Batman: The Long Halloween writer wasn’t nervous about changing the story

Batman: The Long Halloween is one of the most iconic and influential Batman stories ever told. Written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale, the 13 part story sees the Dark Knight investigate the mystery of Holiday, a murderer who, as his name suggests, strikes on public holidays.

Featuring the birth of Two-Face, the rise of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, and the downfall of the Gotham mob, The Long Halloween is an epic in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, while the mini-series has inspired films in the past – Christopher Nolan drew direct inspiration for The Dark Knight from this story – it’s never been adapted for the big screen, until now.

Finally, after two decades of waiting, DC released a brilliant animated Long Halloween film (split into two parts). Directed by Chris Palmer and starring the voices of Jensen Ackles as Batman, Naya Rivera as Catwoman, Troy Baker as The Joker, and many more, the movie is a love letter to comic fans everywhere. Batman: The Long Halloween Part One is available to buy now, so to celebrate, we sat down with the film’s writer Tim Sheridan and chatted about all things Batman.

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The Digital Fix: I know you’ve written films and TV featuring DC characters before, but this is your first time taking on the Dark Knight. How did you feel tackling the Caped Crusader?

Tim Sheridan: In many ways, you might see this film as reaction to my work on Reign of the Superman. Batman’s in that film, but there are 75 million characters in that story, and so he doesn’t really get chance to shine. So when you get to come in and do a two-part Batman story that might appear to be a reaction to that, like “Well, now I’m doubling down on Batman”.

Of course, the fool in me took on a story that also had 75 million characters, particularly villains, so hopefully, people will enjoy the ride as much as I did. But getting to writing Batman that was the experience of a lifetime for a fanboy. We’re meeting Batman at an early stage in his career, and bringing in someone like Jensen Ackles to play him [was a] a stroke of genius, that guy was born to play Batman. I’m so glad to get to see and hear what he had done with the role.

I think is really interesting you mentioned that this is a Batman early in his career because there are constant references to him, “not being much of a detective”. Fans know Batman is the world’s greatest detective, how quickly in the writing process did you help him with the idea that he wasn’t fully formed at this point?

Well, day one, Jim and I said, OK, [The Long Halloween] is Batman in what is generally accepted by comic book fans to be “Year Two”, because it was conceived as sort of a spiritual sequel to Year One in the comics. So what does “Year Two” look like? Well, part of the complicating thing about that is that in this story a hefty part of Batman’s rogue’s gallery has already been rounded up and put into cells.

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So that process was, well, how does [Batman] grow in this story? I think that the Batman of today, with all the time that he has under his belt, would solve the mystery of the Holiday Killer in one issue, maybe two. But to see a story that takes place over the course of a year and kind of baffles him, sort of pointed us to the idea that this is “Year Two”. Maybe he didn’t realise that being a detective was going to be a part of this job. Yes, he did a good job rounding up the rogue’s gallery because he has some muscle and some gadgets, but that doesn’t work on the guys like Carmine Falcone, who is a real palpable threat to the city, so he’s got to find another way to deal with him.

Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent

And we see that in what Harvey Dent is trying to do, I mean, the district attorney is coming at this from a legal perspective and trying to solve the problem of corruption in Gotham City by using the law. So it’s all of that, plus learning from Jim Gordon about how to actually interact with criminals, how to how to then make your case, and get the results you need. Learning all that was something we knew right away was going to be part of the story. It gave a very interesting arc for Batman, who along the way is dealing with personal family things that are coming up that are surrounding this story and are connected to the story.

The long Halloween is 25 years old at this point, but it’s still so widely beloved. Why do you think it’s endured all this time?

Well, first of all, it’s just a ripping good yarn. You know, sometimes things survive past what you might expect is an expiration date on entertainment just because it’s so good. It’s just fun to read, right? But reading this story, it’s fun in a different way. It’s not like look at the cool cleverness of Batman and all these cool gadgets, all these great fight and action sequences, it’s a real thinker because I think when you read the book or see the movie you’re with Batman, and he doesn’t know the solution. It was very important to us to keep that alive.

