Or – “I Almost Marked This As A Retro Review…”


Because “This Just In: Former Batman Bruce Wayne Is Pretty Much Mostly Dead, But Also Somehow Drawing Cave Paintings In The Pleistocene Era” is just too unwieldy as it rolls off the tongue…

Previously, on Detective Comics:  The Batman has faced tests of mind, of body, of will, but seldom has he DC2.jpgbeen so sorely tested as he was in recent months.  A mysterious madman pretending to be his dead father martialed a conspiracy against him, a machine of vengeance which played on his weaknesses, preyed on his humanity, and forced him out of his persona as the flawless protector of the night and into a land of madness.  The mind of the Batman finally snapped, proving that even the Dark Knight can go El Bonzo Seco given the right impetus.  Fortunately for Gotham City, Bruce is a paranoid %$&@er and built hypnotic failsafes into his mind: The Batman of Zur En Arrh.  In this alternate identity, he was able to overcome the ghost of his father, the betrayal of his lady love, the return of the Joker, and physical damage that would have killed a lesser man.  Sadly, roughly seven minutes later, he was captured by Darkseid, and seemingly gave his life to take out the lord of Apokalips.  The world is in mourning, but, true to the “Urban Legend” that the Batman aspired to be, there are many rumors swirling about his demise.  While some of them are biased and some of them are incomplete, no one can say that any of them are entirely wrong…  This is the story of what REALLY happened to the Caped Crusader on the day that he died…

We open with a first-person narration by a confused Batman.  “I am attending…  I SEEM to be attending…  my own funeral.”  He witnesses friends, enemies, villains, lovers, all stepping forward to see how THEIR Batman died, and each story tells of a different life, a different demise, but the grief is always the same.  The 50’s Batgirl stands up and explains how her oh-so-very Silver Age Batman croaked, while a Brian Bolland-y “Killing Joke” version of the Harlequin of Hate tells how he murdered Batman.  A Robin who looks much like Burt Ward tells us how Batman always did the impossible, explaining why he uses his catchphrase.  “He was holy.  He never gave up.  No matter what, and over and over again, he’d pull off a miracle.”  Andanimated series Clayface, a Harvey Bullock who looks as though he was drawn by Norm Breyfogle, an incredible rendition of a Neal Adams Ras Al Ghul, even Superman tells of the last days of the Batman as we watch.  The artistic feats of Andy Kubert in this issue are amazing, just as they were in Part One, where he emulated Dick Sprang’s Joker, and the old-school 40’s-era Catwoman.  It’s a really impressive piece of work, all around.  Suddenly, our point of view changes, as Batman suddenly notices something in the background that he had missed.  “That door…  Was it there before?” 

He is compelled to move through the door, towards a bright shaft of light, realizing exactly what this is for the first time…  “This is what a brain does when your dying, isn’t it?”  The bright light, the out of body experience…  The only thing missing is the appearance of your dead loved ones, right?  A shadowy figure steps forth, in her cloche hat and string of pearls, and Batman realizes that his knows her.  “Don’t I?…  Mother.”  She smiles, and asks what it is that he learned from watching his own funeral, and Batman doesn’t understand.  But, the mind that unlocks a thousand riddles quickly goes to work, and realizes what the truth has to be.  “The end of the story of Batman is, he’s dead.  Because, in the end, The Batman dies.  What ELSE am I going to do?  Retire and play golf?  I fight until I drop, and one day…  I will drop.”  Martha Wayne agrees, and tells him that this is the only way the story can end, the only way it could…  “Because no matter HOW many lives you save, you can’t bring us back,” she says sadly.  Martha remembers how much he loved a particular storybook when he was young, one that seems familiar, yet unfamiliar.  She remembers him reading it to her on the night they went to see Zorro, and the fateful moments that came later…  A shadow in Crime Alley, a string of pearls breaking, a child kneeling in the glow of a streetlight as his world is forever shattered.  “You’re done now, Bruce…  THIS time,” she says.  “You can stop fighting now…”  She reminds him of the book, and Bruce is suddenly a child again, saying goodbye to Wayne Manor, to his cave, his souvenirs, to family, friends, and enemies, his vision moving upward, up in to the night sky, towards a distant Bat-signal…  which changes, slowly, into a pair of hands, which reach down and pull up a newborn babe.  The nurse announces that it’s a boy, and hands the child to young Martha Wayne, who smiles.  “Hello, Bruce.”

Wow…  Unlike many comics fans, I don’t consider Batman to be a favorite character.  There are certainly good stories about him, and even some bad ones that I hold dear to my heart.  Batman, for me, transcends character, existing more as almost a genre unto himself, a blank slate upon which so many stories, so many different takes can be done.  I love Englehart and Rogers, and the laughing fish.  I love O’Neil and Adams, and the love-god who Ras admired and Talia loved.  I love the fun-loving, square-jawed big brother who slapped Robin heartily on the back as they leapt into their always-non-fatal adventure.  I enjoy the old man who snarks that he wears a target because he can’t armor his head.  They’re all good, they’re all Batman, and, most of all, THEY’RE ALL VALID.  Each is a perfectly legitimate take on the phenomenon of Batman, and each is somebody’s favorite.  So, when I say that I don’t care for Batman comics, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love me some Batman, and finally, somebody gets it.  Neil Gaiman has crafted a loving farewell here to all the Batmen, be they Dark Knight, Caped Crusader, Gotham Guardian, or even Adam West…  If y’all ever cared about Bruce Wayne, this issue has a moment for you.  Years ago, in the wake of the original Crisis, Alan Moore did a two-issue farewell to the Silver Age Superman, “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?”  I know I pull this card a lot, but I WAS THERE, and I remember how game-changing these issues were, how this felt like  a real farewell, though even then my proto-comic-geek mind suspected that a reboot was around the corner.  Like that story did two decades ago, this issue (and the previous one) pulls off what it needed to do:  to overcome the confusing bits about Batman’s latest demise.  It’s not about Final Crisis, about editorial decisions made for the trade, about Grant Morrison feeling that Batman needed to die with a gun in his hand.  This is about the Batman, and what happens when he dies, and why he will always live again, and it’s beautifully done.  Detective Comics #853 earns 5 out of 5 stars from me, for going beyond any current interpretation, any editorial preference, any artist’s vision, and treating the entire history of Batman with equal reverence and respect…  This is what I wish more comics were like.


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Ricco
    April 24, 2009 at 10:01 am — Reply

    This was superb, touching and true to the Batman, unlike a certain 3 part bat related serie with a billion and half tie-ins *cough*Battleforthecashcow*cough*

    When you think Morrison will return to the Batman comic and not this guy, it just kills me man…

  2. ~wyntermute~
    April 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm — Reply

    Morrison can’t write “real” books, and Gaiman can (apparently — as stated elsewhere, I haven’t read any of them). That is apparently one of the things that keeps N.G. away from the periodicals… As an author of a novel, you get royalties and advances and all sorts of wonderful perks. As the writer of a comic book starring a company-owned property, you get a paycheck. There. I hope my “real books” thing makes more sense now, because I was not trying to demean the medium known as sequential art. :D

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