- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2021

Writer Jeff Loeb and artist Tim Sales’ seminal comic book murder mystery that explored the early years of the Dark Knight now debuts as a two-part animated movie from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in Batman: Long Halloween — Part One (Rated PG-13, 1:78:1 aspect ratio, 85 minutes, $29.98) and Batman: Long Halloween — Part Two (Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 89 minutes, $34.98).

This separately sold pair of direct to Blu-ray releases offer an almost three-hour adaptation of the 13-part mini-series from 1996 that takes viewers into Gotham City’s underworld and introduces a vigilante serial killer nicknamed Holiday.

Specifically, mob boss Carmine Falcone’s friends, partners and relatives are being systematically murdered starting one Halloween night and every major holiday after for an entire year.

It’s up to police Capt. Jim Gordon, Batman and his romantic interest Catwoman to investigate and stop the assassin.

Meanwhile, Gotham City’s criminal element is also getting purged by an ambitious young district attorney, Harvey Dent, who comes under suspicion while lending a hand to stop Holiday.

Life gets more complex for all of the heroes after the Joker escapes Arkham Asylum. Subsequently, a rogues’ gallery of Batman’s most notorious foes are also broken out by Two-Face and Solomon Grundy to wreak havoc on the city and muddle Batman and his team’s ultimate task at hand.

Viewers will relish the simmering story and the occasional violence while learning the origin of Two-Face and watching scenes such as the Joker buzz bombing Gotham and a fight between Poison Ivy and Catwoman.

Having always been mostly a naysayer of Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment’s cartoon adaptions of comic book series, I’ll readily admit the companies have delivered a winner here.

Besides a focused, well-defined plot that never strays too far from the original source material and some strong vocal performances by Jensen “Supernatural” Ackles as the Bat, Naya Rivera as the Cat and Josh Duhamel as Harvey Dent, viewers get a visual style that’s a perfect fit for the drama.

The animation offers a tip of the cowl to Bruce Timm’s original, gothic vision of the Batman universe from the early 1990s with upgrades that offer character design similar to the “Archer” television sitcom.

Locations especially are exquisite to examine such as the entrance to Wayne Manor looking like the gates of an abandoned cemetery; or the skylines of the city, buildings and back alleys looking wiped over with sandpaper for some extra gothic grittiness; and all set behind foreboding watercolor skies.

Dark drawn lines around characters and reinforced on their faces offer a cel-shaded appearance of stark two dimensions popping from the screen. The effect looks great on Batman’s cape and cowl in motion or watching characters such as Falcone and his age lines or the Joker’s twisted, hardened appearance.

Some of the action also takes on a motion comic appearance, slightly animated cutouts that might be found in Mr. Sale’s library, most notable when the Mad Hatter and Scarecrow are riding on a horse cart riding through a cemetery.

The sum of all animated parts truly takes shape in moments such as Batman jumping across rooftops with a full moon behind him, a Fourth of July fireworks display over Gotham with neon tendrils cascading down a grey watercolor sky and Batman’s fiery encounter with Scarecrow’s fear toxin.

The animation looks better and more stylish than previous efforts, but viewers should still read the original source material to admire the beauty of Mr. Sale’s haunting and detailed imagery.

Best extras: The first part of “Batman: Long Halloween” offers a 16-minute DC Showcase animated short introducing The Losers, a ragtag group of WWII outcasts (Capt. William Storm, Gunner, Henry “Mile-a-Minute” Jones, Sarge, Pooch, Johnny Cloud, and Chinese Special Agent Fan Long) originally seen in a DC Comics’ series in 1969 created by Robert Kanigher.

The story covers the team exploring a mysterious South Pacific island inhabited by prehistoric beasts and, despite some bloody dinosaur battles and unexpected carnage, never resolves to a satisfying conclusion.

Next, a welcomed “From the Vaults” feature gives viewers two full 22-minute episodes — “Christmas with the Joker” (first vocals of Mark Hamill as the Clown Prince of Crime) and “It’s Never Too Late” — from the classic “Batman: The Animated Series.”

On the “Batman: Long Halloween — Part Two” Blu-ray disc, viewers get the 16-minute DC Showcase animated short starring Golden Age comics hero “The Blue Beatle,” that has him team up with Captain Atom, The Question and Nightshade as they battle Doctor Spectro.

The animation style pays a refreshing homage to the vintage “Marvel Super Heroes” cartoons from the 1960s from Grantray-Lawrence including cheesy sound effects and a theme song. The short offers a hilarious and welcomed visual nostalgia trip.

And, equally worth watching is a dive back into the vaults for the two-part “Two-Face” origin pair of episodes seen way back in 1992 from “Batman: The Animated Series.”

Both discs compile a fairly useless supply of preview featurettes of past animation releases such as “Batman: Hush,” “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight” and “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” that are way too promotional.

However, one preview highlight is an eight-minute look at the upcoming animated film “Injustice” based on the DC Comics’ series and famed video game. Best part of the featurette is hearing actor Kevin Pollack voice the Joker.

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