Halloween is a little over a month away, so let’s talk about a very Halloweeny character. Namely, Batman. Oh sure, there are characters more Halloweeny than he is, some of them superheroes (Ghost Rider comes to mind, but I don’t really wanna talk about Ghost Rider). Batman, though, is a man who uses the image of an animal associated with darkness, the night and bloodsucking. He battles an insane clown, a woman dressed like a black cat and a man in the guise of a scarecrow. A gothic, labyrinthine insane asylum factors into most of his stories. There was even a comics story called The Long Halloween, but that focussed on a lot of holidays other than Halloween, so yeah.
But not all Batman stories can be called Halloweeny though. The New Adventures of Batman show I keep looking at is too ridiculously amusing to ever be truly spooky and some stories would take a more fun, superhero approach to Batman rather than a dark gothic one. Yes, some Batman stories were more Halloweeny than others and here is what I consider the most Halloweeny:
9.) The Adam West TV Series: Marsha, Queen of Diamonds/Marsha’s Scheme of Diamonds
While Poison Ivy was never my favourite Bat-villain, she always did have a bit of a creepy, mystic air about her with her green skin and mind-controlling pheromones that make men do her every bidding. But I’m not here to talk about her, I’m here to talk about a character extremely similar to her: Marsha, Queen of Diamonds from the 1966 Batman TV series (incidentally, Poison Ivy was introduced in the comics in 1966).
Like Poison ivy, Marsha was a femme fatale villain who used mind control to make men fall in love with her and use that to her advantage.The 1966 series may have been less gothic than most Batman shows, but Marsha has a couple of things that make her more Halloweeny than Ivy. For one thing, she was played by Carolyn Jones, better known as Morticia from The Addams Family. Secondly, there was her Aunt Hilda, who brew up her love potions.
Aunt Hilda was a witch who wore a pointed hat and brewed potions in a cauldron.
Even in the campiest versions of Batman, and even considering the superheroes Batman has interacted with, a Wizard of Oz type wicked old witch looks a bit out of place in Gotham City. Granted, they seemed to imply she wasn’t really a witch and just thought she was one, but her second episode, a three-parter where Marsha teamed up with the Penguin – had her looking for toads and had a Munsters-esque dragon coming out of her cauldron. It’s weird seeing something like this in Batman, but it reminds one of Halloween, so I’m not complaining.
8.) Batman: Castle of the Bat
DC’s Elseworlds were a series of comics which basically took the DC superheroes and put them in different settings, a lot of them Batman-related. Batman in the Wild West, Batman as an actual bat monster, and Castle of the Bat had Batman crossed with the story of Frankenstein. Seems a bit redundant, considering all the Frankenstein monster type characters in the DC Universe already, like Bizarro and Solomon Grundy. Then again, both Batman and Victor Frankenstein were spurred into science-related obsession due to their parents’ death, so I guess a fusion of the two franchises makes a bit of sense.
The story itself makes a little less sense, however. In this version of the Batman story, Bruce’s parents were killed by a highwayman, so he dedicates his life to science like his father did. He finds his father’s brain and uses it for a Frankenstein monster/Batman hybrid. How is it a hybrid? Well, Bruce gave the monster Bat-DNA or some shit and it becomes a bat monster.
The story is a mess, but a strangely fascinating mess. The art is a bit muddy, but works well for a Universal-horror inspired story, and it also has touches of that wonderful lunacy only comic books can provide; we have Alfred as Igor and a bat-dog hybrid. Come on, Ace the Bathound would be a much better character were he an actual bat-dog, don’t you think? Come to think of it, so would Krypto the Superdog, superhero alliance be damned.
7.) Batman Returns
This would have gotten higher on the list were it not set at Christmas time, but then again, Christmas goes with Halloween well considering the Christmas crap is sold in the shops before the Halloween crap is sold. Tim Burton utilised this well in his Nightmare Before Christmas, and Batman Returns has more in common with that film than Burton’s previous Batman movie.
Batman Returns was less an adaptation of the comics and more an exercise in how to make the classic Batman characters as spooky as possible. The Penguin in his original incarnation was hardly a creepy or terrifying character the same way the Joker could be, but here he takes inspiration from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Phantom of the Opera and several Victorian horror stories. He is a deformed hunchback abandoned by his parents and forced to live in the sewers, and even has a group of creepy-looking clowns and circus freaks as henchmen. Clowns are always Halloweeny.
Catwoman was always a pretty Halloweeny character – what says Halloween more than black cats after all – but here she is even more supernatural, as she becomes Catwoman when brought back from the dead by magical alley cats. It’s a pretty fucking weird movie, but its weirdness is utilised well, and can even be poignant at times (like with the Penguin’s death). Once you get past the fact it has really little to do with Batman, it’s fun All Hallows Eve viewing.
6.) Batman the Animated Series – Dreams in Darkness
90’s toon Batman: the Animated Series, with its black-and-red backgrounds, haunting score and striking character designs, makes a good setting for a scary story, and thus they had quite a few episodes about the Scarecrow, the villain that can make one hallucinate their greatest fears. His first episode was pretty poor (and there, he had a weird design that made him look more Oz than Batman), his next episode was an improvement but still not what I’d call spooky in the traditional sense, but his third appearance was pure Halloween.
“Dreams in Darkness” has Batman infected with Scarecrow’s fear gas, which causes him to end up in Arkham and have a series of insane hallucinations. Said hallucinations don’t really reveal hidden depths about his character, but they’re still fun to watch, especially one where Batman visualises himself assaulted by the Joker and the other villains. First he sees a normal-sized Joker walking towards him than a giant Penguin…wait, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Joker is Batman’s arch-enemy so you’d think he’d be the giant one, but whatever.
