Comic: "Batman #686"
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Andy Kubert

Reviewer: Protoclown
Posted: 2/17/2009

Plot: Batman is dead, kind of, or not, and those closest to him, including his rogue's gallery, stop by the funeral to pay their respects.

Review: Back in 1986, DC Comics was rebooting the continuity of Superman, and as they wrapped up the prior continuity, Alan Moore and Curt Swan did an excellent two-issue arc called "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", a sort of alternate future reality in which people remembered the life of Superman and how he'd affected them after he was gone. As Neil Gaiman was sort of Alan Moore's protege in the world of comics, I can think of no one better to do the Batman equivalent of that story, "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"

The story opens with disembodied voices looking down on Gotham City. One of the voices is Batman, confused by the events that unfold before him ("That's me in that coffin!"), while the identity of the other voice remains unknown in the first half of the story. We see various characters in Batman's life coming to pay their respects, but what is of course the most interesting to see is his various villains coming to say their goodbyes.

In typical Gaiman stories-within-stories fashion, the characters tell their tales of what Batman meant to them, and how they each know that they are the one truly responsible for Batman's demise, which of course can't actually be the case. Bruce Wayne himself observes (whether from some heavenly plane has yet to be determined) as Selena Kyle (Catwoman) and Alfred Pennyworth tell their stories, protesting unheard the whole time that "that's not the way it happened!" Catwoman's tale is fun; Alfred's is fucking amazing, and it seems so obvious to me after having read it that I can't believe that nobody had actually thought of that idea before (I'm being vague to avoid spoilers as it's really clever and you should discover it for yourself).

Andy Kubert's art is top notch--he does a damned good job of subtly emulating different art styles throughout Batman's long history (and there's even a panel where the Animated Series Joker makes an appearance), paying homage to so many of the greats to pick up a pencil that came before, but avoiding a simple slavish imitation of their work as well. The art lends itself well to a story that incorporates some of the sillier, funner elements of the Golden and Silver Age stories. In a mere 36 pages, Gaiman and Kubert manage to effectively convey the broad scope of Batman's immense history.

The story is not over yet, the second and final part picks up in Detective Comics #853, but I'm extremely confident that the high marks I've given the first part will carry through to the second. I'm a bit surprised that Gaiman is trying (and succeeding) to tell such an ambitious tale in a mere two (albeit oversized) issues, but Gaiman and Moore both excel at economy of storytelling, filling a small space with more substance than most writers could ever hope to. I don't know if they're going to collect this or not, as it's only a two-issue story, but they did reprint Moore's story in a prestige format book, so they may go that same route here. Otherwise your only option will be to buy the two individual issues, or whatever larger collection they eventually end up in.

It's stuff like this that reminds me what a damned good writer Gaiman is, and how his best work has always been in comics. I wish he would come back to writing comics full time, but I know that's not going to happen. So we'd best enjoy these little touches of awesome whenever we can.

Overall rating: WholeWholeWholeWholeWhole
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

Forum Virgin
Feb 17th, 2009, 05:17 PM
This book issue was amazing. I'm glad you didn't go into details about Alfred's story. I luckily read the issue before looking online and seeing almost everybody pretty much spoiling the surprise. I read that the kid who ask to look after the villain's cars might be pre-Crisis Jason Todd, seemingly explaining why he is so scared of the Joker but not the others.
Kwisatz Haderach
Feb 17th, 2009, 05:31 PM
I've been wanting to pick this up but forgot to do so the last time I was at my local shop. Sound's amazing though!
Feb 17th, 2009, 08:59 PM
Thanks for telling us about this as I hadn't heard of it and I would have missed this one if you hadn't said anything. It seems to me as they are remembering the death of the idea of batman more than anything else as all of the characters in the funeral are from different parts of the batman legend. The riddler at the funeral seems to be the one from the cheesy 60's tv show, for example.

The alfred story is very clever, but I'm more interested in hearing what the joker and two-face, the two characters who arguably made batman who he is, have to say.
Feb 18th, 2009, 01:29 AM
I must read this.
The Goddamned Batman
Feb 18th, 2009, 01:33 AM
Originally Posted by HowardC View Post
The alfred story is very clever, but I'm more interested in hearing what the joker and two-face, the two characters who arguably made batman who he is, have to say.
I'm betting we'll be seeing both of those tales in the second part of the story.
Feb 19th, 2009, 03:31 PM
Damn interesting.
The Ugly Puckling
Feb 19th, 2009, 06:10 PM
I didn't like it. The randomly switching continuities thing was gimmicky and lessened the impact of the story. Catwoman's story was random, and silly, and Alfred's was like a random one-off Elseworld's version of "What If Batman had Asthma?" condensed into just a few pages. It was confusing, awkward and reminded me of why I don't like Neil Gaiman's crap, it's the typical overhyped emo stuff that goes for style over substance.

I blame his hair for My Chemical Romance.

I guess I am partly to blame for my disappointment, i thought this would be about various people going to his funeral and recalling one of those nice Probably Happened moments, like a random fight or a particular fight that had no longterm repercussions, then imaging how they brought about his downfall in some loosely associated way.

Instead I got meta emos flitting about. This would of been better if Frank Miller had written it, least then Batman would of flown out of the coffin and chopped Alfred in half while shouting "NOBODY TOUCHES FREDO!" and while the Green Lantern suffers from erectile disfunction halfway across the country.
Nab Nab is offline
Forum Virgin
Feb 19th, 2009, 06:31 PM
I haven't read the comic yet, and though I'm sure it's great, I can't help but feel that it would feel too much like The Wake with Batman characters and concepts replacing those of The Sandman. I'm sure it's not, but I just can't help but think of The Wake when I think of Neil Gaiman writing a story of this nature.
Feb 21st, 2009, 05:02 AM
I don't normally have the Bat on my pull list, but on the basis of this review I went and got it. And I'm damn glad I did. Gaiman is just so good. The strong overtones of "the Wake" are there, sure; but this is something else entirely. A serious nostalgia trip, for one thing.
Bustin makes me feel good
Feb 21st, 2009, 07:16 PM
Yay, Batman!