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Sunday Slugfest: Batman #686

Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009
By: Thom Young

Neil Gaiman
Andy Kubert (p), Scott Williams (i), and Alex Sinclair (colors)
DC Comics
"Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” Part One

[Editor’s Note: Most (if not all) of the following reviews contain spoilers. Thus, you should read them at your own risk if you have not yet read this issue and want to be surprised by certain events.]

Paul Brian McCoy:

Kyle Garret:

Dave Wallace:

Jon Judy:

Thom Young:




Paul Brian McCoy:

Well, this is probably going to be very short.

This is an excellent comic. There's a bit of mystery, as we hear Batman observing the story while talking to an unidentified woman who sidesteps the obvious question "Are you death?" with "I don't think death is a person, Bruce." It's intriguing and nicely seeded throughout the issue. The story itself is broken into internal narratives as Selina Kyle and Alfred stand before Batman's coffin and tell different stories of how he died.

Yes, stories, plural.

Selina’s is a romantic fantasy with a Robin Hood twist at the end, and Alfred's history as an actor takes center stage as he reveals the (a?) secret behind Batman's Rogues Gallery. Both stories are concise and well written, providing a very satisfying look into the possibilities allowed by the Batman conceit--from romantic hero to tortured madman. And it's all set in the backroom of a Crime Alley bar that exists outside of time and that’s populated with characters from nearly every incarnation of Batman from 1939 on. This is exactly what I expect from Neil Gaiman.

The art is a treat as well, with the various incarnations of characters all being rendered in their distinctive original styles. Andy Kubert is essentially channeling everyone who's ever drawn the Caped Crusader, and there is nary a misstep. Fans of Easter Eggs and Treasure Hunts will enjoy trying to identify all the characters in the crowded room and figuring out where each originates in the aggregation of Batman interpretations.

My only complaint is that it's broken into two parts for no real reason. It would be much better served as a double-sized issue that tells the tale from start to finish. I wonder if it will eventually be collected by itself or grouped with other stories? It would make a nice, but slim, hardback volume.




Kyle Garret:

I might be weird, but the one question I had after reading this, the first part of the last story of the Bruce Wayne Batman (did you get all that?) was: who at DC was actually smart enough to get Neil Gaiman to write this?

I don’t know that there’s another writer in the industry who could have produced this story. There is such a fine line required here, a balance between then enormous history of Batman and the necessary imaginary nature of his funeral, that only someone with Gaiman’s skills and, let’s face it, bibliography could put together.

Okay, I lied, I had a second question: was it previously established that Alfred’s dad’s name was Jarvis, or is that a nod to the Avengers’ butler?

There’s a lot to love about this issue. Gaiman and Andy Kubert manage to mix together multiple disparate elements from the Dark Knight’s history in all his various incarnations and mediums. In one page, they give us Damian from Morrison’s Batman run, the one-armed Ollie from The Dark Knight Returns, a Bullock and a Montoya who are clearly partners, a Penguin who looks a lot like Burgess Meredith, a very Batman: The Animated Series-looking Joker complete with a Harley who calls him “puddin’,” and a Dick Grayson of undetermined age. That’s just one page! Even better, it’s one page that is more or less devoid of any plot movement, it’s just there to establish setting and tone.

So where are we? When are we? What’s going on?

As far as the story is concerned, it’s Batman’s funeral, held in the back room of the Dew Drop Inn, and all of the Caped Crusader’s family, friends, and enemies are in attendance. From there we hear stories from Catwoman and Alfred, both covering how it is they came to know Batman, and how they are each personally responsible for his death.

It’s no mistake that their stories contradict one another. It’s also no mistake that both stories make their narrators out to be both Batman’s friend and his enemy. The cat burglar goes legit and opens a pet store; the loyal butler who hires his actor friends to become colorful villains for Batman to fight. The ambiguity is intentional. This story is real, but it isn’t. Batman is dead, but he isn’t. We’re in a grey area here, where all things have happened, but none of them are in continuity.

Like I said, it’s a fine line, but Gaiman and Kubert lead us down it beautifully. There are plenty of fantastic changes in the art to reference other stories, but my favorite is the two-page death scene that takes place in Selina’s pet store. It wouldn’t take much to convince me that these are missing David Mazzucchelli pages from Batman: Year One.

