Monday, February 14, 2005

Who Was Holiday?

When Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale began work on their classic tale Batman: The Long Halloween, they set out simply with the impetus to tell a story of what happened to the gangsters seen in Frank Miller’s seminal work Batman Year One. Loeb himself stated in the introduction to the trade paperback collection of the tale that, once Archie Goodwin approached him with the concept, his mind raced, “stuck with this black-and-white dream of a Gotham City that was controlled by Guys with guns, Dolls with Lipstick, and Shadows who had shadows” (6).

Along the way, the two creators spun a yarn that is perhaps one of the most indelible murder mysteries ever written in comics form. In fact, The Long Halloween sparks debate even today, years after its initial release, due in no small part to its ending. Throughout the graphic novel, the serial killer Holiday has been surreptitiously taking out most of the Gotham City underworld month by month as each holiday passes, and Batman has been running himself ragged all year in search of the murderous fiend. In the beginning of the thirteenth and final chapter, however, Holiday is finally captured and revealed to be Alberto Falcone, son of crime boss Carmine “The Roman” Falcone (323). Alberto was himself thought to be Holiday’s victim on New Year’s Eve but had faked his death (119-120). The mystery had been solved...

Or so it would seem, for in the final four pages of the book, Loeb and Sale drop quite a bombshell. In these pages we see Gilda Dent, alone in the home she had shared with her husband Harvey until the day Sal Maroni threw acid in his face during a trial, putting Harvey on the path that would end with his transformation into the villain Two-Face (291-292). Gilda says then, standing alone in her basement, that she herself was Holiday, performing the earliest Holiday murders in order to lighten her husband’s caseload and bring him home to her. She stopped killing on New Year’s Eve, she claims, when her husband came home late and Alberto turned up dead, knowing that he had taken up the cause she had started (368-369).

This final twist making the resolution of the novel unclear, readers are left with the burning question: Who was Holiday?

The mystery is further complicated by the fact that Loeb steadfastly refuses to clarify the ending. He has famously stated time and again (most notably in an interview that appeared in Comicology magazine while The Long Halloween’s sequel Batman: Dark Victory was still in production) that he prefers to leave the ending open to reader interpretation. The answer to the question, he says, is in the reader’s hands to decipher. However, he is always careful to add that the answer is in the book itself, that all the clues needed to fathom Holiday’s identity are within the text itself.

In issue 77 of Wizard, the magazine’s staff tried to formulate a theory that incorporated both confessions provided in the story. Their idea was that there were two Holidays: Gilda AND Alberto. Gilda performed the first three murders just as she stated in the book’s conclusion. She quit killing because “Gilda had gotten what she really wanted: a house to have a family in (and she and Harvey were going to try to have kids again), [and] as of New Year's Eve she mistakenly thought Harvey took up the reins of Holiday with news of Holiday's killing of Alberto.” In reality, however, Alberto at that time faked his death in order to become Holiday himself. “This plot was launched by Alberto and Carmine,” says the Wizard staff, “who both decided to use the Holiday identity to whack the men of rival Maroni: note the shift in victims from New Year's forward” ("Whut The--?!" 35).

Since this issue of Wizard was released, this theory has become the commonly accepted answer as to Holiday’s identity. But, if you’ll allow me to be a bit editorial for a moment, this theory simply does not hold water.

One reason why this theory of a switch in killers is unlikely to be true lies in the forensic evidence left at the scene of every crime by Holiday: namely, the .22s with which Holiday committed the murders. It is revealed late in the story that when Alberto was acting as Holiday, he was having his guns specially made by the Gunsmith (217). If Gilda did not buy this same type of gun from this same guy, then there would have been noticeable differences that the police would've been able to find from looking at the guns, at the bullets, and at the holes the bullets made in the victims. All .22s are not exactly alike.

In fact, in the April Fool’s issue, Batman is shown doing actual forensic tests on the guns (182). If the guns had been manufactured by different people, the markings left on the bullet by the barrel would be different, and Batman would surely have noticed during his tests. Such a point would then have become a major clue, espeically after one of Holiday's victims became the guy who made the guns, and it would have been stated on panel. Since this was not the case, we have to assume that all the guns were the same. If both Alberto and Gilda were acting as Holiday, as Wizard purports, then the guns used in all the murders must be exactly alike, which is highly unlikely given that Alberto’s were specially constructed just for him.

