Okay, so this was originally going to be a real review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but if you’ve been on social media in the last two weeks, I think we can all agree that we’ve had enough of that. Whether you hate it or love it, it’s one of these weird cultural events that everyone has an opinion on… and it kind of just feels like folks yelling at each other. Instead of feeding into that, I figured I would look toward two seminal works featuring the Caped Crusader and the Man of Tomorrow: Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween and Superman: For All Seasons. Both works are set early on in the careers of these burgeoning superheroes, with The Long Halloween acting as a sequel to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, and For All Seasons essentially re-telling Clark’s origin through the eyes of three people that love him and one that loathes him. While the nature and purpose of both Batman and Superman are being debated because of the film, Loeb’s tales harken back to a simpler time, where Batman wanted to clean Gotham City of crime to avenge the death of his parents, and where Superman was incredible not because of his powers, but because of his heart.
Batman: The Long Halloween
Thirteen issues, spanning a year. It begins on Halloween night, when a killed named Holiday murders mobster Johnny Viti with a .22 caliber handgun, a baby bottle nipple used as a silencer. Every month, the killer strikes on a holiday, leaving Batman scrambling to save the lives of the criminals he has dedicated his life to bringing down before they are murdered on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and so on. The mystery is compelling, but the way it casts a shadow over Batman’s early relationship with Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent is what made this an excellent read. While The Long Halloween also functions as Two-Face’s origin story, the exploration of Harvey Dent goes beyond his downfall into villainy. The Long Halloween is, at its core, about family and what people leave behind when they dedicate their lives to justice… or crime.
After mob boss Carmine “The Roman” Falcone’s son seemingly falls victim to Holiday, Batman confronts him and asks a question that hangs over the rest of the series: Is it worth it? The price? In that instant, Batman means crime of course – Falcone lost his son because of his own choices to steal, to murder, to live against Batman’s code of justice. But the same question could be asked to all of the characters. Is Batman’s never-ending quest to save a city that can’t be saved worth the price of the life he could’ve had if he dealt with his grief? Is Harvey Dent’s duty worth the price he ultimately pays when he becomes Two-Face? Is Jim Gordon’s work as a man of the law worth allowing his family to live without him more often than not? And, finally, when the real – the real, original – Holiday is revealed… is their decision worth the price, a price that can’t ever truly be weighed?
What was super interesting about The Long Halloween to me was how much of a debt The Dark Knight owes to it. I hadn’t read this one before, so I had no idea, but there are scenes – and lines even – that appear in Nolan’s movie that first popped up here.
Superman: For All Seasons
While I really enjoyed The Long Halloween and found it engaging and challenging, I think that For All Seasons might be my favorite Superman story. It’s a deceptively simple ode to kindness, to hope, and to a deep yearning to be the best person you can be. Tim Sale’s work, which was incredibly dark in The Long Halloween due to heavy inks and Gregory Wright’s noir-influenced colors, creates a completely different style here. Lighter and warmer, Sale’s work soars with Bjarne Hansen’s colors, making it hard to believe – and damn impressive – that he’s the same artist behind Loeb’s Batman stories.
For All Seasons is similar in format to The Long Halloween. While the latter dedicates a chapter to every month, stretching from one October to the next, For All Seasons offers a series of connected Superman vignettes that begins with Kent’s realization that he’s something special in Spring, his journey to Metropolis in Summer, his devastation at the hands of Lex Luthor in Fall, and finally his redemption when he saves his hometown and family in Winter. It’s a lovely and deceptively simple love letter to Superman, quite literally. Each chapter is told by someone important in his life: Pa Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and finally Lana Lang.
There is no mystery, no big superhero action, no real physical threat to Superman… instead, we watch Clark Kent become Superman, following him as he struggles with identity, with what he can and can’t do, and with the balance in his life between his two homes: Smallville and Metropolis.
Right now, a lot of folks aren’t happy with how Batman and Superman are depicted on screen. Some are, though, and that’s fine. What is thrilling to me about going back and reading stories like Batman: The Long Halloween and Superman: For All Seasons is that beyond the current films, beyond whatever changes will happen in the comics, beyond any debate about these characters, stories like this – the stories that speak to the core of the character, the beginnings, what makes them special, what makes them icons – will be here forever.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Family Pets, Robyn Hood, Hellchild), novels (Charmed for HarperCollins), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). You can find him on Twitter and Tumblr @PatShand, where he is far more likely posting a picture of his cat yawning than debating if fictional characters kill other fictional characters.