2009 was a particularly weird time for Batman. A lot of the chatter surrounding the hero had to do with death. Grant Morrison and Tony S. Daniel "killed" him in the "Batman R.I.P." epic. Morrison and J.G. Jones "killed" him in Final Crisis. Of course, he wasn't really "killed" in either tale.
To quote a fellow named Dick Grayson, "Batman and Robin will never die," despite how many times they've been "killed." And 2009 really laid out, practically, why that's the case, in a beautiful way. Enter: Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert and Scott Williams' two-part tale "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"
The story doesn't take place in any exact piece of Batman canon; in a way, it's a part of all canon, hanging over continuity like a ghost. There likely won't ever be a "final" Batman story, but "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" could certainly serve as an epilogue.
The story follows the funeral of Bruce Wayne, the original Batman. Every villain tells their version of a story -- how they killed Batman. Each antagonist's tale is nothing particularly exceptional, but they all end with the great demise of the Caped Crusader. They claim they were triumphant in ending the Dark Knight once and for all. Version after version of Batman meets his end, in tragic ways, in goofy ways, in all ways -- and we as a reader wonder, "How can all of these rogues claim to have killed Batman?"
Much to our surprise, part two provides an elegant explanation. In a poetic fashion, reminiscent of the children's tale "Goodnight Moon," Bruce Wayne hangs omnipresent over all that he knows; he wishes goodbye to his Batcave, his nifty tools, his enemies, his friends -- because he is at the end of his life... or so he thinks.
We're left with an image of the Bat Signal, beaming in the sky. We get closer to the iconic image, the "Bat" symbol taking a new shape; that of a doctor's hands, delivering a baby. He hands the baby to his mother, she names him "Bruce."
Batman takes many forms, despite some fans claiming "their" version of Batman is the one true form. Gaiman and Kubert elegantly explained they're all valid, and they're all as true to canon as the original appearance of the Dark Knight in 1939's Detective Comics #27 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. In a delicate way, the creative duo explained that Batman is in a never-ending cycle of life and death, which he cannot escape. He always comes back no matter what. He's not allowed to rest, ever.
What Gaiman and Kubert eloquently show us is that Batman -- an idea -- has the capacity for immortality. It can take all kinds of shapes; it can be perfected and it can be perverted. But it can never die. While this rings true of many other ideas, religious or otherwise, it particularly rings true for Batman, a character who has an undeniable malleability.
Batman can be dark. He can also be funny. We can try to kill him, and trust us, some have really tried (*cough, Joel Schumacher, cough*), but he'll always come back. Creators will tell their "ultimate" tale, the definitive story for the Caped Crusader. But there will always be another. Definitive is subjective, after all.
"Batman and Robin will never die," indeed.