettes of past animation releases such as “Batman: Hush,” “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight” and “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” that are way too promotional.
However, one preview highlight is an eight-minute look at the upcoming animated film “Injustice” based on the DC Comics’ series and famed video game. Best part of the featurette is hearing actor Kevin Pollack voice the Joker.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.