I am, of course, neglecting the obvious question: who are the two people narrating this story? One claims to be Batman, the other seems to be a woman--as suggested by the shadows on the last page. The denial in the final dialogue--“I don’t think death is a person, Bruce”--and the fact that Gaiman is the writer would suggest that death is a person, and that’s exactly who the female narrator is.

My guess, though, is that it’s Martha Wayne--which would make a nice contrast to the father-heavy stories we’ve gotten since Morrison took over the book.

I’ll be honest: I feel a little bad about reviewing this story after only the first part. The fine line I keep mentioning could go astray in the next issue. But I have more faith in this creative team than that; this issue alone gives them plenty of rope to run with as far as I’m concerned. Here’s hoping the second half of this story is as enjoyable as the first.




Dave Wallace:

Batman #686 sees writer Neil Gaiman collaborate with returning artist Andy Kubert to provide the first chapter of a two-part story that appears to have been inspired by Alan Moore’s well-loved ‘final’ Superman tale, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?. Unlike Moore, Gaiman doesn’t appear to be telling a story that portrays the final days of his hero in a literal fashion. Instead, his is an ambiguous, dreamlike tale that weaves multiple character perspectives into a single narrative to give us several possible accounts of the last days of Batman.

The book’s structure makes use of a story-within-a-story framing device reminiscent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with different figures from Batman’s life gathering at his wake in order to tell their own versions of the story of his death. In this issue, we’re treated to “The Cat-Woman’s Tale” and “The Gentleman’s Gentleman’s Tale,” in which Selina Kyle and Alfred Pennyworth, respectively, relate their own takes on Batman’s demise.

The two characters are unreliable narrators (an unseen Batman is co-narrating the issue, and he tells us that the narrators of the tales are unreliable), but both provide compelling accounts of Batman’s death that stand as interesting stories in their own right.

I particularly enjoyed Alfred’s inventive tale in which the butler reveals that all of Batman’s most notorious super-villains were inventions of Alfred and his colleagues from his days as a theatrical actor--with the Joker being played by none other than Alfred himself.

However, Catwoman’s tale also has its merits, not least of which is the acknowledged allusion to the Robin Hood legend--a fitting reference, given the clear debt that Batman owes to that character’s heroic tradition and the inspiration that he provided for Dick Grayson’s codename in Robin’s first appearance in Detective Comics #38.

I have seen on the Internet where some readers have compared Gaiman’s approach in this issue to that of Grant Morrison, who also sought to incorporate diverse aspects of old Batman continuity into a unified take on the character. However, Gaiman goes even further than Morrison, weaving sometimes-conflicting details from many different incarnations of Batman (across various media) into his dreamlike narrative--including some versions of the character that haven’t even been written yet.

Penciler Andy Kubert plays an important role in reflecting these different takes on the characters. In one panel, the designs for the Joker and Harley Quinn appear to be based on those of the animated series (in contrast to the Joker’s appearance in earlier panels on the previous page).

On another page, the Riddler--bearing a resemblance to actor Frank Gorshin--evokes the old 1960s TV show with his talk of the elaborate deathtraps that often used to play a part in that show’s cliffhanger endings, and which would be followed by an entreaty to the viewer to return for the next episode “Same bat-time, same bat-channel.”

Smaller details are also important--such as the changing colour of Selina Kyle’s hair from black to grey in the opening framing sequence, which is an early clue that the story may not be as literal as it first appears.

Talking of Catwoman, Gaiman’s take on Selina owes a clear debt to the character’s classic Golden Age origin: the writer even tosses in a reference to Catwoman’s first meeting with Batman occurring a couple of years before the attack on Pearl Harbour (placing it in late 1939/early 1940--the publication date of Selina Kyle’s very first appearance in Batman #1).

However, Gaiman also manages to include an allusion to Frank Miller’s alternate character origin from Year One (in which Selina Kyle was a prostitute before adopting her Catwoman identity).

Kubert copes well with the complex task of mixing so many different takes on the characters--combining them with an elegance that matches that of Gaiman’s writing. In fact, this is one issue for which I’d be very keen to read the original script in order to see just how many of the visual nods were requested by Gaiman and how many were added by Kubert.

For example, I’m assuming that the frequent homages to the names of previous Batman creators such as (Bill) Finger on the typewriter billboard, (Jim) Aparo on the street sign for the bridge, and (Bob) Kane and (Neal) Adams on Alfred’s crossword puzzle were Kubert’s ideas, but it’s possible that Gaiman requested them.

