Whether it’s October 31 or not, The Long Halloween is required reading for anyone willing to call themselves fans of the Dark Knight. No story in all of American comics encapsulates Batman and the world he inhabits better.

Written by Jeph Loeb and released in separate issues throughout 1996 until 1997, The Long Halloween is both a lauded piece of comics literature and an example of clever marketing. Each issue of its year-long tale was themed around its release on the calendar, but the gimmick also helped clarify the story it was telling.

A detective mystery wrapped in a Godfather-esque mafia drama (with healthy doses of Silence of the Lambs), The Long Halloween follows Batman in a 12-month effort to catch Holiday, a serial killer who targets members of Gotham’s warring crime families on every holiday of the month. Holiday begins on Halloween, thus kicking off “The Long Halloween.”

Loeb’s epic is one of the most influential Batman sagas of all time, perhaps even more than The Dark Knight Returns. Unlike Frank Miller’s story of a comeback in dystopia, Loeb and Tim Sale, along with Gregory Wright on inks, portray a noir-infused Gotham at its most vulnerable while Batman is at his peak, squaring off against characters whose defining traits are exaggerated to frightening degrees.

The stylized art of a hard-boiled story echoes a firm understanding of Batman’s inherent contradictions: He’s a billionaire with time to moonlight as a detective, while neither persona is really true. The Long Halloween is a contradictory novel weaving a gritty mystery that flirts with the impossible.

The Long Halloween is also one of the most definitive interpretations of Harvey Dent and his becoming of Two-Face, in showing an altruistic D.A. pushed past the point of no return. It’s one of the most devastating points in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Telltale has also mined Dent’s descent in Batman: The Telltale Series, but both owe much to Loeb’s story. Any time Dent, Gordon, and Batman gather around the Batsignal, that’s The Long Halloween’s legacy.

Perhaps most emblematic of any Batman story is its damage to the man himself, Bruce Wayne. In his pursuit of Holiday, Bruce is oft reminded of his parent’s murder. This is rote in 2016, but in The Long Halloween the tragedy remains potent come Mother’s and Father’s Day. Bruce’s psychological stress — on top of some posthumous smearing of the Wayne name — is unmatched even with other revelatory Wayne skeletons like Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls.

The Long Halloween is everything great about Batman that has little to do with the Pagan festival it’s named after. It’s only because of its cool title that makes Loeb’s enduring saga fitting for October, but The Long Halloween is a good mystery (with a somewhat disappointing twist) perfect for any time of the year. It’s just good timing if you choose to pick it up now.

Photos via Warner Bros., DC Comics

Eric is a film and journalism graduate of Rutgers University. Specializing in the nerdy side of pop culture, he has also written for Geekscape and TheDishh. He’s still hoping to be bitten by a radioactive spider.