But perhaps the largest hole in this hypothesis is that it is just too much of a coincidence that Gilda’s killings ended and Alberto’s began at the same time. If Gilda did commit the initial Holiday murders, then Alberto had no way of knowing that someone else would not also be killed that night. His plan to fake his own death only works if he knew no one else would become a victim of Holiday on New Year’s, and he could not know that if Gilda had been Holiday up to that point. It simply does not add up logically. Thus, if we do not accept the switch, then we are left with only two theories, the ones that are in fact laid out in the book itself. Alberto confesses to the crimes, and Gilda similarly admits that she and Harvey both committed them. Since Loeb has repeatedly stated that the book holds all the answers, these theories are what we must turn to.

So which is the most plausible? In my mind, there is no question; it is clear that Alberto was the only Holiday killer.

To illustrate why I believe Alberto is the killer, let us first analyze Gilda’s confession. In it, she claims that Harvey took up the murders when she quit, starting with the murder of Alberto. We know that this statement is incorrect for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the simple fact that Alberto is in fact alive. No less than three of the Holiday murders after New Year’s are committed solely to protect the identity of Holiday: the death of the Gunsmith on Mother’s Day, the murder of the Gotham City Coroner on Independence Day, and the death of Carla Viti on the Roman’s birthday, August 2nd (218-219; 251; 295-296). Each of these murders are directly tied to Alberto Falcone being alive and well, something Harvey would not have as a motive for killing but Alberto would. Also, we the readers (along with Jim Gordon) witness the murder of Sal Maroni on Labor Day by Alberto, so it is clear that Harvey was not Holiday in this case either (319-320).

Gilda states that she was Holiday until New Year’s, and then Harvey took over. We know the latter half of the statement is untrue, so why accept the former? But if we must consider the possibility of Gilda actually committing these crimes, then let us look at the facts. When the evidence as it appears in the story is laid out clearly, there are many obvious reasons why Gilda could not have committed the murders that she claimed.

Returning to the subject of the guns that she supposedly used in the killings for a moment, we are still left with the question of how it is that the guns used in the initial killings are identical to the ones used later. However, perhaps the bigger question would be how Gilda, a suburban housewife, had access to these firearms at all. Perhaps she could have gone out and purchased them on her own, but this concept simply raises more questions. How would she have known where to go to buy these weapons? Where did she get the money to pay for them? How was she able to get a gun when she was in the hospital on Thanksgiving or in a wheelchair on Christmas? Would they have even sold her a gun in the first place?

All of those questions presuppose that the guns were purchased from an illegal dealer, but perhaps she did in fact buy them through legitimate methods in a gun shop. That scenario creates more questions in regards to the paper trail such purchases would leave. The paper trail could be covered by filing the serial numbers off the guns, as it is in fact stated in the text that Holiday had done (48). However, Gilda would have no means to do so on either Thanksgiving, when her house was a pile of rubble, or Christmas, when she had not yet fully moved into her new home.

Then there are the methods of the murders themselves. Johnny Viti, Holiday’s first victim, is killed in the bathtub in his own home, begging the question of how Gilda could possibly gotten past the security sure to be found in a mob boss’s home, let alone know where he is (46-47). By that same token, how could she know of the Irish Gang’s whereabouts on Thanksgiving, and how could she have known she would find Milos outside of the Roman’s penthouse at just the right moment on Christmas?

Similarly, the methodology of each of the Holiday killings shows a measure of skill with a firearm that Gilda Dent is unlikely to have. Johnny Viti is taken out with two shots to the head. The five members of the Irish Gang are murdered before any of them can fire back at their killer, despite the fact that two of them were in the process of drawing their weapons when Holiday entered their room (80-81). Milos is killed on Christmas with a gun sitting on the ground next to his hand (102-103). Gilda Dent has most likely not had as much training and experience with guns as any of these mobsters, yet if we believe her confession, she had the speed and accuracy to kill them all in an instant.

Gilda also states in her final confession that she got the idea for the Holiday killings from reading case files that Harvey had brought home (368). However, on an earlier occasion Gilda reacted with surprise and alarm when she discovered that Harvey brought evidence home with him, directly contradicting her later statement (278). In fact in this scene, Gilda is accusatory with Harvey about the possibility that he might be Holiday, not happy as she would be if she had committed the earlier crimes herself and wanted the Roman out of the way so they could be together (275-277).

