For those who hated Grant Morrison's run on "Batman" with its obtuse mysteries, references to old comics, and not-quite-real realities, well, sorry to say that Neil Gaiman may not be the savior you've been awaiting. For those who loved Morrison's work, Gaiman continues in that tradition, albeit in a more whimsical and, dare I say, fun manner.
With a title like "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" most expected something similar to Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and it's surprising to find that this seems more in line with Morrison's recent work than Moore's classic tale. In Moore's, we were told the final adventure of Superman, but, here, Gaiman provides two stories of how Batman died. And this is just the first chapter, so more tales of the death of Batman are almost certainly on the way.
The issue begins with various acquaintances of Batman, both friends and enemies, coming together for his memorial service. His body lies in a casket and Alfred greets people at the door, directing them where to sit. However, those that arrive don't all fit with who the characters are supposed to be. Why does the Riddler call himself "Riddle Man"? Is that the Oliver Queen from "The Dark Knight Returns" heading towards the building? And why do Selina Kyle and Alfred both deliver two conflicting stories about Batman's career and death, neither of which match up with any previously told stories? The readers aren't the only ones with questions as it seems a confused Batman is somehow watching the events and talking with a mysterious person who knows what's going on.
The two stories of Batman's life and death are very interesting, Kyle's focusing on their relationship, while Alfred's is more daring as he details not just Batman's life, but how Gotham came to be filled with so many costumed criminals. It's not exactly clear what Gaiman is setting up here, but the sheer joy and entertainment readers will get from these altered visions of Batman's life is assured. Not only that, but the arrivals of some characters is handled in some very funny ways.
I've never been the biggest Andy Kubert fan, but his work here matches Gaiman's writing quite well. It's got the same lighthearted quality, which is odd considering the subject matter. He has little difficulty illustrating the differing versions of Batman and other characters, highlighted best in the bonus sketch material included. Purposeful thought was put into each and every character here, and it shows.
While the style may differ, like Moore's ode to Superman, Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert deliver the first part of what looks to be an homage to the past seven decades of Batman stories. The mystery of what's going on may drive the plot, but the stories of how others view the Dark Knight are the real core of this story. Fans of Morrison's run will certainly enjoy what's going on and, hopefully, everyone else will, too.