Here at GMR we are rather fond of our graphic novels, trade paperbacks and manga. But it’s the rare – very rare – case where we review individual issues of a title or series. The only other time we’ve done so was Cat Eldridge’s review of issue 75 of Bill Willingham’s Fables. This time, we’re jumping the gun to review Neil Gaiman’s eulogy for Batman, the two part series Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, well before its collected release.
Eulogy is an apt word in more ways than one. DC Comics has decided to retire, at the very least, the character of Bruce Wayne, and potentially Batman himself. At the very least, Batman as fans know him will be no more (in other words, expect a series and character reboot at some point). And so Gaiman was brought in to, well, finish off the Caped Crusader, which he does with wit, affection and style.
Batman has seen more than a few dissimilar incarnations throughout his comic, movie and animated life, and Gaiman capitalizes on this diversity, drawing on a variety of villains, allies and artistic styles to deliver his tribute. The scenario is a seemingly simple one: a rogue’s gallery of villains – and allies – have gathered in a torchlit room off a dark alley in Gotham City to pay tribute to an open casket. A casket containing Batman’s body. But there’s a twist, of course, for the proceedings have a pair of unseen voyeurs: Batman himself and a mysterious woman.
Incorporeal Batman watches, dumbstruck, as each person gets up before the casket and spins an entirely different tale about his life and death. Cat Woman, the Riddler, the Penguin, the Joker, Dick Grayson, Alfred and more each have their say, and each time, Batman dies a different death. The Batman in each of their stories is him, and yet no single version is the sum total of what has been Batman.
Batman unravels the mystery of the tableau before him – and his current state – in the process saying goodbye to all he has known and been. And in the end, the slate is wiped clean, Bruce Wayne is no more. And Batman. . . ? That remains to be seen.
Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader is a marvelous tribute to a long-lived, well-loved character. Fans of all incarnations of Batman can find something to appreciate here, something to chuckle at, something to find sorrow in. Gaiman’s dialogue is by turns witty and poignant, and Kubert’s art is simply fantastic, rendering the villains’ stories in a variety of familiar styles.
As farewells go, they don’t get much better than this!
(DC Comics, issues 686 and 853, 2009)