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Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Classic Batman Halloween adventures

Batman: Haunted Knight
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Steve's Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

During the mid-90s, when "Legends of the Dark Knight" was helmed by editor Archie Goodwin and at its peak as an outlet for unusual Batman tales that may or may not be "true", three excellently creepy Halloween Specials were published. All three were created by the team of Loeb and Sale, and all three have been collected in "Batman: Haunted Knight".

In addition to three of the best Batman stories ever published, there's an introduction by Archie Goodwin that puts them in context of the editorial philosophy he had for the "Legends" title. He wanted to present self-contained Batman "novels" that presented tales that were moving and exciting not only on an action level, but also on an emotional level; he wanted the stories to explore possibilities of the early years of Batman and characters associated with him from many different angles and he wanted all those angles to provide new depths and insights into those characters. Each story is particularly interesting, because it reveals facets of Batman's character to both the reader and to the character himself; each story has a component of self-discovery that ends up making Batman and even stronger hero than he might otherwise have been. (Interestingly, from a "continuity geek" standpoint, the stories seem to be saying, "Batman was once a psycho... but he healed and grew emotionally, and now he's a defender of justice.")

With "Batman: Haunted Knight", we see three examples of that editorial philosophy operating at full power. We also get a character who is the perfect vehicle for Halloween stories fighting some of his strangest foes under the dealiest of circumstances. Fans of Batman, fans of spooky stories, and fans of well-done comics will all find something to like here. All of the above goes double for those of you who liked "Batman Begins", as the tone in these three stories resemble the one found there.

The first story in the book is "Fears". In it, Batman squares off against the Scarecrow, while in his true identity of Bruce Wayne he meets what seems to be the perfect woman. However, while Bruce is caught up in and blinded by the hope of ending his decades of emtional isolation, Alfred discovers that Bruces' new lady love may be more dangerous than a supervillain.

Then we have "Madness", a story that is just as much about Batman's hunt for the Mad Hatter (who has been kidnapping children) as it is about Jim Gordon and his relationship with his adopted daughter Barbara. Fans of movies like "Seven" and "Along Came a Spider" and similar thrillers should enjoy it. It's another story that also gives Bruce Wayne some more chances to heal old emotional wounds and put to rest some ghosts.

Speaking of "Ghosts", the third tale is a "A Christmas Carol" take-off with a Halloween theme. After an introductory fight with the Penguin, the story becomes a psychological drama as Bruce Wayne/Batman is visited by the "ghosts of Halloween". It's got pretty much the same message as "A Christmas Carol", and Loeb and Sale pull it off with such grace and skill that a tale that might have seemed hackneyed or silly instead becomes touching and creepy all at once.

Get "Batman: Haunted Knight", and you'll be treated to three great Halloween stories that also rank among the best Batman comics ever published.

For more October monsters and horror,
visit Terror Titans and Shades of Gray!

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