Writer: Neil Gaiman
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Scott Williams
Publisher: DC Comics
So, they actually did it. They killed Batman. Or at least, they killed Bruce Wayne – the legacy will live on, as is DC’s way. Superstar writer Grant Morrison has been building up to this during his entire run on the flagship Batman title, culminating with the aptly-named storyline Batman R.I.P – only for the Morrison-scripted Final Crisis storyline to deal the final blow.
It is a hell of a bold move killing off what is probably DC’s currently most popular character, if you include his success in other entertainment media. Of course, such a huge event requires a fitting epitaph. And if you’re going to do this in style, how do you top what is one of DC’s strongest creative teams in Morrison and R.I.P artist Tony Daniel?
Well, simple – you enlist comic-book legend and one of the finest writers in any media, Neil Gaiman, and bring back one of my top-5 favourite artists in Andy Kubert, that’s how. With a team like this coming together to work on such an iconic character, I really expected something truly extravagant for this two-part storyline, appearing in Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853.
And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly given the subject matter, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader turns out to be a rather muted, sombre affair.
I would be very interested to hear how this final chapter in the life of Bruce Wayne (for now at least) was pitched to Gaiman, and how far it developed along the way. On one level, you have a very basic, stripped-down plot of Wayne seeing his life pass before him in a dream-like fashion as he parts from this world. This format allows Gaiman and Kubert to pay homage to the great Batman eras and creators, while of course providing the required retrospective of Batman’s career, and the colleagues and enemies he has made on this journey.
This, the creative team do very well, while impressively staying clear of re-hashed, abridged, history. Now, Gaiman is too clever and too imaginative to stay confined to these parameters, and there are some hints at some more interesting overarching ideas around redemption, the cycle of life, and a perhaps even the possibility of reincarnation. There is some lovely punchy dialogue, and the pace of the story is just right.
However (and I may be very wrong on this), the final product does seem to come over as slightly confused, with the overall impression that the writer was struggling to bring something more eloquent to life against an editorial mandate of simplicity and reader-friendliness.
Andy Kubert’s art is the real highlight of this book. I have been a huge fan of his for many years, lamenting his recent low output, but this is possibly his finest work to date. There is an excellent balance between portraying characters in the style of some of the most important artists to have graced the pages of Batman, while still retaining the distinct Kubert style and maintaining the structure of the storytelling process. Kubert really seems to have clicked with Gaiman on producing this issue, culminating in some spectacular scenes which perfectly capture the atmosphere that the writer built around this dreamscape in Wayne’s dying head.
Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader is not poor by any means. In fact it is really rather good, but does suffer if anything from being just slightly underwhelming. Perhaps I just expected too much, knowing the calibre of the creators involved and the poignancy of the tale. This story certainly does serve as a rather nice bookend to Bruce Wayne’s career as Batman, and in that sense it serves its purpose well, whilst looking absolutely stunning at the same time.
Tags: Batman, X-Men