Having looked at the means, let us turn then to opportunity and see if Gilda had the opportunity to commit these crimes. Certainly on Halloween her whereabouts at the time of Johnny Viti’s murder are undisclosed, so it is possible that she did in fact have the opportunity to kill him. But not so on Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Thanksgiving day, Gilda Dent is in the hospital with a head injury, clearly depicted in the story as being hooked up to IVs and monitors with her husband a mere couple of feet from her at her side (77). Even if she were strong enough to, she could not have left these surroundings to go commit five murders without the hospital staff or her husband noticing she was gone. On Christmas, Gilda is in a wheelchair, barely able to walk on her own (95). Again, it is highly unlikely that she had an opportunity to leave her husband, find Milos, and kill him in such a state.

I have left her possible motive in these crimes for my final point because it is the weakest aspect of the argument for Gilda being behind the murders, and thus the easiest to refute. Supposedly Gilda commits these murders because her husband was overworked and not spending enough time with her (367). These murders were her attempt to create less work for him, so they could be together more. How anyone could think that killing mobsters would get the district attorney home any earlier in the evening is beyond me.

Her motive is flimsy. Her means are unlikely. Her opportunities were nonexistent. These are but a few of the glaring examples that prove that Gilda was not involved in the Holiday killings in any way.

However if Alberto was Holiday the whole time, then everything fits. As the son of the Roman, Alberto could easily gain access to Johnny Vito, the Irish Gang, and Milos. He knew them; some were even members of his family. Gaining access to their homes and hideouts would not be difficult, and it would be easy for him to know when Milos was outside of the penthouse since Alberto himself lived there as well.

Alberto had access to weapons, as is illustrated by the Gunsmith. Like Gilda, Alberto might not know how to kill someone either, but he could easily ask any number of family members who ARE trained assassins to teach him how to shoot (much like Michael Corleone was taught in the gangster epic The Godfather, a clear inspiration for several scenes in The Long Halloween).

If Alberto were committing the Holiday killings all by himself from the beginning, then he would know faking his death on New Year’s Eve would work and that there wouldn't be a double killing. It is in fact the only scenario in which Alberto faking his death makes sense, because his being Holiday is the only way that he could be certain his survival would not be found out.

Finally, there is his motive in the killings. Alberto’s motives in all of the latter killings are clear. The murders on Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Father’s Day, and Labor Day were all members of the Maroni crime family, the Falcones’ chief rival in the battle for control of Gotham City’s underworld (145-146; 171-172; 234-235; 319-320). As previously stated, the other three murders were committed to cover up the fact that Alberto was alive and secretly Holiday. These murders clearly all benefit either Alberto directly or his entire family.

Some readers then try to poke holes in this Alberto theory with talk of the supposed change in motive before and after Alberto's "death." Before New Year's Eve all of Holiday’s victims were members of the Falcone family, and these readers believe it is not logical for Alberto to take out members of his own family. After New Year's the victims were all Maronis, and this switch, some would point out, is evidence in support of a switch in killers.

However, Alberto did have a potential motive for each of the early murders, despite the fact that they were all members of his family, both in name and in blood. First, there is Johnny Viti, who it is stated in his introduction (in both Year One and The Long Halloween) had recently tried to have the Roman killed (10). This act of betrayal would be unforgivable to a crime family like the Falcones, so he is repaid for his attempt to have a knife slipped between the Roman’s ribs with two bullets to the head.

Next we have the Irish Gang on Thanksgiving, who could be marked for death by Alberto for two reasons. One, they had been hired to put out the hit on Harvey Dent, and it turned out that Dent was still alive (71, 75). They failed in a very vital assignment, the murder of a district attorney, and in the mafia failure is not taken lightly.

Two, after their failure to fulfill a hit, they had all been easily apprehended by the police and Batman. Despite the fact that the Irish Gang had been given the opportunity to rat the Roman out and hadn’t, there was always the chance they could change their minds, and so they had to be eliminated. They knew too much. Really it is not too hard to see the motive here; if a group of people have evidence that a mob family is involved in an attempted murder, and those people are then killed, a member of the mob family is the most likely culprit. Besides, the Roman has precedent for this type of action. In Batman Year One, the Roman trusted his flunky Jefferson Skeevers to not give up any information about their organization once he was in police custody, but Batman intimidated him into doing just that (Miller et al. 77). Perhaps the Roman is simply living by the adage “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Finally there is Milos, whose murder is a bit more difficult to justify, but not impossible. Milos, it was stated in the text on several occasions, was the Roman’s personal bodyguard and most trusted friend. However, he too had failed in his duties of late. On the day of Johnny Viti’s wedding, both Batman and Catwoman broke into his home and eluded capture, a fact that the Roman did not take lightly (28). Just moments before Milos’s death, the Joker too broke into the Roman’s penthouse and easily bested Milos (100-101). It seems then that Milos was not the most effective bodyguard around and perhaps had to pay for his failures with his life.

