I am darkness. I am the night. I…am BATMAN. — Batman: The Animated Series
Batman is a character that needs no introduction. One of most well-known superheroes in the world, Batman has graced comic pages, television, and the big screen for over seventy years. What is it that attracts so many readers to these stories? Is it the simple tale of a wealthy man who, in order to avenge the death of his parents, dresses up as a bat to take down the criminals of the most crime-ridden and corrupt city on Earth? Also, why has it continued to attract readers, with the constant changing of hands? Dozens of creative teams have tackled the Dark Knight over the years, with good results and bad.
On that note, let’s put the spotlight on comic book writer Jeph Loeb, who has recently been made Head of the Television Department at Marvel Entertainment. It is a strange choice, due to a nice piece of his work with Marvel characters being generally regarded as awful. From my past few weeks of reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Loeb is best left to work in the realm of the DC Universe, or at the very least, with the character Batman. Batman: Haunted Knight collects three unrelated tales: all taking place on All Hallows Eve, all examining our hero’s character, and all being penned by Jeph Loeb. If we can celebrate Christmas in July, why can we not relish in the festivities of Halloween season on the last week of June?
Writer(s): Jeph Loeb
Artist(s): Tim Sale
Length: 190 pages
Publisher: DC Comics
Originally Released: 1993 (Fears), 1994 (Madness), 1995 (Ghosts)
With the mood set, let’s explore the city of Gotham as presented in these tomes. It is not much different from the interpretations of other writers and artists. The seedy and crime-ridden nature of this New York City clone is as strong here, as it is in another other comics using Gotham as a major setting, such as the Gotham Central series penned by Greg Rucka. It is the artwork of Tim Sale that truly helps to make the environment stand out. The city is a heavy contrast of light and dark, simple and detailed. Some buildings are simple, lightly colored rectangles juxtaposed with detailed, darkly colored skyscrapers reaching out to claw the night sky. There is very little about the setting of Gotham itself that really makes it stand out amongst every other Batman story. But that is, perhaps, for the best.
Each of the three stories could be simply and easily described by their one-word titles. Fears involves the Scarecrow as a major villain. Madness, the Mad Hatter and his Halloween kidnappings. And finally Ghosts, which is a Halloween-twist on the Christmas Carol. But whatever villains appear in these stories, no matter how insane they are or what their goals might be: each story has large emphasis on the mind and ideas of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Fears is really about Bruce’s fear about being forever bound to “serving” the city Gotham, unable to relax for a single moment. Madness is a dual-tale involving Police Commissioner Jim Gordon & his daughter Barbara’s relationship, along with Batman’s anger at the Mad Hatter for perverting a character of a children’s novel which reminds him greatly of his mother. Finally, Ghosts is a little take on A Christmas Carol, and works as a character development story in which Bruce Wayne remembers that he must do good outside his Batman persona. All of these are well-written tales that were enjoyable and manage to make our titular character seem just as insane as the villains he fights.
Admittedly, Tim Sale’s artwork is a “take it or leave it” deal. A bit heavy on the ink, his humans sometimes seem like they are either caricatures or half-completed sketches. Strange, surreal, and over-exaggerated is the best way to describe Mr. Sale’s artwork. His Joker has a grin far larger than the rest of his face and long, gangly arms & legs. Poison Ivy is a huge bush of leaves done with little detail. The Penguin, dozens of small and spread-out fangs within an unusually large mouth. If you can get used to the art style, then it will add upon whatever enjoyment you have. If you are unable to, then it might be best to just leave this title be.
In conclusion, Haunted Night is a complete joy, with the writing and art complementing each other at every turn. If you are a Batman fan, then you might find yourself picking up this book and never letting it go.