Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Drawn by: Andy Kubert

Published by: DC Comics

It’s always an event when comics legend, Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Eternals) returns to comics to do … anything. I can’t even imagine it being much of a discussion after “hi, I’m Neil Gaiman. I’d like to do a tribute to Batman.” This story harkens back to the classic Alan Moore (Watchmen) story, “Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” from Superman#423 & Action Comics #583.

“I guess I always knew this was how it was going to end. That we didn’t have him forever.” –Commissioner James Gordon

Gaiman manages to mine some of his favorite themes: childhood and storytelling and the magic and power of both. There’s not much action in this tale of Batman, but it’s more about someone mulling over their life and sorting through who he is and how he got there. There’s almost a bit of Canterbury Tales story structure to the story. Batman has apparently died and both heroes and villains have gathered for a funeral, giving eulogies about how they killed Batman. We go through numerous scenarios of how Batman could have died (including one version where Alfred becomes the Joker in order to facilitate Bruce Wayne’s obsession with dressing up as a bat. Every hero needs a villain to give him purpose).

“I fight until I drop. And one day, I will drop.” –Batman

The point of this story is that it really doesn’t matter how you die but rather that someday you are actually going to die. Your actions in this life have an effect that goes beyond what you may be able to see at the time. You don’t know how many lives you are going to impact, either positively or negatively. Some of the things you could learn from your funeral are: what was your life made of? Who did you impact? What did you accomplish? It boils down to how would you like to be remembered and how can you live the life to lead up to such a eulogy. And that’s something profound for anyone to mull over, even a Batman.

“Then one day someone comes along who makes sense of the madness. Who understand it. Who wants to fix it.” –Det. Bullock

To finish, strictly speaking, means to bring something to an end or to completion. In Acts 20:24, the apostle Paul writes that his own life didn’t matter to him as long as he’d “finish the race and complete the task” that the Lord gave him. For Batman it was a simple core belief, as he puts it, “I believe in laws and in right and wrong” and until he has finished the fight for justice, he lives by his credo of “don’t give up”.

The coolest part of “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” was seeing Batman from various eras. Kubert’s art matches Gaiman’s story perfectly. The abstracts and symbolism, the nods to the various continuities, create such an insider brew that what’s being said gets rather garbled in the metanarrative. The story didn’t quite come together perfectly for me. This is a fitting capstone, however, to not just the Grant Morrison run on the book, but also for the recent “Batman: R.I.P.” storyline. Plus, it’s Neil Gaiman: even slightly off his game, the sheer weight of his ideas and narrative puts him head and shoulders above most everything else out there.