Batman is many things to many people: ninja master, brutal vigilante, father figure, brilliant scientist, but one of his most neglected faces is that of detective. Plenty of writers have him solve a mystery, but he does it with the use of his Batcomputer (or whatever it’s called these days) rather than investigating crime scenes, examining motive, working alongside the police, and actually solving crimes rather than just punching criminals and letting a computer do the thinking for him. Jeph Loeb never forgets this and while one of his best-known forays into the Dark Knight has already been covered on this site, I want to highlight his take on Batman at his most Sherlockiest. Which is totally a word, I looked it up and everything.
I bring up Hush as more than a shameless plug of a fellow Comic Vine writer, I also bring it up because it has a few direct parallels to the subject of this article: The Long Halloween is a 13 issue, self-contained series that takes place after, but is not directly tied to, Batman: Year One. Each issue takes place around a holiday of a different month, beginning with, of course, Halloween, with each holiday marked by a prominent murder (with the apropos exception of April 1st). Dubbed the Holiday Killer, the killer’s motives are difficult to ascertain, but their method is always the same: close-range execution with a low-caliber handgun (occasionally more than one gun is used). Batman is on the case alongside then-Captain James Gordon and a young, up and coming hotshot DA by the name of Harvey Dent, who eventually becomes a prime suspect for the murders. Catwoman also plays dual roles as a substantial supporting player, and on-again off-again love interest for Batman, while Selina Kyle gets cozy with Bruce Wayne.
Beyond being one of the main influences for The Dark Knight, the story is notable for filling out Two-Face’s origin as well as being a transitional period for Batman’s rogues, shifting from gangsters and mundane criminals to bizarre, costumed villains. This is also the first modern appearance of Calender Man, of all people. One of Batman's absolute goofiest, least menacing villains is given the all-star treatment as a kind of Hannibal Lecter character, a villain helping the police and Batman catch a criminal he feels is stealing his thunder (though he doesn't help them TOO much, of course). Tim Sale’s art strikes this balance with great subtlety, all the gangsters are drawn with relatively realistic features and proportions, while the “freaks” are drawn with bizarre, larger-than-life styles. Even Bruce and Selina are drawn relatively mundane, but when they slip into costume, suddenly they’re outrageous caricatures. At its heart, though, the story focuses on Batman as a crime-solver first and foremost and while there is plenty of action, it never gets in the way of a solid, brain-bending mystery.
It would’ve been enough to simply have the mystery and the various Arkham inmates, but the characters at the core of the story are just as compelling, often getting more attention than the strange denizens of Gotham. Harvey and Gilda Dent are trying to have a child, but Harvey’s attention is on his work, the Gordons are going through rough patches with Jim being away so much, and Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle just can’t seem to find five minutes to themselves. The way Loeb writes the characters in and out of costume (neither knows the others’ identity at this point) is one of the most fascinating things about the story, particularly when Poison Ivy is hired to get Bruce Wayne to sign off on a questionable deal involving the Falcone crime family and it’s up to Catwoman to get him seeing straight again. Selina knows she’s saving Bruce but has no idea she’s ALSO saving Batman and the fact that she cares for both men makes the scene all the more surreal.
Bruce Wayne also gets an usual amount of on-panel time, another strength of Loeb’s, as we see him tangle with the crime families, the Arkham inmates, and even the Gotham police force as he becomes a prime suspect. The issue that takes place in April where the key players, and the Riddler, run down the entire list of suspects is one of the absolute crowning achievements of the book as it shows precisely how perfectly executed the crimes have been and just how many people make perfect sense as the killer. This is also THE prime scene that shows Batman working through the conundrum with his brain rather than simply running all the variables through a computer like a math problem. The incredible mystery, the subtle themes, and the monumental impact on both the Batman universe and storytelling, there’s absolutely no reason for any fan of the Dark Knight Detective to skip this story.