DC Comics has me pegged. Stick Neil Gaiman’s name on something and I’ll buy it. Shoot, there’s a good chance that I’ll buy it more than once, depending on what you keep adding to the releases. Knowing this about myself, I’m always a little surprised when something he’s written just sort of shows up on the bookstore shelves that I didn’t already know about. Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is one of those somethings.
Now, I’m a pretty big fan of the Batman movies, especially the recent re-imaginings, but I’ve never been a big, big fan of the comics like a lot of folks are. I know who the major characters are in the series, including the Rogue’s Gallery, but I couldn’t tell you who the name of the robber was who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. And considering that I read this story last night, and it featured the guy, and I still can’t remember his name should tell you something.
Once I started reading the story, though, I realized that something was very, very off. Without giving away any of the story, understand that there are some very impossible things happening here, right from the get-go. Neil’s foreword let me know enough of the backstory here to get what was happening — this is essentially the last Batman story ever, much like Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was for Superman — so I wasn’t too shocked at the idea of Bruce Wayne being dead, but … well, by the time I got to the end of the title story, I realized: Batman is more than a character; he’s a mythology.
I doubt this is any ground-breaking revelation, except maybe to myself, because when you think about it, comic book characters are very much modern day mythologies. They’re more than just people in costumes used to illustrate stories; despite their supernatural abilities, they’re everymen who fight their troubles every day, over and over again, and they will never die. They represent all that’s good in us, and they fight and overcome all that’s bad. They take on a life greater than the stories they star in, and yes, I know how cheesy it all sounds. The fact is, it’s true, and if you’re going to hire a writer to drive home this point, then you need to get the master of modern mythology, Neil Gaiman. Suffice it to say, the match of author and subject is perfect. The title story is a perfect vehicle for illustrating the mythology of Batman. And there are so many cool, clever things that Neil does during the story that I want to gush and talk about them, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone….
Now, I bought the “deluxe edition” of the story, which collects three other Gaiman-penned Batman stories, none of which I had heard of before. None of them pack the same punch that the title story does, but they do have a very Gaiman-esque approach to the stories that deconstructs and de-idolizes the character of Batman. It’s an odd set of stories to set alongside the mythology story, but there you go. The best of the bunch is probably the reproduction of the Black and White story, which sets the Batman and the Joker as actors who are waiting their time to star in their comic. If nothing else, it serves as a gentle reminder that Neil’s understanding of mythology has served him very well in the world of comics.
Is this collection worth getting? I think so. I hesitated for a while after first seeing it on shelves (I hadn’t yet been able to forget the travesty that was Eternals), but the title story is really something, even if the rest of them aren’t. I can see myself re-reading this one to catch all the little details of the artwork and the story. Plus, it fits in well with the rest of my Neil Gaiman collection.