Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Andy Kubert and Scott Williams
I was tempted to let this review sit for a few days and come back after I'd fully digested this issue in its entirety, but decided it against it. I'm sure I'll enjoy this issue more and more on subsequent readings and after picking apart the numerous references to past Batman continuity, but I felt compelled to let everyone know that this issue was just that damn good and worth picking up from the get go as opposed to after I'd compiled my complete thoughts this issue several days later.
But, where to begin with this review? Well, for starters, I'm extremely pleased that Neil Gaiman didn't simply mimic what Alan Moore did with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, the work this story is obviously meant to invoke. Where Moore told the final story of the Man of Steel, Gaiman goes the complete opposite direction, offering up several varied alternate origin stories from various characters from Batman's storied past, all in a eulogy setting for the recently deceased Batman.
The main reason I'm glad Gaiman went this way is that Batman, more than any other character, has had his own fair share of 'endings' over the years, most noteably, The Dark Knight Returns. Exploring this avenue again would feel tired and wouldn't offer up nearly as many story telling opportunities and interpretations as this first half of his Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? story does.
So far, I've said a lot without really delving into exactly what happened in the issue. The reason for this is simple - it's hard to describe, but in a good way, and I don't want to rob everyone of their own chance to read and experience the stories first hand with my own experiences, which draw on what I've read of Batman over the years and my own knowledge. I honestly believe everyone will walk away from this with something different from each story.
I will say this, though, while the stories can make you start wondering, "what the hell? this doesn't make sense!", at times, Gaiman knows this and has Batman, who's narrating his own funeral, even saying the same things readers may be thinking early on in the issue.
Verdict - Must Read. One thing to note about the issue before making any judgements is that this is only the first half of the story and seems to be grounded in mostly pre-Crisis era stories, barring the "I'm the goddamn Riddler!" line, and we still have the concluding chapter (delayed until March - thanks to Kubert's involvement) to look forward to. So, at that, I'll leave most of the speculation and comparisons to Moore's work until we see how this turns out before making anymore bold claims about this issue.