Calendar man in The Long Halloween

The mystery, you know, if [the audience] gets ahead of Batman? Well, it’s not Batman anymore. So it was important for us to keep the audience in the same sort of place as Batman in terms of information, which is why we tried to bring a couple of surprises into the story. You know, fans of the book are going to say, “well, that’s not exactly what happened”, but we want you to enjoy the experience as well, you just have to trust us. You know we’re going to get you there. But we want to bring a couple of surprises along the way.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but you have made changes to the original story. Did you feel apprehensive, changing things?

Well, no, but the only reason I say no is because we knew that if there was ever a moment where we felt like we needed to make changes to the story that they were all in order to make this work as a movie, which is a whole different thing than a comic book. In order to tell [this] story in a cinematic way, when you sit down and watch it, even if it’s in two parts, it’s not playing out over the course of a year like the comic, everything’s there on the screen. You’re not getting all that stuff that happened in between the panels that we often fill in for ourselves when we’re reading comics, knowing that was what our guiding focus was, I never felt like we were in trouble of imposing our own sort of logic on a story that has been great for a long time.

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Any change that we’ve made, any alteration in truncation or elevation of the small detail that maybe didn’t seem so big in the book, all of that was done in service to the greater story so that we can get to the ending, and feel satisfied and feel that we have given you the same experience of what you felt when you first read the book.

Batman in the Long Halloween

Even if you’re somebody who knows the book backwards and forwards, we’re going to take you on the journey again. Hopefully, you’ll feel like you’re experiencing this story anew and without completely rewriting and changing what The Long Halloween is about. So that’s why I say I didn’t really have any trepidation because I felt safe. All [the production team] were such fans of the book that we wanted to do it justice, while also knowing that it would never you can’t just film the comic book, but that ultimately will get you there in terms of the story and what it means and what matters about it.

I really enoyed the film and the changes you made to the story. If I’d have had the Long Halloween Part Two I would have put it on straight away because I need to know who the holiday killer is.  I’m as obsessed as Batman himself.

I love that you say that. What’s interesting is we talked to some diehard fans when I started this process, and this is something I haven’t even talked about, but I talked to some real diehard fans, and I wanted to know specifically who is the Holiday Killer, and I was surprised there were so many people who could not answer that question.

Harvey Dent and Batman in The Long Halloween

The book is so good at giving you so many red herrings that  when you think back on it, it’s not totally clear [who Holiday is]. And I think this was intentional on the part of Jeph and Tim when they wrote the book. It was a mystery that still has an element of mystery, even after the solution. That was something that I felt like we could play with and hopefully we can give a solution that people feel satisfied and they’re not going to walk away from our movie saying: “I don’t know who the killer is”, I think we’ll take you to a definitive solution.

Do you have a favourite character to write for? Well, so did you have a favourite character to write for when you were writing this?

I mean, I hate to say this is like having to choose which of my favourite children. I hate to give you this answer, but the honest truth is there wasn’t one that I didn’t love. Right. Because I love this book so much. You know, I had. I just had the time in my life now. It was absolutely joyous to write Joker in The Long Halloween.

Joker in Long Halloween

To get to write that dialogue and then to have somebody who knows the Joker so well and portrays him as well as Troy Baker, who came in and just, nails it. Troy came in and started doing the line readings, and it was the voice that was in my head when I was writing it, exactly. Every intonation, every rhythm, every beat, every single stress on every syllable, and sometimes he’d add something even better that would surprise me, which most of our cast did. I mean, it’s a heck of a cast.

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If can give you the inside baseball answer, I don’t think we’ve seen a really good version of Carmine Falcone before. It was exciting to get to write for Carmine, to get to flesh him out a bit more so we understand him a little bit more, which I felt like we needed to do in order for this to work as a movie. We had to understand the antagonist and his complicated relationship with Gotham City was kind of the central to the character. So that was one of my favourite things, getting to really I do some justice to Carmine Falcone.

I could speak Batman with you all day, but I’ve got  to ask you about Masters of the Universe. Is there anything you can tell us about that show?

I can tell you it dropping on Netflix on July 23, which is only a few short days before The Long Halloween: Part Two arrives on digital. So it’s going to be a fun month of July.

Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 is available on DVD, Blu-ray™ & Blu-ray™ steelbook June 21 and on Digital June 22.

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