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Detective Comics #853 Review

After the level of greatness that Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert set up with the first part of “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?,” they were going to be hard-pressed at matching it with the second part, and ultimately, while I don’t think that they did, the second part was still a good comic book.

Quickly in the issue, we learn how Gaiman is going to handle the whole “The first issue was filled to the brim with just two characters telling stories, so how will you handle the stories in issue two?” question by jumping into it with a variety of characters telling short stories of how Batman died. Seven different stories on six pages – and they’re all really strong work by Gaiman and Kubert, giving us heartfelt stories told in one page each (and one page with TWO stories – Harvey Bullock and Clayface).

Then Gaiman takes his best shot at telling a “How Batman dies” story without actually saying “Batman dies,” because, well, Gaiman knew very well that Batman does NOT die here. So he has Batman clearly establish that this all very well could be a Near Death Experience, or in other words, this could all be a sort of hallucination in Batman’s mind.

That’s a smart way to handle it, because, really, there was no other way you COULD play this.

Andy Kubert does a nice job with the pencils this issue, not quite as good as last issue, but last issue was freakin’ AMAZING, so it’s hard for him to repeat such success (although, it’s kinda weird that it took this long to come out).

Gaiman picks up a few notes that Morrison left at the end of his run, basically the whole “Batman never gives up” tune, which Gaiman plays well with a montage of cool Batman scenes mixed with some other possible deaths. Gaiman makes a strong point where he argues, of COURSE Batman dies, that’s the whole POINT of Batman – Batman IS going to die, and we should not expect anything other to happen to him. You basically would HAVE to kill him to stop him, so going in, it is not a surprise that he will die. I think that’s a nice take on the character.

The book ends with an interesting children’s book homage that, while well done (by both Gaiman and Kubert, who depicts the effect of a child “reading” Batman’s life), seemed a bit out of place here, seeing as how Gaiman introduces the notion of the book in this very issue and then calls back to it at the end like it was an established part of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s back story.

Still, it’s well done, as is the issue as a whole.

It’s a nice little two-part story that I think will be an enjoyable reading experience for years to come, well after Bruce Wayne is back as Batman.

Recommended.

19 Comments

I quite enjoyed it. It’s obvious the whole thing is Gaiman doing symbolic metacommentary on Batman as a character and as a story, and on the idea of an ending to the story (there isn’t one, because there will always be stories about Batman), and in that light, it’s both insightful and satisfying.

The children’s book thing is a simple and handy narrative device, useful in the context of the story (Batman did begin life as, and still is, a children’s character, after all), and I didn’t have any problems with it. It doesn’t have any pretentions of being a part of larger Batman continuity, because of course larger Batman continuity is entirely beside the point. Even more so than “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” this is an Imaginary Story.

I liked it, but I haven’t quite decided if it was really good or really bad. Then again, I felt the same about the first part. I’m looking forward to see how I feel about it when I read the two together in a row later tonight.

Has it occurred to anyone else that we more or less have a coherent, complete story for the Batman at this point?

You could start with “Batman: Year One” then “Batman and the Monster Men”.

Then, proceed to “The Long Halloween”, “Batman and the Mad Monk” and “The Man Who Laughs”.

Then, “Dark Victory” after which you could put in the O’Neil-Adams stuff and the Englehart-Rogers stuff.

Then, “Son of the Demon” and “The Killing Joke”.

The story gets sketchy at that point, but you figure the event of “Batman & Son” and “Death in the Family” are in there.

Finally, you wrap it up with “The Dark Knight” and “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader”.

That is a beginning, middle and end that fits the character and is internally consistent. I am sure that I am missing bits and you’d need to sort of combine Tim Drake and Jason Todd into “post Dick Grayson Robin”, but it sort of flows.

Thought it was very cool. Favorite moment was how the costume on the Batman “corpse” kept changing on the first page as each different “end” was told.

Also loved the line about how Batman can’t retire and play golf. Come to think of it, all “old Batman” stories have him continuing the battle in some form or fashion. From putting the cowl back on (Miller’s DKR and DKSA), running the show from the Batcave (Batman Beyond) a combination of those two (Kingdom Come), or serving as Gotham Police Chief and occasionally slipping the cowl back on (Earth-Two). Heck, in Generations Byrne just turned him immortal to avoid having him retire for too long.