There are so many details in Kubert’s artwork to enjoy--such as his re-creation of the over-the-top Joker concepts of the past and the character-based designs for the super-villain’s cars as well as his ability to make such a wide cast of characters recognisable even when many of them are reduced to mere cameos. In addition to long-established characters from the Batman mythos, recent continuity is also incorporated in the form of a wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon and an appearance from Batman’s son, Damian.

The issue includes some extras in the form of penciled pages that show just how tight Kubert’s pencils were, and just how much effort he has put into aping the style of previous Batman artists in order to reflect the many different eras of publication. It’s an impressive feat.

Colourist Alex Sinclair also deserves credit for a fantastic job, with lush tones (particularly in the opening pages) that complement Kubert’s linework wonderfully.

Finally, I can’t help but mention that for me, this issue was highly reminiscent of Gaiman’s famous “Midsummer Night’s Dream” issue of Sandman (#19), not only for its motif of stories within stories or for the central conceit of a fictionalised account of a mythical figure’s life being played out before him, but also for its reinforcement of the idea that mythology and storytelling can be as important as factual accounts of the same subject.

As Morpheus stated in that Sandman issue, “Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.” That quotation feels curiously pertinent here, reflecting both the ambiguous “truths” of the story itself and the well-worn quotation from Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? story, “This is an imaginary story--aren’t they all?”

The only reason that I haven’t awarded this issue an even higher bullet rating is that this is only the first chapter of a two-part story, and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it, the story doesn’t lend itself particularly well to the serialised format. Having said that, Gaiman leaves us with a compelling cliffhanger, keeping us guessing as to the identity of the issue’s female narrator.

Personally, my money’s on Martha Wayne (especially when you compare her appearance earlier in the issue to the silhouette at the end), but I guess that it could be Helena Wayne (the Earth-2 Huntress), or possibly even Death from Gaiman’s Sandman series.

Still, on the strength of this issue, I think that I would have rather read Gaiman’s complete story through in one sitting--but perhaps that’s more of an indicator of how much I enjoyed it than anything else. This is one of the best issues of Batman to have been published in a long time (and coming from a big fan of Grant Morrison’s run, that’s quite a compliment). Hopefully, we won’t have too long to wait before the concluding chapter arrives.




Jon Judy:

Let me start with a word about Andy Kubert's art, as conveying my estimation of it will be easier than saying how I felt about the writing or the work as a whole. Simply put, Kubert does a terrific job--and I'm speaking as someone who has never been a fan of his (although I don't dislike his art either). I've always found his work to be functional, but his storytelling here is so easy to follow as he smoothly moves through eras and divergent depictions of Batman and company while maintaining a sense of visual unity.

In other words, he depicts Golden Age Batman, Year One Batman, Marshall Rogers Batman, et cetera--while simultaneously managing to create a book that is not visually jarring or disjointed. There are a lot of different versions of characters here, but it all feels like one book.

Kubert also avoids what I imagine would be the temptation of playing up the surrealistic aspects of the story. The whole thing feels very much like a dream, of course, and some artists would feed that with dreamlike art or surreal images. Instead, Kubert plays it straight--letting the relatively realistic art underscore the surreal by not indulging in it.

Let's face it, characters like the Joker, Penguin, and Riddler are already a bizarre bunch, and the image of all of them together at a wake needs not be amp-ed up on the absurdity meter. In fact, Kubert's choice not to visually exaggerate the story serves to enhance the reading experience; the book feels all the more dream-like precisely because of the contrast between the story and the art.

Ah, yes. Dream-like.

I'm well aware that it's unfair of me to refuse to judge Kubert in a vacuum. So what if he and his brother have such large family shoes to fill? I should still judge them by their own merits. Nevertheless, I don't suppose I ever will. It's wrong of me, I know, but I can't seem to help it. Their father is a master.

On the other hand, if you call your story "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" and it is a two-parter running between your iconic character's long-running flagship title and his eponymous book, and the story is meant in some way to reflect on the character that has gone before while at the same time signaling the beginning of a new era, and your writer is a Brit who is one of the most acclaimed names in comics ever, well you're begging me not to judge this book on its own merits, aren't you?

