Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Retro Review: The Long Halloween - Who is Holiday?

The Mystery

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween is one of the classic Batman stories, telling the story of a year early in the caped crimefighter's career, working the existing origin tale of Two Face into a new mystery of their own creation. The story is, in large part, a whodunit, with a mystery serial killer named Holiday who attacks once a month on major holidays over the course of a year. Despite the abundance of information given to us, the identity of the killer remains somewhat in doubt at story's end because of contradictory confessions, evidence of multiple killers, and other ambiguous clues.

There are 13 dates on which Holiday strikes at one or more victims:

Halloween #1: Johnny Vito (dead)
Thanksgiving: The Irish Gang (5 dead)
Christmas: Milos Grappa (dead)
New Year's Eve: Alberto Falcone (faked his death)
Valentine's Day: Sal Maroni's men (4 dead)
St. Patrick's Day: Sal Maroni's men (about 10 dead)
April Fools Day: The Riddler (many shots fired, deliberately missing)
Mother's Day: The gunsmith (dead)
Father's Day: Luigi Maroni (dead)
Independence Day: The coroner (dead)
Roman Holiday: Carla Viti (dead)
Labor Day: Sal Maroni (dead, shot by Alberto Falcone)
Halloween #2: Carmine Falcone and Vernon Fields (dead, shot by Harvey Dent)

We know the killers on the last two dates. We also have two confessions, with Alberto Falcone telling the police that he committed all of the Holiday murders up until his capture, and Gilda Dent, speaking to herself, telling us that she carried out the first three murders and that she believes that her husband Harvey committed the rest. In addition, Harvey Dent says that there were two Holiday Killers; either he’s referring to Gilda and Alberto, or a third killer is implicated.

Years after the story was published, there is no universal consensus: Who was Holiday? Similar arguments have appeared in different corners of the Internet, and new readers keep following similar paths: Three suspects remain. But who really did it? Who is Holiday? Who killed who?

Solutions

Besides the known killings on the last two dates, there are three common solutions proposed for the first eleven Holiday events:

Solution A: Alberto was the only killer, excepting Harvey Dent committing the final two murders. This is what Alberto's confession asserted, and it's also what Batman concluded. This theory is strongest if it is assumed that Alberto's father, Carmine "The Roman" Falcone was coordinating and assisting the shootings. Solution A would mean that Gilda's confession is false, and because she's speaking only to herself, it would mean that she is delusional.

Solution GA: Gilda committed the first three murders, then Alberto committed all the rest. Nobody in the story actually believes this, but it's perhaps the most common reader theory. It accepts Gilda's confession as true insofar as the facts that she could know of, and Alberto's as partly true but partly exaggerated.

Solution GAH: Gilda, Alberto, and Harvey each committed some of the murders. This theory contradicts every person in the story, to some extent, but some readers still favor it.

I believe that a careful examination of the facts strongly discredits Solution GAH, and goes a long way to disprove Solution GA. Solution A is the best explanation of the story, but there's a small chance that Loeb had Solution GA in mind.

There are five lines of reasoning that strengthen Solution A. Most or all of these have been discussed before.

Evidence 1 - Opportunity: It is evident that Gilda would have had a tough time committing the three crimes she claims. This is especially true for the second one, on Thanksgiving. Gilda was hospitalized and on an I.V. at the time, but she claims that she snuck out of the hospital. Here's what that would have entailed:

Although she was so impaired that she needed one more month in the hospital, and even in late December, she was still advised to take it easy. But she claims she snuck out of the hospital and returned undetected. While outside she needed to obtain a "Holiday" gun. Her house was blown up, so either she retrieved one from the wreckage, or bought one and had it prepared, or she had stored one somewhere outside her home (even though she was injured very shortly after the first Holiday murder). Then she needed to find the Irish Gang. This wouldn't be easy, because as of hours earlier, they were in jail and there was no evidence they would be freed. The location where they were found was not where Mickey lived (Batman confronted him there). The door had a DO NOT DISTURB sign, which should probably mean the door was locked, but Holiday opens it somehow. Then the shooter outgunned five men. Then Gilda returned to the hospital, without anyone noticing that she was missing.

Few of these difficulties would apply to Alberto. The Irish Gang was picked up from jail in a limousine, certainly paid for by Carmine. Carmine would have arranged their suite, and could have allowed Alberto a way in. His comings and goings would not have been limited in any way that we know of. Outshooting the whole gang is still hard to explain, no matter who the shooter is, but Alberto, at least, was not suffering a head injury at the time.