It’s not just Gaiman’s fancy words — it seems nobody can really figure out how to write a Bruce Wayne who isn’t Batman in some way. And that’s just how it always should be.

I should say though: the delay between issues definitely took steam out of the story for me (Didio says on Newsarama the delay was due to a production issue and unrelated to either Gaiman or Kubert, though who knows if that’s the truth). I read both issues back-to-back tonight to make up for it, though.

Kubert’s art bothers me only in that the sketch material in both issues is FAR better than his actual art. That Joker sketch in this issue is very, very good — but the Joker in the issue is just average. It’s a shame. He did his best to alter his style in places, but couldn’t quite succeed… now, I’m left wondering how this story would have looked if the DC has the brains to get someone like JH Williams who really could have used a different style for each character and really given an impression that the characters here were taken from every era of Batman’s past. Dammit, why did I have to think of that?

Yeah, Chad, it’s a good point to note that the sketch material, heck, the rough pencils, too, look better than the finished product.

Odd.

I don’t think it’s Scott Williams’ fault, but hey, maybe.

As for the “production issues not related to Gaiman or Kubert” that caused the five week delay on the book, well, I guess if Didio says that’s what happened, then I suppose we should believe him.

Even though I have a real hard time believing it.

I’m not neccessarily sure it would be a lack of brains on DC’s part to not get JH Williams. Maybe Gaiman wanted to work with Kubert again, or Williams wasn’t free, or some other reason. I mean, you could say “this comic would be better if JH Williams drew it” in a lot of cases, and be absolutely right (especially in this case), but still.

I’m willing to believe that there was in fact a production issue at hand, if only because of the ads being seemingly out-of-date. Especially odd is that Chris Brown milk one. I’d think in light of recent events that that ad wouldn’t be used.

“Milk builds strong bones so you can punch your girlfriend in the face with some actual force!”

Brad–That’s true… and I often do wish Williams drew everything, but I think it’s more relevant here because he’s shown an ability to draw in many styles over the course of a comic, varying from character to character, and that’s what was needed here. It just seems like this story was perfect for his set of specific skills.

Did anyone notice the reference Whatever Happened To the Man of Tomorrow? on the last page, “Hello Bruce, Hello.” and Bizzaros last words.

I think that if there were no production delays on this book, I would hold it in higher esteem. As it stands, it seems like they had a crapload of extra time, and the book should have blown my mind.

Dean – I remember a while ago, during the Infinite Crisis build up, someone wrote a time-line/essay placing all the major Batman comic events into a ten year span, showing how these experiences could totally crack a man’s psyche and lead to the Batman we had pre-Infinite Crisis. I wish I could find that essay/time-line again, I thought it was keen.

Similarly, I think your set of stories is a keen idea, and I’m going to see if I can assemble that and give it a read through. Tally ho!

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

April 23, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Has anyone figured out why the Kubert Bros were so much less prolific at DC than they were at Marvel?

I actually preferred this issue to part 1. Part one was fascinating, and certainly brilliant, but part two packed the real emotional punch.

[…] the truth of the situation is that I sat on this one for a few days on purpose, just so Part Two of Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? would arrive ahead of something. That’s me all over, folks – generous to a […]

Has it occurred to anyone else that we more or less have a coherent, complete story for the Batman at this point?

You could start with “Batman: Year One” then “Batman and the Monster Men”.

Then, proceed to “The Long Halloween”, “Batman and the Mad Monk” and “The Man Who Laughs”.

Then, “Dark Victory” after which you could put in the O’Neil-Adams stuff and the Englehart-Rogers stuff.

Then, “Son of the Demon” and “The Killing Joke”.

The story gets sketchy at that point, but you figure the event of “Batman & Son” and “Death in the Family” are in there.

Finally, you wrap it up with “The Dark Knight” and “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader”.

That is a beginning, middle and end that fits the character and is internally consistent. I am sure that I am missing bits and you’d need to sort of combine Tim Drake and Jason Todd into “post Dick Grayson Robin”, but it sort of flows.

I agree, except I’d replace the Loeb-written books with good ones.

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