OK, so let's judge this thing in relation to Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? In his tribute to the Superman-who-had-gone-before, Alan Moore pulled in supporting characters and recurring themes from, roughly, 35 years of comics that he wove into a single, unified narrative that made sense within the confines of the interior logic of those proceeding stories while simultaneously paying tribute to those stories and offering a stopping point for them.

By comparison, Gaiman's tribute is nowhere near as adroit. Rather than a single, unified narrative, we get a disjointed homage to various versions of Batman and Company--some of them passing by in a page or two. The background references to folks like Bill Finger and Jim Aparo are nice, to be sure, but it is a far less subtle form of tribute than the one Moore managed.

In other words, Gaiman is paying tribute by saying "Gee, weren't these guys great." Moore paid tribute by saying "Look, these guys inspired me so much that I'm going to do what they did and do it better."

It puts me in mind of the ill-fated Spirit: The New Adventures that Kitchen Sink launched back in the 1990s. Theoretically, the series was to honor Eisner's Spirit by giving modern creators a crack at the character. In practice, the series honored Eisner by giving modern creators a chance to show how inferior they were. Not only were the stories mediocre, for the most part, but they ran 10, 12 and even more pages. These guys needed more pages to accomplish less.

But the first issue of that Kitchen Sink series was written by Alan Moore, and he offered up a handful of seven-page stories in true Eisner tradition--and they were, quite simply, amazing. Moore honored his artistic ancestor by emulating him--and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Oh, yes, I can hear the objections now. So I'm saying "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" pales in comparison to "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" because the latter was more derivative? What ever happened to originality, right?

Well, no, what I'm saying is that Gaiman’s tribute pales in comparison to Moore’s because the latter is more derivative in the name of homage. Moore emulated great source material whereas "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" is derivative of its author's own body of work--a surreal, dream-like wake in which a bunch of odd, iconic (even mythic) characters tell stories in remembrance of a dark-clad, grim, departed protagonist? Oh, yeah, that scenario is ringing some bells, but they're not bells that are honoring Batman creators.

And, yes, I know, I should try to judge this comic on its own merits--but, again, I think Gaiman has all-but asked us not to by titling his story after Moore’s story.

So is that it? Am I writing this off as a disjointed re-hash? No, not at all. I think some consideration must be given to degree of difficulty, and this was a difficult feat that Gaiman attempted.

When Moore put his period on Superman, the character was about fifty years old and had really only gone through three incarnations--the Golden Age pre-Weissinger version (mostly edited by Jack Schiff), the Silver Age Mort Weissinger version, and the bronze age post-Weissinger version (mostly edited by Julius Schwartz).

Oh, sure, we can divide those into sub-incarnations--the Wayne-Boring-era, the Kryptonite-no-more-era, the Swan-era, the Garcia-Lopez-era, et cetera. However, the slavish devotion to continuity since the Silver Age meant that, for the most part, you could cleanly divide the character's existence around Weissinger. As such, Moore really had an easier task in front of him. Of course he created a unified narrative; he only had to ignore the first ten years of the character's existence before Weissinger took over.

Flash forward to 2009, however, and think of how difficult it would have been for Gaiman to create a two-part story that presented a single, unified narrative to cap off all of Batman's comic book life. Even with the devotion to continuity that marked much of DC Comics over Batman's existence, the character has had many incarnations, and that has been even more true in an era less concerned with continuity.

There is the Golden Age version, the Dick Sprang version, the post-Julius Schwartz and Carmine Infantino version, the "return to the creature of the night" version of Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil, the Frank Miller Year One version, the Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns version, and so on and so on and so on.

How could anyone--even a writer like Gaiman--pull all those threads together and weave one tapestry from them? The only way to do so would be to acknowledge the obvious: Those threads just don't belong together, and when you do put them together they are so diverse that the result is not whole cloth but a quilt. In other words, the result would be Gaiman’s dream-like story

So, adjusted for difficulty, I'd give this issue five bullets. I can't imagine anyone could have set out with the same goals and create a comic book better than this one. As it is, it may pale when compared to other works, and it may be disjointed and less than subtle in its homage, but it's still a very good read and I don't think too many Batman fans will be disappointed by it. In fact, I'm sure most of them will really, really like it.

Now what would have been great is a long series of Batman two-parters in which Gaiman wrote the "last" Batman story to all the different versions of the character--a sort of "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusaders?"