Similar, but less compelling, constraints apply to Gilda's opportunity to commit the Halloween and Christmas shootings. Moreover, as the Dents were short of money, even the means to buy and dispose of several guns is somewhat strained, whereas the Falcones were literally overflowing with cash.

Batman finds metal filed off of a gun in the Dents' basement, but this does not implicate Gilda. We know that Harvey had a Holiday gun at the end: He could have made it in their basement. Moreover, if Gilda had filed metal off a gun for the first two killings, it probably wouldn't have remained in their vise after their home was blown up. (Although perhaps the vise would have been salvaged in a clean state from the wreckage.)

Evidence 2 - Coincidental Coordination: Solutions GA and GAH posit that multiple killers who were not coordinated somehow managed to strike once and only once on several consecutive holidays without missing a month or striking twice on the same night. It is particularly implausible that the three switched on and off many times while maintaining the pristine pattern. It is somewhat less unlikely if there was only one "switch," with Gilda committing the first three, then Alberto the rest. The New Year event actually took place in the final moments of December (there was no Holiday event in January), and only 6 days after the Christmas one. This might have given "Holiday #2" the best chance to pre-empt "Holiday #1" without an overlap, but it still requires that Holiday #1 stopped after Holiday #2 struck for the first time.

There is also an implausible coincidence if we imagine that two different killers both chose the same disguise. We know that Alberto wore a hat when he shot Sal Maroni. We saw that Holiday wore a hat from May through September, but didn't see Holiday's head for any of the other shootings. Gilda claimed to have worn a hat (Harvey's) as well. How could they choose the same disguise? Gilda could have read about Alberto wearing a hat in the newspaper after he was arrested (we know that she had such a newspaper). It's much less likely that Gilda would have chosen such a disguise first, and then Alberto accidentally copied it.

Further, Alberto finally provides an explanation for why holidays were chosen for the crimes: He was born on a holiday and chose the dates to assert his significance. It is utterly implausible for Gilda to have chosen the first three dates on the basis of Alberto being born on a holiday. This only makes sense if Gilda chose the holiday motif and it's purely a coincidence that Alberto was born on one. However, if Alberto was being guided by Carmine, it requires that Alberto chose the holiday motif while Carmine set the overall direction.

Evidence 3 - Handedness: Some readers have noticed that the gun hand changes from one Holiday shooting to another. Harvey is seen to shoot Carmine using his left hand, while Albero and Gilda appear to be right-handed. This would support Solution GAH. (It is also indicated by blood on Harvey's right hand and sleeve that he shot Vernon Fields with his right hand, making him an ambidextrous shooter.)

However, this unravels upon a closer look. One, the gun hand in the Christmas scene switches from left to right, which suggests that gun hand is simply a detail that artist Tim Sale wasn't concerned with. Two, it is possible that the shooter had a gun in each hand, which would require that both hands be used. Three, in the sequel, Dark Victory, we see Alberto shoot with his left hand, even though he used his right hand in Long Halloween, making Alberto himself ambidextrous, or the detail simply unimportant.

Moreover, when we see a Holiday gun being made in September, there is one panel showing the hands on a vise in such a way that we should see the gun-maker's body behind the hands, but instead we see a wall of tools. This minor error reinforces the idea that the art is subject to mistakes, and therefore, the handedness does not constitute significant support for Solution GAH.

Evidence 4 - Gilda's Logic: Gilda's confession has multiple logical problems suggesting that she is delusional. Most salient is this: Her stated motive is that by killing gangsters she would be reducing Harvey's workload. This is dubious in the best of circumstances, but we have seen earlier that she herself doesn't believe it: On New Years Eve, she tells Barbara Gordon that the Holiday situation is increasing Harvey's workload. And that shouldn't have been an unexpected outcome: Of course, a serial killer on the loose could only add to Harvey's worries, whereas killing a few marginal gangsters would do nothing to eliminate his larger problem concerning the Roman. Gilda shouldn't, and doesn't, believe her own motive.

Gilda claims that she got the idea for Holiday by reading Harvey's files. But when she confronted him about a gun in their basement, and he said that he brought evidence home, she seemed surprised by that. If she read Harvey's files, they were presumably at home, unless she read his files in his office. Moreover, she was upset by having found the gun, not supportive of it. The 180° turn in tone between the basement scene and her confession indicate that she is idolizing Harvey and whitewashing the crimes that she thinks he committed by adding a role of her own.

