Friday, November 14, 2014

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman series is the reason I got back into comic books back in 2009 and haven't left since. Granted I have been reading comics since my early teens but not as dutifully and consummately as I do now, most probably because I was too young to afford to buy copies regularly, if copies were made available to me back then which doesn't happen consistently. I have always loved superheroes and Batman foremost but back then I just viewed comic books as merely entertaining tales of larger-than-life powerful men fighting crime and evil as they struggle to win over their female love interests and keep them safe from harm. But acquainting myself with Neil Gaiman and his writing for the superb and masterful The Sandman series made me take a closer look at the medium with a newfound passion and intellectual curiosity and I began to actively pursue these feelings, only to find myself intimately more connected with Batman than I ever hoped to be.

Naturally, I was, of course, thrilled to discover that Gaiman wrote a Batman story himself and that he considers him to be his all-time favorite superhero as well. I couldn't think of a more perfect arrangement than this one and reading Gaiman's introduction where he revealed his childhood experiences about the Dark Knight has gotten me even more excited. This volume collects the sixty-paged titular story as well as four standalones penned by Gaiman himself.

If I'm going to be perfectly honest, however, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader unexpectedly did not resonate with me in a way I hoped it will. The format of the narrative was beguiling enough and reminiscent of the tenth volume of The Sandman, The Wake. During the old continuity, Bruce Wayne was killed after the events of Final Crisis, an epic DC event. This story was supposed to serve as a way to end the reign of a celebrated fallen hero in a sense that everyone in the Bat-verse, comrades and enemies alike, gathered to give eulogies in Batman's funeral. The concept was definitely interesting and in some aspects it delivered quite a punch. However, it was a limited story and the only full-length eulogies we got to read are those of Selina Kyle's who recounts all the history he has with the Bat from the very beginning (there are many easter-egg references from the canon which will amuse any long-time fan); and Alfred's shocking and poignant confession eulogy which remains to me as the best part of the entire comic book. For this alone, it's worth the reading experience.

Nevertheless, I was strangely unsatisfied of the way Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader ended. I understood the message Gaiman tried to communicate and I suppose it did get to me but not in an unforgettable way at all which is a glaring flaw for me only because this is the writer who helped me fall in love with the comic book medium because of the earnest, fantastical and multi-layered way he writes stories, so I was expecting that his Batman piece will hold the same weight for me as The Sandman did. It didn't and I suppose I can still forgive him for that. After all, it's a matter of comparing apples and oranges and that would just defeat the purpose. I still appreciated what he had offered though even if I don't think this one belongs to other definitive and timeless classics such as Year One or The Killing Joke. To me, it just didn't offer more. That probably has something to do with the fact that this is supposed to signify the 'end of an era' for Batman but we all know Batman will live on after this anyway so the impact unavoidably gets diluted and that's not Gaiman's fault. Still, this was a fairly enjoyable story.

On the plus side, the four standalones were a treat especially the Black and White comics featuring Batman and the Joker as actors hired to act on comic book pages, and a When is a Door about the Riddler which was visually spectacular to look at and read. Overall, I still believe Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader is something you can have on your shelf on display.


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