A Very Long Halloween Part 2: Thanksgiving

I forgot how weak the second part of this issue is. It does, however, offer an in-one summation of every single mystery Jeph Loeb would later write in a comic. “Thanksgiving” is a very quick read, in which Batman and Gordon interrogate a team of career criminals about the bomb which ended the first issue – and, apparently, the lives of Harvey and Gilda Dent.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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Something which comes up a lot as The Long Halloween goes on is Loeb’s use of ‘guest stars’ – he features one famous Batman villain every issue, in what is essentially a cameo designed to draw attention to the rest of his story. In many cases he manages to bring in someone like The Riddler for a bit, and tie it to the larger story. In Thanksgiving, however, he has one of the weaker Batman villains to play with – Solomon Grundy.

Grundy is basically a pacified zombie, who lives in the sewers below Gotham and keeps to himself. Rather than favouring a meal of brains every now and then, he’s a fairly sedate character. He can be riled up into supreme monsterism, but only when severely provoked. Which is what happens here, basically. Batman chases a suspect into the sewers – only to then have to deal with Grundy, who is feeling a bit territorial at the moment. Batman gets a fight scene, Grundy does his cameo, sequence over.

What’s strange is how little Loeb explains what’s going on here. New readers have just met a random monster living under Gotham, in only the second issue of what was turning out to be a rather formal, Godfather-inspired take on criminality. It comes from nowhere, and doesn’t have any clear reason to exist beyond any debatable starpower that Grundy might have. It’s a large chunk in the centre of this issue, and comes at the expense of Catwoman – who doesn’t appear anywhere here. For somebody set up to be a major force in the story, that’s rather surprising.

But back to the interrogation scenes. This is the core of the issue, and it turns around a twist which Loeb has reused in many of his subsequent stories – as well as later in The Long Halloween itself! Basically, despite Batman’s opening statement “Harvey Dent is dead”, it turns out that Gotham’s DA survived the bomb attack. Not only that, but he’s wearing a mask (oh, foreshadowing) and is pretending to be one of the criminals. We were told a character was dead, and then surprised with both his survival and his new identity.

Loeb uses this ALL THE TIME. As well as in The Long Halloween, this is arguably the point of the sequel series Dark Victory’ as well as Hush, and Red Hulk, the Ultimates 3, and Ultimatum. Whenever you see a character die in the early stages of a Jeph Loeb story, readers now know that they’ll be the ultimate villain of the piece. It’s a twist that relies on the author actively lying to the reader about what information is on the page. It’s clever, if a little sneaky.

But it’s also a fairly obvious one at this point, not least because this is set in the past and we haven’t seen Two-Face yet. So the issue feels like a dud, really. After a big gothic crime saga was dangled in front of the reader, we’re now given a bizarre cameo appearance (which concludes with Batman leaving a full Thanksgiving meal in the sewers for Grundy, which doesn’t seem very in-character and looks ridiculous on the page) and a twist which is garbled right from the start.

Why Harvey Dent goes to all this trouble is a mystery, as he’s now spent a month pretending to be dead, only to then decide he’s going to re-reveal his existence to the general public at the end. I’m not sure why he had to be the one who went in disguise – he only wears it for about half an hour in the cell – nor why he had to pretend to be either dead nor alive. It feels like the twist was planned first, but then the creative team forgot to decide why it had to happen, or how.

There’s no plot progression either, as the new characters are all killed off in one big go right at the end, to further the idea of a “holiday” killer. The Harvey/Gordon/Batman plan was a bust, so nobody can pin the explosion to Falcone, and there are no real clues laid to who the serial killer is. Heck, they only actually become a serial killer in the last page. Thanksgiving, is seems, is a real dud of an issue.

The Joker’s coming for Christmas. Let’s see if things pick up.

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