Ah, perhaps, if there is a comic book shop in the Dreaming, we may still get to read it someday.




Thom Young:

I have been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work ever since DC published his Black Orchid miniseries in 1988 (the year of his first Miracleman story for Eclipse Comics in the Total Eclipse crossover event). I also fondly recall when he took over Miracleman from Alan Moore in 1990.

Naturally, I followed his work into his own Sandman series for DC (and then the Vertigo imprint), and he quickly rose to the rank of “second best comic book writer of all time” for me (Alan Moore was first and Grant Morrison, who was doing Animal Man and Doom Patrol at that same time, was third). I read all of Gaiman’s comics in those days, and I loved them all.

However, after Gaiman left comics I didn’t follow his career as closely. I bought the novel that he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett (Good Omens) but I never read it. I bought some of his other novels and short story collections, but I never read them either. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested, but I was in graduate school in the 1990s and I didn’t have time for “pleasure reading” (similarly, I still have not read all of Morrison’s The Invisibles series that came out while I was in grad school--though I have all the issues and plan on getting to them some day).

I did, though, listen to the first few minutes of his radio play of Snow White when it was broadcast in 2001. I turned if off after the first few minutes because I couldn’t believe how horrible the dialog was. Perhaps it was Bebe Neuwirth’s reading of the lines (I believe she played the role of Snow White’s stepmother, the vain queen), but I couldn’t help but think that the problem actually was the written dialog. In any event, I switched it off and didn’t bother with another work by Gaiman until he did Marvel 1602, which I didn’t care for.

Later, I read his Eternals miniseries for Marvel, which I thought was okay, but it didn’t thrill me like his late 1980s and early 1990s work had. I began to doubt if those old comics were really that good or if my own critical faculties were just not as developed back then. I still haven’t ever re-read those old stories--but, as with Morrison’s The Invisibles, I intend to . . . someday. I especially mean to get back to re-reading those old stories since Gaiman is now winning such prestigious awards as the Newbery Medal (given for the year’s most outstanding accomplishment in children’s literature) for his novel The Graveyard Book (which I have heard is more of a book for teens than it is for “children”).

Back in 1993, when I had just started my PhD program in Louisiana, Gaiman wrote his “World’s End” arc in Sandman (#51-56), and I began preparing notes for a scholarly article in which I was going to compare Gaiman’s story to Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, which pre-dated Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales by approximately 30 years as the earliest examples of frame narratives collecting a series of tales by various narrators for the purpose of passing the time (the form appeared in Asian literature much earlier and probably inspired Boccaccio’s creation of The Decameron.

I never got around to writing that scholarly article. My notes are in one of three boxes marked “Writing Projects.” I plan on getting around to writing it . . . someday. When I do, I will probably have to include a section on Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” since this story is obviously another example of the Gaiman being influenced by Boccaccio and/or Chaucer in the same way that World’s End was 15 years ago.

So, yes, Gaiman is sort of tying a lot of the elements in this Batman story to his work in Sandman:
  • The obvious use of the same “frame narrative” device that Gaiman used in World’s End

  • The use of a bar (or inn or pub) as the meeting place for the frame narrative-- the World’s End public house in the earlier story and the Dew Drop Inn in this story

  • The dream-like quality of the meeting at the respective inns, which are just at the edge of the Dreaming in the earlier story and just off Crime Alley in the current story (in which the bartender, Joe Chill, admits he’s dead but wouldn’t miss the end of Batman’s story since he was in on it at the beginning as the gunman who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents)

  • Finally, the obvious allusion to Lord Morpheus’s sister, Death, as a possible co-narrator (with Batman) of the framing tale (I have no speculation as to who that co-narrator may actually be).
As for the tales within tale, one of the things I enjoyed about the first one, “The Cat-Woman’s Tale,” is that elements of it reflect pieces of actual Catwoman stories from the 1940s (and one story from 1950). The idea of Catwoman retiring from crime and setting up a pet store is three-year storyline that began in 1950 with "The Secret Life of the Catwoman" from Batman #62 (cover date December 1950/January 1951, written by Bill Finger) and ended in 1954 with "The Crimes of the Catwoman" from Detective Comics #203 (cover date January 1954, written by Edmond Hamilton). Sandwiched between those two issues were two other stories in which Catwoman aided Batman and the police against criminals--Batman #65 and #69 (both written by Bill Finger).

