Comic: "Batman #686"
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Andy Kubert
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.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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