DC Animation’s latest takes on the origins of Harvey Dent and “The World’s Greatest Detective”

Warner Bros. Animation has been on a hot streak lately, putting out lots of high-quality DC adaptations as well as an exceptional Mortal Kombat film. Their latest adapts one of Batman’s most cherished storylines, The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.

It follows in the footsteps of other adaptations like The Killing Joke, Hush, and The Dark Knight Returns, which translate some of the Dark Knight’s finest comics storylines for the screen, for the most part as standalone adaptations acting in service to the comics tales rather than specifically trying to jam them into a specific movie universe or continuity.

I’ve somehow never actually read this one, so my review is acting in response only to the film without any specific foreknowledge of the graphic novel.

The Long Halloween is a story which takes place early in Batman’s career as a crimefighter, still learning the ropes and understanding where he fits in with Gotham’s legitimate criminal justice enforcers, the police department and DA’s office. By striking up an alliance with GCPD Captain James Gordon and tenacious DA Harvey Dent, he becomes part of an effective triumvirate for fighting the city’s powerful gangsters.

When an unknown assassin starts making hits on the crime families, the hunt is on for the strange serial killer, dubbed “Holiday” for the pattern of dates on which he executes his (or her) targets. A handful of suspects arise and Gordon and Batman must grapple with their worst suspicion of all, that the mysterious murderer is their own friend and cohort, an increasingly angry and struggling Harvey Dent.

Meanwhile, the Joker escapes Arkham, terrorizes Gotham, and also seems to have developed an interest in the identity of Holiday.

We know Bruce Wayne as the “World’s Greatest Detective” but this story finds a nascent Batman grappling with a difficult mystery and coming to grips with the idea that he can’t just bust heads. He must also do the real “police work” of investigation and providing sufficient evidence for real convictions. Of being a detective.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this time frame, though, is the paradigm shift in Gotham’s criminal element from traditional crime families to the rogues’ gallery of freaks and wackos which we usually associate with Batman. The question of causality is one of the key cruxes of both this story and the greater Batman lore: is the masked vigilante truly a deterrent to Gotham’s bizarre criminals, or their catalyst?

I continue to be somewhat bewildered by some of DC’s Animation’s ratings — the breezy kung fu tale Soul of the Dragon opted for an arbitrary R, while this tonally dark and necessarily violent and horrific horrific murder mystery somehow squeaked by with a PG-13. Both are great movies and work terrifically as is in their existing form, I just have a hard time understanding where these ratings come from.

Part One ends on a bold mid-story cliffhanger that has me excited to view Part Two, which arrives July 27th, to see how Batman and his allies will unravel the mystery of the Holiday killer.

The Package

Batman: the Long Halloween Part One is new on Blu-ray and digital June 22 from Warner Brothers. The Blu-ray includes a digital Movies Anywhere copy.

Historically when DC Animation has released their films in two parts (The Dark Knight Returns, The Death and Return of Superman), they’ve followed it up with a combined edition merging the pairing into a single, longer film. According to Warner Brothers, that will also be the case for The Long Halloween, and viewers who want a 4K disc will need to wait for the combined release.

Special Features and Extras

  • Sneak Peek: Batman The Long Halloween Part Two (9:10)
    A behind the scenes look at the upcoming conclusion, still in development.
  • DC Showcase: The Losers (16:04)
    The latest DC Showcase adapts a lesser-known WWII-set comic to the screen (best known under its loose Vertigo reboot, which was adapted to a feature film). A team of commandos encounters a mysterious island packed with savage dinosaurs and a discovery which could change the outcome of the war. The concept is pretty cool; the execution quite violent for my taste (machine-gun violence to animals, animal violence to humans). It feels more like a random episode of a (very bloody) cartoon than a short film. It’s not one I’m likely to get the urge to rewatch.
  • Batman: The Animated Series — “Christmas with the Joker” (22:22)
    The disc has two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series highlighting some similarities to The Long Halloween. The first is another look at the holidays with The Joker.
  • Batman: The Animated Series — “It’s Never Too Late” (22:24)
    Batman confronts an aging mob boss amid an escalating gang war.
  • Additional “sneak peeks” of past Batman animated films:
    Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (12:34)
    Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (8:28)

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system.

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