Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

What started as an attempt to re-read Grant Morrison’s weird, epic, years-long run on Batman (which began back in 2007 and is just now wrapping up) has expanded into a more thorough re-reading of the last few years’  worth of Batman continuity.  It’s been fun!

Click here for Part I of my re-read of Grant Morrison’s run, and click here for Part 2.  Click here for my thoughts on Batman: The Animated Series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, a terrific read that ran parallel to Mr. Morrison’s run on Batman.

When last we left Mr. Morrison’s story, the six-part Batman: R.I.P. and the Morrison-written DCU crossover series Final Crisis (click here for that review)  had left Bruce Wayne dead, killed by Darkseid.  This lead to a major re-shuffling of all of the Batman books published by DC Comics.

I am not someone who gets too bent out of shape when one of the major publishers kills off one of their main characters.  Obviously I know it’s not going to last forever.  The question is, does the “stunt” of knocking off a main character lead to great new stories, or does it just feel like a lame attempt to drum up publicity and boost sales?  Let’s see what I thought of DC’s post-death of Bruce Wayne stories:

Last Rites (Detective Comics #851 & Batman #684) — Following Grant Morrison’s terrific Last Rites story-line (in Batman #682 & 683 ), long-time Batman writer, the great Denny O’Neil, returned to write this two-part story.  I was excited to read a new Batman story by Mr. O’Neil, the man responsible for some of the most seminal Batman stories ever written (he created Ra’s al Ghul with Neal Adams in Batman #232), but sadly this story-line was just eh.  It mostly focuses on a new super-heroine character, and feels like a completely separate story that was shoe-horned into the post-Batman R.I.P. continuity.  Spectacular Alex Ross cover on Batman #684, though!

Faces of Evil — The next month saw a DC-wide publication hook in which all the books temporarily focused on the villains, rather than the heroes.  In Detective Comics #852 & Batman #685, Paul Dini focused on Hush and Catwoman, picking up the story-limes from his phenomenal Heart of Hush storyline in Detective Comics (which I wrote about here).  Hush has been defeated and is near death, but after having altered his face to resemble that of Bruce Wayne, Hush discovers an incredible opportunity, since the real Bruce Wayne is out of the picture.  Attempting to pass himself off as Bruce Wayne, Hush briefly seems to be on a path back to his lost fortune, but a vengeful Catwoman isn’t going to let that stand.  This is a terrific two-parter, beautifully illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, and it’s a nice stepping-stone to Mr. Dini’s next Batman stories in the new series Streets of Gotham (which I will write about soon!)

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?  — Before turning the page to their revamped Bat-books and the post-Bruce Wayne adventures, DC published this two-part story (in Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853) that was intended to be the finale to all of the previous decades of adventures of Bruce Wayne as Batman.  The title was of course intended to invoke Alan Moore’s seminal Superman story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, a two-part tale that was the final Superman adventure before DC rebooted their entire universe back in 1985-86 with Crisis on Infnite Earths.  That wonderful story really was the very last story of the pre-Crisis Superman story, and Mr. Moore paid glorious tribute to decades of Superman adventures while telling a compelling, heart-felt “Last Superman Story.”  For whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, DC recruited another comic book heavyweight, Neil Gaiman, and illustrator Andy Kubert.

Now, right from the start, the comparison with Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow? rung a little false to me, because whereas Alan Moore’s story really WAS the very last pre-Crisis Superman story (and, as such, the very last story of that version of the Superman character), I didn’t believe that this would truly be the last Bruce Wayne story (and indeed it wouldn’t be, but more on that in a future post).  However, that being said, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is a terrific story!

It’s not at all what I expected. The whole story feels like dream, a lyrical, melodic tale existing outside of any specific DC Comics continuity and instead looking back at the long history of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character and paying homage to the many different eras of Batman from throughout the character’s long publication history. Various different versions of Batman’s supporting cast, drawn from over the years, are seen attending Batman’s funeral, in the room behind a bar run by Joe Chill.  We see some characters from current continuity (Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair) and older versions of other characters (Catwoman, looking like she did in the ’60s), and multiple versions of still others (quite a few different Jokers are in evidence), each telling their story of the death of Batman.  But none of those stories are consistent with the death of Batman as seen in Final Crisis, or any previous alternate-universe deaths of the character as seen before.  These are new stories, versions of what might have been or could someday be the death of Bruce Wayne.  It’s an acknowledgement that there is no one definitive version of Batman — there are countless different versions, each one valid and real.

In the end, Mr Gaiman cleverly tries to have his cake and eat it to.  He presents us with a story that could be read as the grand finale to over a half-century of Batman stories.  But he also acknowledges the existence of multiple versions of the character that have existed, and will yet exist at the hands of future story-tellers to come.  In a conversation with his dead mother at the end of Part 2, Batman says: “It never ends,” to which Martha Wayne replies: “It always ends.”  This is the death of Batman.  But not the last death of Batman!

But my favorite part of the story comes at the very end, when Mr. Gaiman turns from serious to playful, giving us Batman’s version of Goodnight Moon.  “Good night, Batcave.  Good night, mechanical dinosaur.  Good night, giant penny.”  Fantastic.

Battle for the Cowl — This three issue mini-series, written and drawn by Tony Daniel, was intended to milk the mystery of who would be the next Batman, before setting the stage for the re-launch of all the Bat-books.  We see a number of potential Bat-successors — Dick Grayson (Nightwing), resistant to the idea of stepping into his mentor’s big shoes; Tim Drake (the current Robin), who dons the Batman costume when he sees Nightwing won’t, only to get his butt handed to him by Catwoman and then Two-Face; Damian Wayne, who arrogantly believes he is the obvious successor to his father; and Jason Todd, who becomes a hyper-violent, murdering Batman.  Meanwhile, Gotham is collapsing into chaos, with the criminals emboldened by news of the death of Batman, and the top dogs (a new Black Mask, Two-Face, the Penguin) warring to control the city.  All of this sounds like it could be interesting, but I found it to be a generic mess.  Too many characters, not enough character development.  The character arcs seemed superficial, nothing particularly surprising or exciting happening.  And, as I commented when discussing the Grant Morrison Batman issues that Mr. Daniel drew, I am just not wild about his art.  I find it messy and over-complicated, and not that enjoyable to look at.  The whole mini-series felt like a bit of a time-waster, just killing time until the re-launch of all the Batman books.

I’ll be back soon with my comments on that re-launch, Batman: Reborn, and Grant Morrison’s return to Batman with the phenomenal Batman and Robin series starring Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone