Friday, January 27, 2012

GN Review -- Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? / Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert

What would Batman's funeral be like, in the event that he actually did die?  Who would attend?  What would they say about him?  Would the stories match up, or would they all be accounts of a different man, a different person?  Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert take a crack at a possible answer in their tribute to the Dark Knight, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

The story begins with the funeral-goers gathering for the deceased Batman's service.  Their ranks include friend and foe alike: Dick Grayson, Catwoman, Joker, Alfred, Harley, Commissioner Gordon, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, and so on.  As they gather to pay their respects, they tell stories of how he died, and it seems none of them is talking about the same Batman.  No one mentions the contradictions, though, and simply continue the service in respectful somberness.  Adding to the confusion is the disembodied presence of Bruce Wayne, watching the people from his various lives gather to tell these stories, wondering if he's actually, really dead and if this isn't another clever ploy by an enemy.  The stories told are different in scope, tone, and plot, but they all have one thing in common that makes Bruce realize instinctively that no one is lying: the Batman in all of their stories never gives up, never compromises himself or his brand of justice, never gives in, no matter what the situation.

Neil Gaiman is one writer you can always trust to have a unique perspective on a popular, well-loved mythology, and from the start of this story, you can tell that Batman has had a profound influence on him creatively.  In choosing to shed the specifics surrounding Batman's "one, true" off-panel death, he's using the setting of Batman's funeral as a stage to pay his respects to the various interpretations of Batman over his 70-year publication history.  It's a clever ploy, and one that is both entrancing and haunting in its exploration of the character's soul, as we see the various lives he's touched at various points, and how they, regardless of whether they liked him or not, were profoundly impacted by his existence.

If there's a criticism with this story, it's that it's lacking in particulars.  Batman's various stories and the deaths in them are of course conflicting accounts in terms of character, time, and place.  Things are therefore left with a very metaphysical, surrealistic feel that may come off as disappointing to anyone wanting a more concrete story.  This was all undoubtedly intentional, and I can understand Gaiman's desire to keep mum on the specifics in order to pay homage to all of the various interpretations of Batman over the years.  I can just also understand if other readers are more than a little turned off by it as well.

Art-wise, you generally don't get much better than Andy Kubert.  He had to not only draw a plethora of characters in Batman's extended family, but he also had to do varying interpretations of them in different eras.  He does a good job of this, and conveys emotion, clarity, and purpose to what could have otherwise been a rather muddled and perplexing story.

Overall, I'd say this was a decent story, and very typical of Neil Gaiman in its atypical-ness.  Anyone who enjoys his works will at least want to give Whatever Happened a read, as will Batman fans.  I'm not guaranteeing either will like it, particularly if you expect more traditional modes of storytelling, but for those with the patience for a more surreal experience, I think will find a loving and well written take on the Dark Knight mythos.  Recommended.

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