Additionally, she believes that Alberto was actually shot, which we know didn't take place. She might have incomplete knowledge of the details, but the fact that Alberto turned up alive should have caused her to question if he was shot at all.

Finally, Gilda's confession is the only reason whatsoever to believe that she committed any of the crimes. But it directly contradicts Alberto's confession. If we have to assume that one confession is false, hers is the more likely false, as it creates so many other contradictions. The only reason to suspect Alberto's as false is because of Gilda's, but Alberto unquestionably committed at least one murder, and almost certainly more, whereas we have no proof of Gilda having committed any of them.

Evidence 5 - The Carmine Falcone connection: Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Carmine Falcone was directing the entire sequence of Holiday crimes.

Superficially, the first four Holiday shootings struck at Carmine's interests, while most of them after that targeted his rivals. However, none of the first four actually killed anyone that wasn't in some way suspect from Carmine's perspective. Johnny Viti had earlier been targeted by Carmine. The Irish Gang were outsiders, and Harvey Dent imagined that Carmine might kill them if their allegiance was suspect. Milos had failed to protect Carmine from repeated invasions of his homes. And Alberto seemed to be a killing that was intolerable to Carmine, but it was faked and didn't actually take place. The logic of someone deliberately performing a hit that worked against them to remove suspicion from themselves is offered elsewhere in the story.

The timing of the Holiday crimes, of witnesses and victims coming and going, suggests that Carmine was choreographing the events around many of the Holiday shootings. This is especially true of the later events, but true of the very first ones as well.

Known coordination:

Thanksgiving: The Irish Gang was picked up in a limousine and taken to a fancy hotel. This presumably put them in a time and place that Carmine Falcone arranged.

New Years: Carmine told Carla to go find Alberto, and because of his command, she "discovered" the evidence of the (fake) killing.

St. Patrick's Day: Sofia, under Carmine's orders, arrives shortly after the killing took place, making it appear to be a Holiday killing instead of a hit ordered by Carmine Falcone.

April Fools: Riddler is confronted by Holiday in a time and place exactly where Carmine had just sent him. Sofia avoids being a witness or interfering because Carmine told her to "come right back."

Mother's Day: The gunsmith is killed very shortly before Sofia arrives.

Plausible coordination:

Halloween: Carmine could have known that Johnny Viti was home, or ordered it to be the case. Gilda could not have made this happen.

Christmas: Carmine could have known that Milos was about to go outside. Gilda could not have predicted this.

Roman Holiday: Carla was pursuing the Holiday case with Sofia. The lead that sent her to the coroner's office could have been sent to her by Carmine.

Protecting Alberto:

Presumably, killing the gunsmith and the coroner were two events that only served to protect Alberto's identity. The gun metal found in the Dent's basement probably came from Harvey making the gun he used for the final killings. The gunsmith made the other guns for Alberto, and he was killed to keep him silent. Consider the timing: He was killed immediately after his identity was discovered by Sofia; this, plausibly, could have been arranged by Carmine. The Dents couldn't have possibly have timed this correctly. The coroner also knew of Alberto's fake death, and was killed to assure his silence.

The first gun:

If we take the sequence in the art literally, the first Holiday gun was made many weeks before the first murder, on the same night that Johnny Viti killed Richard Daniel, and before the Dents (or Gordons) learned about that murder. This timing would have been wildly coincidental if Gilda or Harvey were preparing the gun, but is plausible if Johnny Viti's return from Italy set into motion a plan by the Falcones to kill several people, starting with him.

Carmine and Alberto:

On the surface, Carmine seems to disrespect Alberto. He makes comments that are dismissive of Alberto in June and August, but only when other people are listening. On Thanksgiving, Carmine seems affectionate with him when they're alone, and on New Years Eve, Carmine thinks (one of the few thought balloons in the entire story), "If it weren't for Alberto, there'd be nobody I could trust." This supports the idea that his disrespect for Alberto is a sham to facilitate using Alberto to commit the killings unsuspected.

Both the Riddler and Batman see this solution from different sides, with the Riddler guessing that Carmine is Holiday, while Batman ends the story convinced that Alberto committed the killings and Carmine knew about them.

Evidence 6 - Two Face's Comment:

Harvey "Two Face" Dent makes a surprising comment when he remarks to Jim Gordon and Batman, "You both know, don't you? There were two Holiday killers." This would seemingly contradict Solution A and indicate that either Harvey or Gilda performed some of the rest.

