Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Deluxe Edition
– By Neil Gaiman (Writer); Andy Kubert (Artist); 2009
From the moment he declared war on crime, the Batman knew his story would eventually come to an end. But for each soul he has touched, either as an ally or an enemy, a lover or a friend, an inspiration or an obsession, the life of the Dark Knight — and its tragic conclusion — is viewed differently.
Now, those closest to the Caped Crusader gather for his memorial service. Stories are told, feelings are revealed and tears are shed in a final retrospective of Batman’s long and astonishing career. And for those of you who think you know the Dark Knight, prepare to find out you never did.
In honour of DC’s Batman Day 2016 (September 17) I decided to read Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Neil Gaiman’s love-letter to the character and quintessential “Last Batman Story.” This book collects two issues, Batman #686 (part one) and Detective Comics #853 (part two).
The story is meant to follow the psychological trauma Batman struggles through during the Batman R.I.P. story line, as well as his fate during the subsequent events of Final Crisis. This is only how it is framed in the context of its publication, however. No references to “current” events in the continuity are made. Instead, the story is written in such a way that it could stand as a timeless send-off for the character.
Taking place in a dream-like version of Gotham City that is not a dream, the story is a more surreal affair. There is no plot to speak of, really, but that’s the point. It’s a character study on Batman himself, presented through the frame of a wake. Important allies, friends, lovers, and enemies each stand before those assembled and tell a story; a perspective on Batman. Even as a reader you know they contradict each other, that things never have been quite the way they tell it, nor might it ever be. Some could be revelations that would shake you to your very foundation. Regardless, in each of them there is truth and a unifying idea of who and what the Batman was.
The proceedings are viewed by a perspective unseen by all those attending, who comments and wonders about what they are witnessing. This is the narrative through line in the story, as this consciousness must figure out what is taking place and solve the titular question. At two issues long it is a rather short story and since it is dominantly character-driven I feel that to speak any more of events would only spoil it. What I will say is it’s deeply reflective and sentimental, and I love it for that and more.
For as much as I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, Andy Kubert’s art greatly elevates this book, presenting a treasure trove of artistic Easter eggs. Kubert pays homage to many of the great artists who have drawn Batman over the character’s storied history, emulating their styles in a way like “the artists […] were trying to draw like me.” This is most noticeable to me in the way Batman and the Joker are illustrated, though the latter is not too prominently featured story-wise. Resting in his casket, Batman’s appearance changes from panel to panel, showcasing some of the many interpretations of the character. I could identify references for the Joker the most, who sometimes looks like he did in the 60s, at others from Batman the Animated Series, and during his eulogy he looks and emotes as if he stepped right off the pages of The Killing Joke. It’s a wonder to behold that really ties the story together. If the art had not been just so, the impact of the story would suffer.
As a Deluxe Edition for a rather short story, the book contains a number of older Batman-related issues written by Neil Gaiman.
The first is “A Black and White World” which is Batman Black and White #2. It tells a fourth wall breaking story about Batman and the Joker as self-conscious comic book characters whose job it is to star in said comic books. The art is stylistically grotesque and high contrast-black and white. An enjoyable take on the characters, though the art was a little hard on the eyes for me.
The second is “Pavane,” a story from Secret Origins Vol. 2 #36, which tells of a Task Force X recruiter investigating Pamela Isley aka Poison Ivy. The art style and tone is especially reminiscent of Sandman to me. It’s a rather somber take on the character that explores who she is without delving directly into her backstory that much. I quite liked it.
The last two, grouped together, are “Original Sins” and “When Is a Door: The Secret Origin of The Riddler” from Secret Origins Special Vol. 2 #1. Though considered separate stories, “When Is a Door” is inserted in the middle of “Original Sins,” which follows a film crew trying to do a TV special to humanize the villains of Gotham City. Turned away from Arkham Asylum, settling for Harvey Dent’s wife and one of The Penguin’s cronies, and seemingly unable to get The Joker’s attention, however, the crew struggles.
“When Is a Door” is their chance to interview The Riddler. This story of this segment is less of an origin for the character, since at no point does he concretely divulge his history. Instead the story is more of a tribute to the then fading, campier days of Batman comics, complete with giant novelty appliances. Though I prefer the darker edge to the comics that followed, it’s an enjoyable little send-off to that period.
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is definitely a must-have for any discerning Batman fan. It’s a wonderful Ending that’s not an ending for the character, transcending continuity. The story is surreal and sentimental and the art is superbly referential. The added stories included with the Deluxe Edition are a nice bonus too. Rereading the book was a great way to celebrate the character.