Neil Gaiman wonders Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?
Batman 686: Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader part 1.
(Batman #686: Covers by (left) Andy Kubert and (right) Alex Ross.)
This is the first of a two-parter by Gaiman and Kubert. The second part is coming in Detective Comics #853 and is meant to act as a nice endpoint for the current Batman run after the character dies at the hands of Grant Morrison. DC are hanging an entire event off the back of that; Battle For The Cowl. It looks bloody awful. I might be wrong, but that’s what I think.
So Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader is Gaiman’s loving nod to Batman past. It’s also a nod to the other great DC hero and the Alan Moore tale Whatever Happened to the Man Of Tomorrow? Both stories are getting the deluxe hardcover treatment in July (Batman, Superman). In Whatever Happened to The Man Of Tomorrow, Moore came in at the end of an era, just before the Superman franchise got one of it’s periodic reboots, when John Byrne came along in the mid 80s. Moore’s Superman tale is probably the best Superman tale you’ll ever read.
And that’s what Gaiman has set himself up against here. Again, it’s a special ending to an era, again it’s a tale of melancholy and mystery, again it’s not clear exactly what’s really going on here. And I may be completely stupid to review the first half of the story without getting the second half out of the way.
First a note on Andy Kubert’s art. In keeping with the sentiment and nostalgia of the story and the event, Kubert alters his style throughout, referencing many of the classic Batman looks over the years in a subtle, yet effective way. It never gets in the way of the storytelling, never screams out “look at this, this is Adams’ Batman, isn’t that clever?”. the art just nods in the direction of all the great Bat artists of the past. Lovely work.
(“I was here at the start of it all, Miss Kyle. I’m not going to miss the end”. But like Selina, none of us really know what’s going on at Batman’s funeral. From Batman 686 by Gaiman and Kubert.)
Back to the story. Batman’s dead. Lying in a coffin. Definitely dead. No sudden escapes, no cheating death with a suitably placed bat-belt accessory. Dead. Except if Batman’s dead, who’s doing the voice over and referring to the Bat in the coffin as “But that’s …. That’s me.”
The mystery unfolds slowly, with Gaiman careful not to give much away in this first half curtain raiser. Friends, acquaintances and the entire Rogue’s Gallery is in attendance for the funeral, with a load of really nice touches outside where the villains turn up and try to find safe parking outside the dive bar in Crime Alley where the funeral’s taking place. There’s even (what I perceived to be) a dig at the direction others have taken the Joker in:
Joker pulls up and gets out of his Jokermobile. There’s a bum at the door who’s been offering to watch cars all evening.
Joker: Hey, Kid. Watch my car for me?
Joker: Oh, for heaven’s sake! It’s a rough neighbourhood, it’s a lovely car. I want somebody to keep an eye on it.
Kid: But you’re the Joker.
Kid: You’ll kill me.
Joker: Kid … I’m the Joker. I don’t just randomly kill people. I kill people when it’s funny. What could conceivably be funny about killing you?
Reading this I couldn’t help but think back to the last Batman thing I read; Kevin Smith’s bloody horrible Cacophony where the Joker is played as a completely psychotic, sadistic bastard. I much prefer Gaiman’s take.
(A motley crew of guests for the funeral. And a Joker played the way I prefer. From Batman #686 by Gaiman and Kubert.)
But something’s not right in the story. Apart from the disembodied voiceover claiming that they’re the Bat, we have stories being told at coffin side that just can’t be true; with first Selina Kyle telling her alternate story of her life as Catwoman leading up to her killing the Bat and then Alfred stepping up and admitting that he was not only directly responsible for creating the Bat’s Rogue’s gallery but indirectly, he was responsible for the Bat’s death. It ends, suitably with the disembodied voice being told “You’re the world’s greatest detective Bruce. Why Don’t you figure it out”. And I’m sure he will, next issue.
(Yes, a comic so enjoyable and mysterious that I can reveal the final panel and you’ll still be none the wiser. From Batman #686 by Gaiman and Kubert.)
It’s a great comic. Gaiman gets the tone and the feel just right, piles mystery upon mystery, has you questioning everything all the way through and although it’s obviously a huge setup for the final issue, it’s still remarkably satisfying. I’ll be getting Detective #853 when it comes out. I think you should too.
Richard Bruton never leaves home without his utility belt