Written by Neil Gaiman, pencilled by Andy Kubert, and inked by Scott Williams.
Yep, another one from the Graphic Novels Hugo Packet!
This two-issue mini-series of Batman comics was commissioned to bring the iconic Detective Comics title to a close, and to provide a moment of closure before Batman was once again reinvented for a new audience of readers. Neil Gaiman, who also writes an introduction to this graphic novel, was pretty much given free rein to write whatever he wanted, and he produced what he felt was a story that provided a ‘The End’ for Batman.
The thing that makes characters like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman so unique is that they don’t ever end – and yet there are countless deaths and alternate futures provided through comics such as the Elseworlds series or even more standard storylines, because when you have a character who lives on forever, ageless and constantly being reinvented, it’s fun to mess with the formula. There’s hardly a character in the DC Universe who hasn’t been killed and brought back, or lost their powers, or in some way been divested of the very elements that make up their character.
Writing ‘the End’ feels like an important thing to do, despite the fact that it has little weight or sense of permanence. The truth is, nothing in a comics universe has weight or permanence. There have been so many reboots, retcons, alternate worlds, dimension-crossings that it’s hard to tap into the kind of emotional resonance that a novelist or screenwriter can summon up by killing off a beloved character.
The beauty of Gaiman’s story is that it acknowledges all these things. It is a very meta story at its heart, that shows a deep love and respect for the long, complex and utterly incomprehensible Batman backstory. The premise is that Bruce (at least, we think it’s Bruce) is witnessing his own funeral – or, rather, that of the Batman. Mourners have gathered from both sides of the law – Batman’s allies and friends, and his worse enemies. One by one, they bear witness to how the Great Detective died.
Bruce has several mysteries to solve. Where is he? How is he able to observe his own funeral? Why does everyone have a different version of his death?
At its heart this is a very simple what if kind of story, but it has some moments of real brilliance. Alfred’s story was really extraordinary, and I loved the focus on the old school Selina Kyle’s Catwoman, a character who for me has never been better than she was in the old 60′s and 70′s comics.
The artwork too, deliberately evokes several different eras of Batman, and there are many lovely touches of nostalgia to balance out a mixture of sentimentality and sharp wit in the script. On the whole this is a very readable story, which anyone could pick up but I think would mean more to those who have traversed some of the many threads of Batman’s history. It’s the first so far from the packet which I have been genuinely tempted to pick up in hard copy, if only for archival reasons.
While I’m sure this makes for a pretty slender graphic novel, being only two issues, it is fleshed out with a whole bunch of value-add content, particularly several Batman universe stories previously written by Gaiman, to which he refers in his introduction. You can see here the progression of his interest in Batman as a concept, though he has never properly “done” Batman before. The best of these is a meta-story about Batman and the Joker hanging out together behind the scenes of the comic, which should be a one page joke and yet manages to be a far more substantial and poignant piece. I also was quite interested in the Poison Ivy origin story, though the Riddler one felt far less effective and well-realised.
So yes, Neil Gaiman can write Batman, and does so rather cleverly. Anyone surprised? I think my favourite ‘end of Batman’ story is still the arc from the animated series Batman Beyond & Justice League Unlimited, but the cleverness of this story makes it almost completely compatible with almost every other version of Batman’s possible future. That’s what is so very clever about it.