There was also an hallucination where Batman saw a giant version of the gun that killed his parents, and the gun dripped blood, so yay for getting that past the censors. This is a good episode, but there was a Scarecrow episode that was much better and much Halloweenier:
5.) Batman the Animated Series – Never Fear
This is probably the best Scarecrow-related episode the series had, thanks in no small part to the redesign given to Scarecrow. The redesign he received in his second episode worked okay, but his form in this episode is truly something to behold. Not only did his new voice actor, Jeffrey Combs, make the character sound more sinister, he now looked like a scarecrow and looked like something worthy of the title “Master of Fear”.
“Never Fear” also had a pretty clever idea behind it. Scarecrow usually exposes his greatest fear to his victims, but here he takes away fear, which proves to be just as, if not more, disastrous. The episode begins with a man jumping about, and one of Bruce Wayne’s employees pretty much tells Wayne to kiss his ass. Of course, Batman himself falls victim to the Scarecrow, and not only runs through bullets but is apparently willing to break his one rule too. Halloween is about scares, and what’s scarier than an insane Batman?
4.) Batman vs. Dracula
Similar to the Castle of the Bat comic above, another Batman Elseworlds, Red Rain, saw him go after none other than Count Dracula. Not only that, but he was turned into a vampire himself to better combat Dracula. And why not? Vampires turn into bats and come out at night, Batman dresses like a bat and comes out at night, let’s turn Batman into a vampire!
Sequels were written to this story, and they got stupider and stupider as they went on. Catwoman appears as an actual werecat, and the third story has Batman go around killing his rogues’ gallery. And not just any rogues’ gallery, DARKER AND EDGIER VERSHUNS WOOO. Scarecrow cut off fingers for some reason, and Riddler had a big question mark sown to his face. For Halloween they went as Rob Liefeld wannabes.
Thing is, these comics inspired not one, but two cartoons! There was the direct-to-DVD movie The Batman vs Dracula. That had some very silly moments, like the fact that Dracula’s corpse was shipped to Gotham for no reason other than so the Penguin could resurrect him, and Drac actually calling himself “Alucard”. Yeah, there’s a reason Bruce doesn’t go around calling himself Namtab, you know. What it lacked in story, it made up for in style, though, as the smooth animation, eerie soundtrack and the bug-eyed crazy look of the vampires created a nice, uncomfortable atmosphere. The Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode “Shadow of the Bat” had Batman become a vampire, but in a nicely tongue-in-cheek way; he even prepares a formal, candlelit dinner for the Justice League.
3.) Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
Remember when I said Batman Returns was an exercise on making Batman villains as spooky as possible. So is Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, only more so.
Joker was always a grotesque-looking character, but here his face is even more distorted, he looks like a warped parody of a Mr. Punch puppet. The jagged red text used for his dialogue doesn’t help make him less scary either. Clayface here is even scarier than he is when a massive mud monster, Maxie Zeus is eerie in an ethereal way, and Two-Face…shits on the floor at one point.
The main draw of the comic is the art, which is different and gives the sense of a nightmare or someone gradually losing their minds, but there are some nice stuff where story is concerned. A theory about the Joker having some form of “super-sanity”” is interesting, as is the story of the life of Arkham’s founder. Still, it isn’t as good as another game to use the Arkham name…
2.) Batman: Arkham Asylum
After years and years of pixelated shit, Batman finally got a great videogame in Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was one of the few games that actually truly made you feel like Batman, but that didn’t mean it didn’t make you feel vulnerable.
Batman brings the Joker back to Arkham, only to find that Joker has orchestrated a plan to take over the place. Having the Joker, the most insane and sadistic of supervillains, lure you into a trap and constantly taunt you about it, is terrifying enough, but there’s more. The game involves a lot of fights with thugs, but walking down the empty halls of Arkham, with no sound other than low hummings, and the knowledge that psychopathic lunatics also walked down these halls, sends chills down your spine.
The piece de resistance of the whole game though, and what really makes it Halloweeny, is the Scarecrow levels, always naughtily messing with your sense of virtual reality. Not only does Scarecrow have a design that mixes the Grim Reaper with Freddy Krueger, his first appearance in the game has Batman see a dead Jim Gordon before having a happy reunion with the corpses of his dead parents.
And just recently I was talking about a fairy tale witch collecting toads.
Batman: Arkham City had its spooky moments too – see the Mad Hatter scene – but didn’t have the pure atmosphere Asylum had.
1.) Batman: Haunted Knight
People give Jeph Loeb a lot of crap, but there are times when he can write a decent Batman story. Case in point, what very well may be the ultimate Batman Halloween story: Batman Haunted Knight. It’s actually three stories though, ones which were previously separate issues.
The first story is a pretty neat Scarecrow one. The Scarecrow’s design, while not up there with BTAS and Asylum, is still pretty sinister and works well with the character, even if his habit of talking in nursery rhymes is more annoying than creepy. There’s, again, some nifty hallucinations to be seen here, including a hedge maze and a church. The second story makes good use of the Mad Hatter, a very rare thing indeed, by having Batman remember his childhood when chasing him. I’m a sucker for a good Alice in Wonderland inspired tale, and that is a good one. The final one is, of all things, a Halloween retelling of A Christmas Carol with Batman as Scrooge, which gives us the hilarious image above.
There are hiccups with the story to be sure, but it’s nice Halloween reading, and is better than most of Loeb’s shlock. Hush is scary, but not in a good way.