Friday, April 24, 2009

Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?

I guess I Always knew that this was how it was going to end. That we didn't have him forever. That one day, someone would say, "Hey Jim. Whatever happened to the Caped Crusader?" I'd tell the, "Pretty much what you'd expect. He's dead."
-Commissioner Gordon

So after a few months of delay, the second part of Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert's two-part requiem for Batman has been published, and from what I've seen it's being met with a collective "meh.." Which is pretty much how I felt, but after thinking about it, I've figured out the problem with the book, and now I think I like it quite a bit.

***Spoilers Ahead***

But let's begin at the beginning, the story (which is better read in one sitting) envisions a ghostly Batman, along with an eventually-identified woman, peering down at his own funeral, watching both his allies and enemies each eulogizing him and giving different accouts of his death. Some of the deaths are brave, so are inconsequential. Through all of these stories, we get the essence of what The batman is, he never gives up, he always saves the day (even if it means his ldeath), and that there is always a Batman. Mirroring Alan Moore's Superman tale, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow", we find Batman moving onto his reward* But unlike Superman's final reward (to live a normal life as a human, with Lois and child), Batman's reward is to simply be Batman, as if this is all he can imagine and his reqard is to be reborn again and spend a happy few years as a child with his parents again until their murder, which he knows cannot be prevented.

There are good moments in the book, even some that are truly powerful, such as Harvey Bullock's eulogy:

However, I ended up having four issues with the book, and they're all kind of interrelated.

1. The title automatically ties it into "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow", probably one of the most iconic Superman stories of the last 30 years. By joining them like that, you're setting the book up to fail if it doesn't live up to something that's almost impossible to live up to.

2. Batman's not dead. Sure, everyone thinks he is, but as we saw at the end of Final Crisis, he's been shunted to stone age, or on an alternate Earth (or both). Yes, I know that's not really the point and this could very well be an Imaginary Story (aren't they all?), but it leads to a certain cognitive dissonance. When Man of Tomorrow was put out, it was the end of an era, whereas no one really believes that Bruce Wayne is going to be gone much longer than Steve Rogers has been(two years, and counting, but it looks like he's back in July).

3. Andy Kubert, while a very good artist, just isn't an iconic Batman artist, and to lend this book some gravitas, that's what it needed. Man of Tomorrow, had Curt Swan (with inks by George Perez), and really, there's no more iconic Superman artist than Swan. Kubert's good, but can you imagine if they'd gotten Neal Adams? Or hell, while I'm wishing, Jim Apparo?

4. And that brings me to the last issue with this book, it wasn't published 25 years ago, at the same time as "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow", that book was put out as a capper to Superman's silver age, essentially giving that Superman a send-off before he was rebooted by Man of Steel. I really think that's the proper way to look at this book. The myriads of deaths presented are the deaths of the infinite numbers of Batmen as the multiverse collapsed into itself at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Bruce Wayne, who is re-born at the end, is the new Batman of the re-booted DC Universe following Crisis. When I think of it that way the book works for me. The idea that the collective Batmen (Batmans?), though different, all had the same ultimate goal and the same, final reward.

Anyway, it is well done, Gaiman's writing does carry the story, and though I think it would have been better served to have been all published at once (or at least without the giant delay), I think the book accomplished what it set out to do, and it does work as a complimentary volume to Man of Tomorrow, but I just don't think it will ever be seen that way, but you never know.

*I find it interesting that while most of Superman's friends died trying to save him in Man of Tomorrow and he gets to live happily ever after. While in Batman's story, he's the one who pays the price to save everyone, including his enemies.


Scott said...

Look at the many depictions of Batman in this story and the many artists and time periods that Kubert tries subtly to mimic. Unlike Moore who was trying to pay homage to a very specific period of Superman's history, Gaiman is writing more about Batman stories for most of "Whatever Happened to..."

There's no winking Bruce at the end of this story because Moore's story is about getting to the happy ending. We get an infant Bruce, ready to begin the cycle again. "The Man of Tomorrow" was an ending but "The Caped Crusader" is more of a rebirth.

Jason said...

See,what I think is that Superman's hopeful nature allows him to see and "end". Batman's more pragmatic or cynical nature doesn't allow that. His parents will always be dead (and will always die), so the absolute best resolution for him is to have those few, happy years back, before Batman is created again.

I did se some signs that Kubert was trying for some of the older artists' styles throughout, but he just didn't carry it off for me. I would have love to see JH Williams III do this book, since his mixing of styles during the "Club of Heroes" storyline was done so well.