However, Batman provides the logical way out: Harvey killed people with a Holiday gun on Halloween. He was the second Holiday killer, but not responsible for any of the other events. His strange phrasing that seems to indicate a reveal is explained by his obsession with the number two. This is highlighted by his previous utterance, "One second" ("second" has two meanings; the time unit and the second in a sequence).

Conclusion

By any realistic reasoning, Gilda could not have committed the Thanksgiving shooting, and the massive web of circumstantial evidence indicates that there was only one Holiday shooter, who was Alberto Falcone, working for his father, Carmine.

The only argument for Gilda's guilt would be this: It is a comic book story, inhabited by fantastic people such as Batman, the Joker, and Solomon Grundy, and the problems with her carrying out the shooting and the enormous number of coincidences indicating that Carmine Falcone is ordering the hits have to be forgiven as things that happen in comic books.

But this would make the mystery a weak mystery. Yes, in the DC Universe, where little blue aliens command a race of green space cops, and psychics and the undead team up with magicians and robots, we can imagine anything to be possible. But who is really capable of sneaking out in the middle of a two-month hospital stay and carrying out an intricate assassination? Batman is, to be sure, but, as the Joker tells Harvey Dent, "You're no Batman," neither is Gilda Dent in the Batman class of capabilities.


I can imagine a writer shrugging off such pragmatic concerns and feeling that a last-minute confession is a great ending that trumps realism. But the sheer number of clues that implicate the Falcones weren't likely placed there by coincidence. I think Jeph Loeb intended Alberto Falcone to be recognized as the only Holiday. Ultimately, solving the mystery depends not on the story, which leaves a slim chance of Gilda's guilt, but on reading the author's intentions. And I can't be sure that Loeb meant for a reader to find all of the pieces of evidence that make Gilda's confession seem implausible, but I suspect that he did.

10 comments:

  1. Excellent! You know, I have read this story a hundred times and have never been sure of Holiday's true identity for all of the killings. This article really helps make things clearer for me. I think Gilda's observation that Harvey's hair was wet, even though he was wearing a hat, distracted me into believing GAH. But after reading your take, Rikdad, solution A is definitely the most plausible and the one I like best.

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  2. Jonny, I'm glad to get your take; I myself hadn't formed a definite opinion until this month, when I read and re-read the story, as a whole and in pieces, numerous times. It didn't sit well with me when I believed that Batman had failed to understand the case, and I like it better to see that, in time, he did.

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  3. off topic - but very interested to get your thoughts on this weeks issue of Convergence. some familiar characters from Grant Morrison's run make an appearance. Can their appearance here be reconciled with the actual continuity? would love your take.

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  4. Jonny, I saw your question literally seconds after I published a new post on that very topic.

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  5. Ya'll are wrong. Gilda started the murders, and she stopped when Alberto faked his death because she thought Harvey had done it. Gilda's insane, the whole thing about the wet hair is put there so she has a reason to stop. Harvey knows about Gilda, that's why he won't come back. After the acid attack, he loses faith in Gotham and decides Gilda was right. He doesn't count himself as one of the killers, Batman was wrong.

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  6. Unknown, the theory you mention has several problems, notably listed under "Evidence 1," "Evidence 2," and "Evidence 4" above.

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  7. Mr Rikdad, literally just finished reading "The Long Halloween" and came straight online to get a thorough analysis. Your analysis, evidence and conclusion is brilliant and gives me proper closure. Thanks for the explanantion. Awesome comic!

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  8. I'm impressed at the lengths with which you rationally analyzed all possible scenarios and interpretations in order to solve the mystery.

    But, sadly, this is a Jeph Loeb story. It's possibly his best, but everything he's written since has suggested that nothing he writes is as well thought out as some of your theories suggest.

    The literally interpretation, that Gilda is telling the truth in her monologue confession, is likely what Loeb really intended.

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  9. Hdefined,

    Thanks for your comment! The facts in the story, I think, speak for themselves, and the only question remains: Is it plausible that anyone could have written this mystery that implicates Alberto as the sole killer by coincidence? If a writer meant for Gilda to have committed the first three murders could he plausibly have left no clues implicating Gilda for any of them?

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  10. Maybe the reason that Gilda tells herself that she was a holiday killer is because she believes that Harvey was the holiday killer and she wanted to feel like she was part of the operation the whole time.

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