There’s obviously been a lot of buzz about Batman in the last week thanks to the premier of The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed trilogy. While many fans are discussing the present and future of Batman, I felt I’d take a look into his past with the collection Batman: Haunted Knight from the team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Years ago, I read their collaborations on The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, but never read their earlier work together. Thus, today I felt I’d take a look at this piece of early 90s Batman lore.
Batman: Haunted Knight is an anthology of three stories, each focusing on an aspect of Batman’s life tied to the holiday of Halloween. The first story, titled “Fears,” focuses on Batman’s run in with the dreaded “psychologist turned psychopath” Johnathan Crane, better known as The Scarecrow. Between bouts of chasing this deranged lunatic who spouts children’s rhymes as he looses fear toxin and knocks out power stations, Bruce Wayne attends social functions for the Wayne Foundation where he makes the acquaintance of a woman named Jillian Maxwell. The two show an instant attraction, and even while fighting crime Batman can’t help but think about this woman, and wonders if his choice to defend Gotham and ignore his own desires is proper.
The second story, titled “Madness,” involves the conflict between Batman and Jervis Tetch, a villain who calls himself The Mad Hatter and themes his criminal activities around the work of Lewis Carroll. This story involves Barbara Gordon, the girl who will become Batgirl but here is merely an angst-ridden teen living with her adopted family headed by police officer James Gordon. After an altercation on Halloween night, Barbara runs away only to be kidnapped by the Mad Hatter, who takes her to a house where he’s forced other children to dress the part of characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at his grim tea party. Once again, it’s up to Batman to locate the children and save them before the Mad Hatter can declare “Off with their heads.”
The third story, titled “Ghosts,” is a story about Halloween but the structure is based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. After a long night of crime fighting, a sickly Bruce Wayne retires to bed, only to see a vision of his father’s ghost who warns him about becoming obsessed with being Batman the way he became obsessed with his medical practice. Soon, three others visit him including Poison Ivy, Joker, and a final, shadowy specter that each discuss how he could live his life better while still protecting Gotham.
Jeph Loeb is well-known name among Batman fans and, as always, he delivers in Haunted Knight. The plot pacing is great; it sounds cliche, but this graphic novel is definitely a page-turner. Loeb writes Batman’s inner monologues in a very clever way as well, separating his Batman and Bruce Wayne personas through his thought processes in something I’ve never seen from another writer. The villains are portrayed excellently and felt truly creepy and disturbed: the Scarecrow constantly spouts nursery rhymes, while the Mad Hatter quotes Carroll in roundabout and menacing ways that one would not expect. Overall, the writing is spot on.
Tim Sale is a paragon of Batman art. Never before have I seen an artist who captures Batman’s world so expertly. Sale gives us a powerful picture of the dark knight, his placing of characters informing Loeb’s excellent writing. I especially like how Sale drew Batman’s cape, the massive piece of cloth billowing around him like great wings as he launches assaults on his foes. Colorist Gregory Wright deserves praise as well for aptly strengthening Sale’s images; the use of darker tones with clever use of spot color really informs the story while making the pictures all the more noir. Finally, the lettering in this graphic novel is downright amazing; it’s rare that someone gets excited about the much-overlooked lettering, but Todd Klein does a great job, using specially formatted text for some of the villains which really helps delve into their character portraits. The art, like the writing, is amazing.
Batman: Haunted Knight is a wonderful graphic novel, not least of all because it requires no continuity or background to understand. The piece is a really great read and isn’t terribly long, so it’s easy for someone with a busy life to read and enjoy. I think anyone who even has the remotest hint of who Batman is should read this graphic novel.
Brett Simon is a twenty-two year old comic enthusiast. It’s slightly terrible that his favorite part of the graphic novel involved a Through the Looking-Glass pun after Batman punched Mad Hatter into a mirror.