It is also possible that Milos had to die in order to provide the Falcone family with an alibi. Throughout the year, the Falcone family is seen very publicly to be pointing the finger at others as the ones behind the Holiday killings. On New Year’s Eve Carmine Falcone says to Sal Maroni that it has been the Falcone family hit up to this point, implying that perhaps Maroni might be behind the killings. Perhaps Milos’s death was perpetrated just to belie this point (117).

This entire scenario is only strengthened if you factor in the involvement of Carmine himself. Alberto might have committed the actual killings, but Carmine was the mastermind behind it all. Carmine mentioned to Maroni on New Year's that all the blood was on his side to make it look like he was NOT backing Holiday when he really was. Carmine told Carla to go up on deck that same night because he KNEW Alberto was going to fake his own death (because how could he survive a plunge into the icy cold waters of the harbor without some help?) and wanted a witness (118).

Carmine kept up a front of Alberto's non-involvement in the family business in front of everyone (including his sister Carla and his daughter Sofia) so that he would not be suspected. Yet Alberto was always present at family meetings and Carmine thought to himself on New Year’s that Alberto was the only one he could trust (41; 118). These examples are more proof of the collusion between Carmine and Alberto both in the family business in general and the Holiday killings specifically.

This secret was one that Carmine went to great lengths to keep. On April Fool's Day Carmine hired the Riddler just so people would think he was in search of Holiday, again to throw suspicion off himself. However, the Riddler in the end came up with the right answer: "Carmine Falcone" (198). Carmine pretended to laugh it off and threw Riddler out, telling Sofia to hurry back because he didn't want Sofia to see Alberto in that alley, acting as Holiday (199-200). Holiday spares the Riddler’s life for the simple reason that they want it known that the Roman is looking for Holiday, a conclusion Batman himself eventually reaches (282). It is a classic case of misdirection.

And in the few instances when Alberto’s involvement is almost revealed, Carmine tips him off and Holiday takes care of the problem. When Sofia got too close to the truth about Holiday getting his guns at Chong’s Tea House, the Gunsmith ended up dead. When Carla got too close to finding out Alberto was alive, she was the one who ended up a victim. In both cases, the murders make more sense if Carmine was involved behind the scenes of Alberto’s Holiday killings.

There is only one remaining argument that those who support the Gilda/Alberto theory can even muster, and that point revolves around Julian Day, the Arkham Asylum inmate better known as the Calendar Man. He is consulted three times by Batman and Jim Gordon over the course of Holiday’s reign of terror, and some readers feel that his insights provide clues to the identity of Holiday. Specifically, Julian Day switches the genders of the pronouns he uses whenever he refers to Holiday, which some believe supports the Gilda/Alberto theory.

However, Julian Day could not possibly know the identity of Holiday, for he spends the entire time locked in a cell in Arkham. There is no way he could have gleaned enough information from the newspapers to come to any kind of conclusion about the killer’s identity, and he is simply switching the genders of his pronouns because he is unsure of the killer’s identity. This is why he refers to Holiday as “himself. Or herself” (emphasis mine) at his first meeting with Batman and Gordon (88).

Instead, he is using Holiday’s crimes for his own purpose. At their first meeting, Gordon promises Calendar Man he will be released if he can help the police catch Holiday, and from then on Day is looking for an angle (88). When Batman returns to Day’s cell on Mother’s Day, Day blatantly states that he will give them what they want if he is released. Batman however sees through his game and demands the information first, which Day never provides (206). Similarly Day is using the Holiday case as a means to get attention. He states as much on Batman’s third and final visit to him on Labor Day: “Just so we understand each other. The Calendar Man is being forgotten. I can’t have that” (316).

Careful attention to detail will show the astute reader that Julian Day’s gender switching could not be evidence supporting the Gilda/Alberto theory, because he does so during the first visit, on Christmas, before the supposed switch in killers even took place. Batman clearly doesn’t waste much time on Day either; their first meeting ends when Day begins shouting random holidays and Batman drags Gordon out of the room (89). Thus, we can see Julian Day’s so-called clues for what they really are: desperate attempts at freedom from an attention-craving mental patient.

