Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chronic Review: Batman # 686

Script: Neil Gaiman
Pencils: Andy Kubert

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Part 1/2

We may only be in February, but this is my most anticipated "event" of 2009. Batman has been a special book lately, and I can think of no better way to cap recent events than a kind of eulogy given by the venerable Neil Gaiman.

Of course we know that Batman isn't really dead. If Mister Miracle can beat an Omega sanction, Bruce Wayne can do it with one hand tied behind his back.

And is this perhaps what we're witnessing in this issue? The story begins as friends and foes of Batman arrive to pay their respects to the fallen Batman. The Caped Crusader himself appears as a disembodied voice watching the proceedings, speaking to another invisible voice. I have no good guesses about who that voice might belong to, although I suspect Tim Callahan cracked it 3 pages in. I'm not nearly so clever.

Once everyone is inside, guests take turns telling stories about the deceased. The first is the Catwoman's tale, and the issue concludes with Alfred's story. The two tales are irreconcilable, and Batman even comments from the ether as he listens that Alfred's story is impossilbe in it's own right.

There seems to be a meta understanding in the framework here, where Batman is led to understand that he is a fictional character, or at the very least an entity in more than one reality. And that's very much in keeping with Morrison's recent work as well.

In both Catwoman's and Alfred's stories, Batman is hurt and ultimately slain by the ones who love him. I won't say more than that to preserve the experience.

Is this paying off? I'll reserve judgement until I see the second part. I find it difficult to believe that this story could be wrapped up in another issue, double-sized or not. There seems to much to say about Batman, and too many people worthy of having their say.

But this issue was a pleasure on its own merits, Gaiman has always had a gift for fairy tale nuance and suspense. It feels like something poignant is happening, and the mystery of how to interpret this wake (it's not a dream, the voice says) is certainly an itch one wants to have scratched.

One particularly intriguing bit for me was a line delivered by the Joker that appears to be a back-hand to the Heath Ledger version of the Joker. There is a young man outside the funeral home essentially forced to act as a valet for the incoming guests.

When the Joker appears and requests that the valet take care of his vehicle, the boy balks at the idea. "But you'll kill me", he cries.

And then Gaiman has the Joker reply as follows:

Maybe it isn't a slap at Nolan's "Agent of Chaos" Joker, but it sure felt like one. It's possible it isn't anything personal that Gaiman is reacting to here, since the entire issue is steeped heavily in nostalgia. And the Joker as the chaos agent is postmodern. I thought it was interesting, though.

As I said, I'm reserving judgement on this until I see the second half. I have every confidence that Gaiman will deliver something great. Right now it is something very good, and surely worth your time if you have an interest in Batman at all.

- Ryan

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