Book of Doom: Detective Comics #853

When DC was getting ready to relaunch their continuity after Crisis on Infinite Earths, they needed a good farewell to the then-fiftyish years of Superman stories. Thus, we were given Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” a nostalgic trek down the menagerie of Kryptonian heroes, allies and villains. By the end of the story, Superman found one final task and then disappeared.

Neil Gaiman has given us a follow up of sorts with “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” With Bruce Wayne gone, we need a farewell to seventy years of Batman stories. Part one gave us the funeral and a disembodied Bruce Wayne wondering how and why he’s watching his own funeral. Part two gave us the answers.

How do we address a long, convoluted history with twists and turns and do-overs and forgotten characters across a few universes? How do we know what did and what didn’t happen?

Simple. We just don’t dwell on it. It all happened and it was all the story of Batman, the idea. When Batman dies, his ultimate fate is that he stays Batman. It’s immutable. A dead Batman is still Batman. And why is Batman watching his own funeral with a calvicade of familiar faces? His brain is in its dying moments.

Like its sort-of predecessor, this is more mythology than continuity. To say goodbye, we have to know what we’re leaving behind. Through each vignette from the friends-or-foes gallery, we have that much more Batman to remember – for anyone who’s picked up the book at any point in its history.

Neil Gaiman did here what he does best – take mythology and find a new way to present it. And the more I think on it, the more I enjoyed this book.

Now, turning it over to Jim Doom:

This is one of those stories I’m going to have to read again.

Picking up from last month, when a disembodied Batman watched an unusually contradictory cast of characters tell their own incompatible versions of his death, this issue doesn’t bother with any more death tales and instead pulls back a little as Batman tries to figure out what’s going on. I would’ve actually loved another Batman death story, but as far as the pacing goes, I was totally cool with how it needed to shift. He realizes he’s in some kind of post-death cognitive state, which distracts him into an internal debate about afterlife versus the last flickers of a dying brain, but it turns into the long-denied farewell between mother and son, the absence of which Bruce spent a lifetime trying to compensate for.

As far as the contradictory death stories go, I look at it in two ways. I’m really not sure if it’s just kind of a flippant celebration of Batman’s crazy continuity, excused by the fact that these *are* the last flickers of a dying brain, or if this ties in to the Omega Sanction (or whatever they are called) that Darkseid shot Batman with, which would make sense in a neat way, like Batman is viewing his deaths in countless lives that actually happened as a result of being trapped in those alternate realities, and the reality that Batman recently died in has just become another part of that, and now he’s about to begin another one. It would be a really fun way of giving a post-Final Crisis retcon to decades of seemingly contradictory continuity.

But it’s such a seemingly standalone story that I’m somewhat hesitant to read too much into it, because it’s entirely possible that you’re just supposed to read this as a totally continuity-detached, self-contained thing with no real implications toward anything. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow was really just a story that happened because it could happen. There was an opportunity there for Alan Moore to do something interesting with abandoned characters, and he did, but there weren’t any implications for the post-Crisis Superman. So again, I’m not sure if Neil Gaiman has done something similar, or if the rebirth scene will actually bridge pre-FC Batman with post-FC Batman.

None of this really matters, I guess. I really liked the setting of the story, the tributes to Batman continuity and the premise that even in death, Batman is still a detective solving mysteries. If this ends up being completely detached from any relevant continuity, I’ll still have enjoyed it quite a bit, in spite of both its delays and its Kubert art (never been a fan). If it does end up bridging the Crisis worlds while also explaining those decades of continuity issues by way of retconning the effects of the Omega Sanction, I guess I’ll think it’s that much cooler.

Like I said up top, this is a story I’ll have to read again, but unlike most of the comics I buy on a weekly basis, this is a story that I’ll want to read again.

And, finally, here’s another take from Doom DeLuise:

First up, I should probably tell you that I didn’t much care for the first part of this two-part story. I thought it was a little too cutesy for my taste, and it seemed like the eventual reveal that this was all going on in Batman’s head as he was dying was a little bit too obvious.

However, that said, I think the second part will probably be a top contender at the end of the year for being my favorite comic book of 2009.

There are a couple flaws with the issue, in my opinion, as I thought the “Goodnight, Moon” stuff at the end was a little cheesy and overly dramatic, maybe even a little forced; further, I didn’t much care for the posed splash pages with all of Batman’s friends and foes mugging for their close-ups (even if the layout and design of those pages was pretty badass).

detective comics 27The thing that struck me most about the issue, though, is how Gaiman, through the various rapid tellings of “How Batman Died” by a variety of Batman’s associates, was able to so effectively build upon the main thing I liked about Grant Morrison’s Batman run. That is, the idea that Batman, against all odds, in the face of the most insurmountable obstacles, never ever gives up.

In six pages, just six pages, Gaiman shows how great of a hero Batman is, more effectively than most writers can do in six dozen issues. It reminds me of the iconic scene in Cool Hand Luke, when Luke is boxing a guy who’s way bigger and stronger than him. Luke keeps getting knocked down and bloodied up, and all the other prisoners watching keep telling him to stay down, including his boxing opponent, but Luke’s response is, “You’ll have to kill me.”

As for the art, I’m easily impressed, and I quite enjoy how Kubert brings out all of these different versions of Batman without just straight-up imitation. Subtle nods to The Killing Joke, Knightfall, Hush, and Year One, not to mention the cover that hearkens back to the first ever cover appearance of the Caped Crusader in Detective Comics #27, didn’t go unnoticed with this reader.

Highest recommendation.