Detective 853 – And now we find out what did happen to the Caped Crusader….
Detective Comics 853 – Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader Part 2
by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert
After the first part of this storyline, where Gaiman spent the issue asking questions and spinning his mystery, this issue starts off with more of the same; a series of cast members telling of the moment they saw the Batman die, each tale racing by, some as short as a couple of panels, as Batman watches over all, puzzling over what is happening to him. The world’s greatest detective is still accompanied by a mysterious woman who alludes to this being his final moments, but he’s slowly figuring it all out, working out what’s happened to him and piecing everything together. How is it that each eulogy tells a different tale, each Batman seems to be a different person? That sort of thing only happens in dreams or in one’s final moments, looking back on a life and imagining all the possible worlds you could have experienced. Turns out it might be true after all, this may be the final Batman story – or at least one of them.
On one hand it’s a nothing story, a very low key affair with this necessary low key finale but that’s rather the point. Not every story has to be, nor should it be, an all out action spectacular. Perhaps death should, just once, be a moment of peace and acceptance?
The key to to the whole thing, the very idea Gaiman hangs two issues of story off is uttered by the mysterious woman:
“You don’t get heaven or hell.
Do you know the only reward you get for being Batman?
You get to be Batman”
And with this, Gaiman ends his story on a decidedly low key note, with Bruce Wayne realising that this may be the one time he doesn’t escape his fate. Goodbyes are said and Batman dies, only to get his reward all over again. You may have seen it coming, particularly if you’re familiar with the style of Gaiman’s work, but that doesn’t make the nature of the resolution to this particular mystery any less satisfying. Personally I loved the nature of his death and his life as seen by Gaiman; making Batman a truly immortal character, an ever-present protector of Gotham City, just as he should be. In telling the story, Gaiman is expertly mirroring the fact that Batman in the comics never really dies, no matter what they’d have you believe. One way or another he’s always reborn, always necessary, always there. It’s a nice take on not only Batman but on the whole comic industry. No one dies, not really, not for long.
Kubert’s art is quite marvellously good here, whatever style he adopts. I caught 50s style Batman in the Batgirl eulogy, Brian Bolland style Killing Joke era Joker, a generic TV style Burt Ward Robin, the animated series Clayface, possibly a touch of Norm Breyfogle in Harvey Bullock’s eulogy and a definite Neil Adams’ Ras Al Ghul. Plus later on there were touches of Anton Furst’s Gotham City architecture and moments of Jim Lee, Mazzucchelli, Aparo and McKean. Yet to put all that in and still maintain a clean visual style – that’s quality work. The only place Kubert falters is his Superman. I think it’s meant to be in the style of Curt Swan but it comes across as the style of some terrible fan artist. A minor, yet glaring mis-step in what is otherwise a great comic.
It’s a quality piece of story-telling, a quiet and thoughtful meditation on what it means to be Batman by a great storyteller. Loaded with references yet still accessible and enjoyable for all. It’s very much a Gaiman Batman comic, with lyrical, imaginative dialogue and the central concept, of the never ending Batman, is a fitting conclusion, both as a positive valediction of the character and an equally damning criticism of the industry he inhabits.
Batman: Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader should still be available as the individual issues; Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853. But it’s out as a deluxe hardcover in July (preorder here), complete with a fondly remembered Neil Gaiman Batman tale of the Riddler with some truly gorgeous artwork by Bernie Mierault and more Gaiman penned tales of the Batman. It’s released in the same month as the piece it most attempts to emulate; Alan Moore’s farewell to Superman: Whatever happened To The Man Of Tomorrow (again, preorder here).