07 January 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XXVIII: Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?: The Deluxe Edition, With other tales of the Dark Knight

Comic hardcover, n.pag
Published 2009 (contents: 1989-2009)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2012
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?: The Deluxe Edition, With other tales of the Dark Knight

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Andy Kubert, Scott Williams, Simon Bisley, Mark Buckingham, Mike Hoffman, Kevin Nowlan, Bernie Mireault, Matt Wagner
Colors: Alex Sinclair, Nansi Hoolahan, Tom McCraw, Joe Matt
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher, John Costanza, Agustin Mas, Todd Klein

This is close to the end of my Sandman spin-off runthrough. It's also stretching the definition of "Sandman spin-off," though no moreso than when I included Gaiman's early DC work like Black Orchid and Legend of the Green Flame. Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? actually teases you with an appearance of someone who might be Death... but turns out not to be. (Or so I think, anyway. Some evidently disagree!) The story takes place after Batman's death in Grant Morrison's Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis, with all of his old allies and enemies gathering in Gotham to pay homage to him. Only... everyone thinks they did it. So we get a succession of stories told, by Catwoman, Alfred, the Mad Hatter, Joker, Robin, Clayface, Superman, each telling completely contradictory stories about something they did (or did not do) that lead to the death of Batman.

The stories range from a few pages to a panel or two to just dialogue, but each of them manages to be completely and utterly Batman. It's the greatest hits of Batman deaths, if he was allowed to have more than one. There are a lot of nice details-- my favorite part is the guy outside the club where the funeral is being held who watched the villains' cars-- in both the (beautiful) art (by Andy Kubert) and the writing. It's the perfect tribute to the Batman, the man who never gave up, no matter how crazy he seemed.

The whole funeral is overlaid by two people talking in caption boxes, who turn out to be Batman and not Death ("I don't think death is a person, Bruce."), and Batman passes from the funeral, from life, into something greater and beyond reality. Here, Bruce gets a chance to reflect on who he was and why he did everything he did. There are a lot of great lines, my favorite being, "Do you know the only reward you get for being Batman? You get to be Batman." And then he's done... or as done as Batman can ever be, because he's apparently got to pass on somewhere else. I know that when Darkseid kills Batman in Final Crisis, Batman actually goes tumbling into the past, so I assume this is all tied into that, but it works on its own as a story about the endurance and struggle of Batman, too.

The still-thin book is padded out by everything else Gaiman wrote related to Batman, which amounts to a weird set of stories. "A Black and White World" is about what Batman and the Joker do "off-panel" in their comics, but Simon Bisley's art is just a little too "gritty 1990s" to work for me. Check out those ears on the Batman! And those R. Crumb-style women. "Pavane" is about a Suicide Squad agent trying to recruit Poison Ivy, giving her origin story-- pretty good stuff. "Original Sins" and "When is a Door" are two linked stories about a news team visiting Gotham to do a feature on supervillains.

I like the frame a lot, being filled with big and small character moments, and jokes at the Penguin's expense, but "When is a Door," the teams encounter with the Riddler, ended up being a long metafictional rant about the death of fun in superhero comics. Well, Neil Gaiman, go write some fun superhero comics then. This is your world; as I was just reminded, Batman and the Riddler just live in it.

No comments:

Post a Comment