|Cover by Andy Kubert|
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (2009)
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Penciller: Andy Kubert
Inker: Scott Williams
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
When I took out a dozen Batman comics from my local library, I kept the bag of books in my room. My sister, unbeknownst to me, came in and raided this bag and one day began talking about one particular graphic novel, assuming I had read it first. When I stared at her dumbfounded, she realized she had actually read more Batman comics than me and seemed quite pleased with this fact.
“Well, I read one that was really confusing,” she said. “Batman was dead but he was also still alive watching his funeral and everyone was telling different stories and then he reborn as a baby or something.”
I guessed she was talking about Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman, as it is also a pretty famous comic and one I had heard of before (though I can’t believe it’s only from 2009; I could’ve sworn it was older than that).
“Yeah, that was it,” she said when I repeated the title to her. “Read it because I’m still confused by it.”
So I read it.
Yeah, it’s sort of confusing but it’s basically A Christmas Carol: Bruce Wayne gets a chance to see the different lives he’s led and the different ways people view him. He’s having a near-death experience with a comforting disembodied female voice guiding him. Yet, just what death he is near is never fully explained; everyone, from the Joker to Alfred, has a different account of how the Batman died, confusing Bruce as he grapples with his own identity.
Overall, the plot was really comprised of little vignettes by the speakers at the funeral, cumulating in the last third of the comic, in which the identity of disembodied voice is revealed and Bruce has a chance to really examine his choices and the role of Batman. There was even a sentimental moment where Bruce says “goodnight” to all the people and places that’s been important to him (and us, the readers) ala Goodnight Moon, a book he loved as a child: “Goodnight, Batmobile. Goodnight, Alfred. Goodnight, Boy Wonder. Goodnight, Joker. Goodnight, Jim Gordon. Goodnight, all of you. Goodnight, Gotham City.”
When I finished it, I found Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? rather moving. Look, it was sort of silly at parts and a little heavy-handed. Gaiman also occasionally suffers from pretentiousness like Morrison but for my money, he’s a much stronger and clearer writer. If something is enjoyable to read, it doesn’t matter how pretentious it is. If anything, I walked away from this comic really sensing Gaiman’s love for this character and his world. He’s obviously a fan, just like me and the thousands who read Batman comics, so he treats this character with the utmost respect. That’s so refreshing to read after wading through so much mediocrity.
The art by Andy Kubert was also fabulous; really crisp and again, with a distinct understanding of the history and world of the Batman mythos. This may be one of my favorite artistic renderings of Batman so far.
I would also just recommend picking up this deluxe edition of the comic purely for Gaiman’s introduction alone, which he labels as “a love letter.” And it is; it’s a heartfelt love letter to Batman and his influence on his fans and readers. Gaiman, along with being a great writer, is also basically just a fanboy and it’s always fun to feel like the writers of your favorite comic book characters are enthusiastic fans just like you.