BookBin2011: Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

I’m in the process of reading another book, but I also picked up a small stack of graphic novels during my last trip to the library (I can’t not get books when I’m in a library, denizens…I’m just too weak), and they’ve been taunting me with their colorful goodness ever since.

Especially this particular collection. Anyone who has been following my reading exploits here at the lair knows that I do loves me some Neil Gaiman. Even when I’m less than impressed by one of his offerings, I still find something enjoyable to his skills as a writer.

So finding out that he had penned a two-part comic for Batman in the vein of Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel? was quite a delightful discovery. Even though I was less than enamored of Moore’s take on Superman’s fate, I liked the concept of giving an “end” to an unending character.

[Loba Tangent: Does that make sense? If you’re a comic book fan, I suppose it does. Because comic nerds and Trekkies both know: No one ever really dies in these universes. They just come back as blonde Romulans.]

Gaiman, however, has written an amazing two-part tale for the Caped Crusader, a beautiful take on the eternal recurrence of the Batman mythos. It’s so perfectly penned, this fever-induced dream scape in which Batman’s demise is retold in myriad ways from myriad sources, each one subjective and surprisingly sentimental. Alfred’s story is particularly poignant and gives a view of the Caped Crusader that is heart-rending and bittersweet. And the ending? Pitch perfect, IMHO.

This collection is rounded out with three other Gaiman-penned tales, including one that is a delightfully meta take on the comic book character existence being similar to that of actors on set filming scenes for a movie. The interaction between Batman and the Joker is delicious and the rather abstract artwork adds to the surrealism of the story. The final two tales focus on Poison Ivy and the Riddler and are relatively Batman-free minus flashback appearances. Both are yet more exceptional storytelling from Gaiman, presented from his rather unique perspective on the inhabitants of Batman’s beloved Gotham.

The artist for this collection was Andy Kubert, who has worked on major titles for both Marvel and DC, with inking by Scott Williams and coloring by Alex Sinclair. It’s difficult to truly judge Kubert’s artistic style here, because Gaiman asked him to base his drawings on the artistic styles of past Batman artists like Jerry Robinson, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, and Batman’s creator Bob Kane. As a mimic of these other styles, Kubert does an admirable job. However, I think that I was less than impressed by the overall impact because I am still reeling from the incomparable beauty of Blacksad.

I know, it’s not fair at all to compare these two graphic novels…but, seriously, denizens? Blacksad is GORGEOUS. Anything that follows it is going to be like being the kid who has to follow the honor roll student who built a working scale replica of the planets’ trajectories around the sun…and all you have is a papier-mâché volcano and some baking soda and vinegar.

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Final Verdict: Even with my unfair comparison of this collection’s artwork to Blacksad, it’s still a well drawn collection. And Gaiman’s writing carries this book over the end zone for a solid spike and a groovy touchdown dance. Yet another one for the ole wish list.