I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
Batman is imposing. That’s understood. It’s fundamental to his character. It’s built directly into his mythos. It was an errant bat smashing through a mansion window that made him decide on a costume, satisfied that a vague resemblance to the flying mammals would be sufficient to strike terror into the hearts of superstitious, cowardly criminals. Artists generally understood this and brought their most muscular lines to renderings of the crusader adorned in a cape. Great as many of those visual realizations are, I’m prepared to argue that no one nailed the assignment quite as effective as Tim Sale.
I first encountered Sale’s artwork where I suspect many did, in the pages of the hefty limited series Batman: The Long Halloween. The comic book story paired Sale with writer Jeph Loeb, already a regular collaborator, after editor Archie Goodwin asked if they had any ideas to build on the Batman stories they’d done together for Halloween specials tied to the ongoing Legends of the Dark Knight series. They came up with an expansion of their holiday-themed approach, created a thirteen-issue series with each monthly installment tied to a different U.S. holiday, all beginning and ending on Halloween.
As was commonly the case when telling a special story in the Gotham City corner of the DC Universe, The Long Halloween took its cues from the iconic “Year One” story, written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli. It provided a reinterpretation of an early piece of Batman lore, specifically District Attorney Harvey Dent’s traumatic transformation into the coin-flipping villain Two-Face. The limited series also revolves around the complicated saga of the Falcone family, local mobsters who were introduced into the gallery of Batman rogues in that “Year One” story, and the mystery of a mass murderer going by the alias Holiday. Really, though, The Long Halloween is about inventing ways for Sale to depict Batman’s most fearsome foes.
By now, it’s relatively common for creative teams on various Batman titles to careen through all the most celebrated characters who match wits and trade punches with Bruce Wayne’s alter ego. When The Long Halloween was published, in 1996 and 1997, it still felt somewhat novel. There was a showmanship to it, a sense of celebration. The comics seemed to shout out with collegial joy about how much fun could be had with this assemblage of colorful characters. Throughout the story, Loeb is especially strong at finding ways to play with the famed elements of the extended Batman story, and Sale responds with art that thrills with its striking imagination. Everything here simply looks like it was incredibly fun to draw.
Realistically, there have been too many incredible comic book artists that have put their pencils to Batman over the years to settle on just one as a favorite. I could start listing worthy nominees here and never be able to properly, accurately, fairly call the tally complete. That context noted, when I think of Batman on the page, Sale’s version comes to mind first. His Batman is a powerhouse, in every sense of the word.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.