So in the end if we reject the idea that Gilda performed any of the murders, accepting Alberto Falcone as the one true Holiday, we are left with the question: why? Why does Gilda claim she was Holiday in the end? And again, the answer is simple: Gilda is delusional and has lost touch with reality.

This conclusion is easy to see if we analyze Gilda’s behavior throughout the book. Gilda has been disappointed for months that her husband Harvey has shown less and less of an interest in her desire to start a family, going all the way back to New Year’s Eve (122). In the tenth chapter, Gilda seems to be expressing in her conversation with Barbara Gordon a wish that she and Harvey could reunite (260-261).

Soon thereafter Sal Maroni throws acid in Harvey’s face at his trial, and Harvey flees from the hospital where he was being treated (294). When he finally does resurface, he sets free the residents of Arkham Asylum, kills his assistant district attorney Vernon who was on the take, and eventually puts two bullets in the head of Carmine Falcone himself (337; 355; 350-351). Is it any wonder that these incidents put Gilda on the path to insanity herself?

Despite all of these heinous acts Harvey commits, Gilda still loves him and is incapable of completely separating herself from that feeling. She still then desires closeness to him, and so she creates an elaborate fantasy in her head that brings them together, a fantasy in which she actively fought to keep her marriage going rather than passively watched it crumble as she really did. She claims that they together were the Holiday killer, “so we could have time together. A child” (369). This way she can see a good reason in the very bad things he’s done and transfer some of the blame for his crimes onto herself.

On some level, she knows she is in denial. It has been two months at that point since Harvey’s murder of Falcone on Halloween, and he has been in Arkham Asylum all the while. She clearly recognizes that her marriage is over and that there will be no reconciliation, or she would not be packing up boxes, preparing to leave the home they shared together (367). But she wants so badly to believe that it would work out that she constructs this fantasy. Thus, her confession takes place while she is alone in an empty house, standing in the dark in her basement. She was trying to convince herself that it wasn't over by building up this idea; the speech is her just trying to make it real for herself, to convince herself of the fantasy.

I feel that the final pages of The Long Halloween are meant to show how much of a tragedy this book has been. Yes, the original promise Gordon, Dent, and Batman make on the night of Johnny Viti’s wedding to bring down the Roman has been fulfilled (36-37). But at what cost? Batman and Jim Gordon have lost a great ally and friend in Harvey Dent, and Gordon states that he “won’t know if it was worth it for a very long time” (362).

We are given one final look at each of the main characters in the conclusion, visiting them each in private moments. Jim Gordon says to his wife Barbara, "I believe in Gotham City," even though his heart is more than a little broken (363). He says it to himself to move on, and it is a statement tinged with irony for readers who know that his belief in his job and in the city will lead Barbara to leave him and will eventually claim the life of his second wife Sarah Essen. Batman too stands on a building-top somewhere in Gotham, stating that he believes that some day he will be able to keep his promise he made to his parents when they died that he would rid Gotham of evil, a promise that we readers know is impossible to fulfill (364-365).

So too does Gilda try to keep herself together with her confession, saying on the final page "I believe in Harvey Dent" even though it is a foolish pipe dream (370). The scene was put there by Loeb and Sale to show how far they had fallen, to illustrate just how sad Gilda's life is going to be (and how messed up Harvey's will be). Too many people read the book and take the things Gilda says literally when they are simply meant to reflect that same feeling of loss. The only real evidence we have that the things she says are true are the words themselves, and they are clearly the words of someone who has been crushed by the weight of the world.

When it comes down to it, we must follow Loeb’s advice and turn to the story itself. In the text we are given two theories. Alberto confessed to all the murders. Gilda confessed to some of the murders and said Harvey did the rest. You can believe only one of them, and having weighed the evidence, I believe Alberto.

But if you're still having trouble believing that it was all Alberto, then ask yourself this: who does Batman, the greatest detective in the DC Universe, think did it? Who does he think is Holiday? Alberto Falcone.

and who are you to argue with Batman?

Works Consulted

Blitz, Stefan and Brian Saner Lamkin. “Jeph Loeb: The Comicology Interview.” Comicology 1 (Spring 2000): n. pag.
Loeb, Jeph et al. Batman: The Long Halloween. New York: DC Comics, 1998.
Miller, Frank et al. Batman: Year One. New York: DC Comics, 1988.
“Whut The--?!” Wizard 77 (Jan. 1998): 35.