Historically, it appears that what probably happened is that Bill Finger intended for Catwoman to become a crime-fighting female accomplice of Batman and Robin (a role that would eventually fall to Batwoman in 1957). However, Catwoman’s last three appearances in the Golden Age were not written by Finger. Instead, they were written by Edmond Hamilton (the first and third of the final three Catwoman stories from the 1950s) and David V. Reed (the second of the final three). Hamilton (and Reed) returned Catwoman to her life of crime despite Finger’s apparent intentions (all of the stories were edited by Jack Schiff, who seemingly had no problem with Hamilton undoing Finger’s new direction for Catwoman).

Those three final Catwoman stories from the 1950s were eventually deleted from Golden Age continuity in the 1970s when it was revealed that Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle had married and had a daughter, Helena Wayne (The Huntress) after Catwoman gave up her life of crime following the restoration of her memory in Finger’s "The Secret Life of the Catwoman."

While that three-year period is covered in “The Cat-Woman’s Tale” in Gaiman’s Batman #686, the details in this current story differ greatly from Finger’s stories of the early 1950s. For one thing, the 1950s Catwoman depicted here takes a much greater interest as a crime fighter than she did in Finger’s three stories of the reformed Selina Kyle.

As Batman’s own voice-over narration in the framing tale attests, the events described by the elderly Selina Kyle of events that occurred more than 50 years ago aren’t exactly how things happened. Additionally, of course, the climactic end of “The Cat-Woman’s Tale” is sort of based on the fragment of a Robin Hood poem that was in Bishop Thomas Percy’s collection of 12th century to 17th century English poetry.

That fragment of the 15th-century poem contains a description on one page of an elderly woman (in this case seemingly played by an elderly Selina Kyle) lamenting the death of Robin Hood. Another page of the fragment describes how Robin Hood’s visit to a prioress for a bloodletting session (a common medical treatment in the 13th century, which is when the poem is set) resulted in his death when the prioress tied him up and intentionally bled Robin Hood to death (possibly as a revenge plot against him by her lover, Sir Roger of Doncaster).

Thus, Gaiman gives us a conflation of the Bill Finger stories and the 15th-century death of Robin Hood fragment. This conflation underscores the mythic status of Batman. Just as mythic figures of the past have stories that often are in contradiction to each other, Batman’s mythos isn’t static and various Batman tales may be contradictory.

For instance, Robin Hood’s legend is generally regarded as taking place from the late 12th to the early 13th centuries, yet some Robin Hood poems of the 15th and 16th centuries are set as late as the 14th century (and not with a Robin Hood who is over one hundred years old).

Other examples of the fluidic nature of Batman’s mythos are evident in the altering depictions of the characters in Gaiman’s overall story--from a version of the Joker that closely resemble Dick Sprang’s illustrations from 1952 to a version on the following page that resembles Bruce Timm’s 1992 character designs from Batman: The Animated Series. We also have a depiction of The Penguin based on Jack Burnley’s designs from Batman #14 and #17.

In the back, we see a few pages of Andy Kubert’s character designs in which it’s noted that the Penguin is indeed based on the Burnley version. There’s also Kubert’s depiction of a 1939 Bob Kane version of Batman as well as a sketch of Batman’s head that claims to be based on Dick Sprang’s version of the Caped Crusader (though it looks more like a Carmine Infantino version from the “New Look” Batman of the mid 1960s).

This issue concludes with “The Gentleman’s Gentleman’s Tale” in which Alfred describes a “real world Batman”--but not the version that was shown in DC’s Realworlds: Batman #1 in 2000. This is a “real world Batman” in which Bruce Wayne suffers from an obvious psychosis but in which he alludes to the possibility of parallel worlds in which Batman is not a mentally ill millionaire but an authentic superhero.

The overall effect of the Boccaccio- and/or Chaucer-inspired narrative coupled with the fluidic quality of the legendary tales of Batman’s demise work together to reveal the mythic nature of Batman. The level of Gaiman's achievement makes me confident that (despite my reaction to his Snow White radio drama and his other recent comic book works) Gaiman really is the great writer that I believed him to be almost 20 years ago. This issue (plus it's conclusion in Detective Comics #853 next month) is a story that everyone should add to his or her library.



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