Batman: Haunted Knight


By Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1 401-28486-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Seasonal Wonderment… 9/10

The creative team of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale have tackled many iconic characters in a number of landmark tales, but their reworkings of early Batman mythology – such as The Long Halloween – must certainly rank amongst their most memorable.

Set during the Batman: Year One scenario created by Frank Miller, and originally released as a 13-part miniseries (running from Halloween to Halloween), it detailed the early alliance of Police Captain Jim Gordon, District Attorney Harvey Dent and the mysterious vigilante Batman, to destroy the unassailable mob boss who ran Gotham City: Carmine Falcone – “The Roman”.

However, even before that epic undertaking, the creators worked together on another All Hallows adventure; one that grew like Topsy to eventually become a triptych of Prestige One-Shot Specials under the aegis of Archie Goodwin’s most significant editorial project…

After the continuity-wide reset of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and with DC still in the throes of re-jigging its entire narrative history, a new Batman title launched, presenting multi-part epics refining and infilling the history of the post-Crisis hero and his entourage.

The added fillip was a fluid cast of prominent and impressively up-and-coming creators…

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight was a fascinating experiment, even if ultimately the overall quality became a little haphazard and hit-or-miss.

Most of the early story-arcs were quickly collected as trade paperback editions – helping to jump-start the graphic novel sector of the comics industry – and the moody re-imaginings of the Gotham Guardian’s early career gave fans a wholly modern insight into the ancient yet highly malleable concept.

As explained in ‘Trick or Treat’ – Editors Goodwin’s reproduced introduction from the 1996 compilation – the first Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special began life as a story-arc for the monthly series before being cannily promoted to a single, stand-alone publication released for October 1993. Its success spawned the two sequels also included in this volume and the aforementioned Long Halloween epic…

Collected in one spooky stripped-down paperback and/or eBook compilation, those three scary stories comprise a raw and visceral examination of an obsessive hero still learning his trade and capable of deadly misjudgements as seen in initial yarn ‘Fears’.

Here, after spectacularly capturing terror-obsessed psychopath Jonathan Crane, the neophyte Caped Crusader leaves him to mere policemen ill-equipped to cope with the particular brand of malicious insanity cultivated by The Scarecrow

It’s fair to say that the man behind the bat mask is distracted; still attempting to reconcile his nocturnal and diurnal activities, young Bruce Wayne is currently floundering before the seductive and sophisticated blandishments of predatory social butterfly and matrimonial black widow Jillian Maxwell. Faithful major-domo Alfred Pennyworth is not so easily swayed, however…

Left too much to his own devices, Scarecrow has run wild through Gotham, but when he abducts Gordon, he at last makes a mistake the Dark Knight can capitalise upon…

One year later another Halloween brings ‘Madness’ as rebellious teen Barbara Gordon choses exactly the wrong moment to run away from home: a night when her dad’s mysterious caped pal is frantically hunting Jervis Tetch – a certified nutcase abducting runaways to attend decidedly deadly Tea Parties orchestrated by a truly Mad Hatter

Steeped in personal nostalgia as a maniac rampages through his city, inadvertently trampling upon some of Bruce Wayne’s only happy memories (of his mother’s favourite book), the heroic pursuer almost dies at the hands of the Looking Glass Loon, only to be saved by unlikely angel Leslie Thompkins – another woman who will loom large in the future life of the Batman…

The final fable here pastiches a Christmas classic by Charles Dickens as ‘Ghosts’ sees a delirious Bruce Wayne uncharacteristically taking to his bed early on the night before Halloween.

After socialising with young financier Lucius Fox, eating bad shrimp and crushing baroque bird bandit The Penguin, our sick and weary playboy lapses into troubled sleep, only to be visited by three spectres…

Looking like Poison Ivy, The Joker and the corpse of Batman himself, whilst representing Past, Present and inescapable Future, these phantoms prove that only doom awaits unless the overachieving hero strikes a balance – or perhaps truce – between his two divergent identities…

Trenchant with narrative foreboding – long-time fans already know the tragedies in store for all the participants, although total neophytes won’t be left wondering – these eerily enthralling Noir thrillers by Loeb perfectly capture the spirit of the modern Batman, supremely graced with startlingly powerful images of Mood, Mystery and rampant Mayhem from the magic pencil and brush of Tim Sale, vividly augmented by the colours of Gregory Wright and lettering of Todd Klein.

Adding lustre to these moody proceedings are a gallery of prior covers culled from earlier collections as well as a Sale Batman sketch, making this one of the very best Batman books you could read.
So, do…
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