Two decades before one became the head of Marvel television and the other became a renowned comic artist, two men were given the opportunity to work together at DC Comics. Teaming up in 1993 with the annual issue Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special #1, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale would go on to create a memorable three-part story arc. That arc would not only become one of The Dark Knight's legendary comic adventures, but go on to become a strong inspiration to possibly the greatest comic book trilogy in film history. I am of course speaking of DC Comics' Batman: Haunted Knight, Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory. I refer to them as Loeb and Sale's Dark Knight Trilogy.
In 1996, after having their stories first presented in DC's annual Halloween specials, the three tales (Fears, Madness and Ghosts, respectively) by Loeb and Sale were bundled into one anthology trade paperback released just in time for Halloween. Each story takes place on different Halloweens, each featuring a member of the Rogues Gallery attempting to defeat their common enemy, the Batman. In Fears, Batman faces Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow. Poisoned by his fear toxin and stuck in a large, poisonous, thorn maze, Batman must survive his greatest fears and stop Scarecrow from continuing his reign of terror. In Madness, Mad Hatter kidnaps Barbara Gordon and forces her to take part in his twisted tea party with other kidnapped children. In order to save his daughter, Commissioner Gordon must rely on the skills of the Caped Crusader to rescue her. Finally, in Ghosts, the legendary A Christmas Carol is given a haunting, Batman universe treatment as Bruce Wayne battles with the potential outcome of allowing his alter ego to take over his entire life.
The success of these works would lead to an offer from group editor Archie Goodwin, who approached Loeb and Sale at San Diego Comic Con and asked them if they were interested in more Batman stories. This moment would lead to the iconic thirteen-issue story arc Batman: The Long Halloween.
Taking place shortly after Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween (1996-1997) is set in the early days of Batman's never-ending war against crime and corruption. He is following the case of a mysterious killer named Holiday, who's MO is murdering people on holidays, once a month. Teaming with District Attorney Harvey Dent and Captain James Gordon, the three of them attempt to track down the Holiday killer while also attempting to stop a crime war between Falone and Maroni. In its third act, this compelling and gritty story shows the reader what steps were taken in turning Harvey Dent into the infamous Two-Face. With its fourteen-part series follow-up Dark Victory (1999-2000), Batman and Gordon, now Commissioner, must deal with a territory war between what's left of the Falcone mob and Two-Face, while also investigating a series of murders involving Gotham City police officers by a serial killer known only as The Hangman. This arc also features a re-telling of the origins of Dick Grayson, focusing on the death of his family, his adoption by Bruce Wayne and the beginning of his journey to become Batman's sidekick, Robin.
Jeph Loeb's writing is immaculate in these stories. His stories delve deep into the psyche of Bruce Wayne and the forces that drive his undying commitment and devotion to taking the fight to those who seek to impose fear and injustice upon the innocent. He builds these complex and interwoven scenarios for The Bat and Commissioner Gordon to face. It isn't just "stop the bad guy, save the day" in this trilogy. Each decision Batman, Gordon and Dent make affect the other stories happening concurrently in the same city. Meanwhile, Tim Sale's artwork brings a mixture of quick-sketch doodle and deep, gothic detail. There are key drawings where Batman's cape seems to be flowing, taking on a life of its own much like Todd McFarlane's Spawn designs. Those additions to his look add a Dracula-like presence to The Dark Knight, adding to the fear he looks to instill upon his enemies. With these incredible elements working together, it is no surprise that Loeb and Sale would go on to win the 1998 Eisner Award for Beat Limited Series for their work on The Long Halloween.
Upon becoming a Capeless Crusader, The Long Halloween was my very first comic book purchase. I purchased it because of its influence on director Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. From the very first page, I was glued to the story. I was intrigued by the complexity of the story. I was drawn to the dark artwork. As Nolan once put it, "The Long Halloween is more than a comic book. It's an epic tragedy." This statement rings so true. Upon completing it, I learned of its follow-up and Halloween-themed prequel. Within a couple of weeks, I owned the entire set. I credit the work of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale with fueling my current steady reading of comics. Their books set the tone for me. They showed me how intriguing and compelling a comic book can be.
To this day, whenever I am asked by someone new to comics "What Batman comic should I get?", my answer will always be these three collections by these two incredible talents. Haunted Knight, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory.
Loeb & Sale's Dark Knight Trilogy.
- "The Azorean One" Anthony Esteves