100 Days, 100 Comics #77: ‘Batman’ #686

Posted by – March 15, 2010

If I wasn’t behind before, I have completely jumped the shark now, but it’s time to soldier on. I read Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s Batman #686 eons ago, but for some reason I purchased part 2 of “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” in Detective Comics #853 and immediately forgot until last weekend when I pulled it out of a stack of my unsorteds.

As an homage to Alan Moore’s two-part Superman story “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” from Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 the premise almost handicaps a fair reading — and would if virtually anyone other than Neil Gaiman were the one writing the script. I almost wish it were titled something else, though, just so I wouldn’t feel like it needed to establish a symmetrical relationship with Moore’s work. What Gaiman wrote is brilliant, it’s moving and it so clever it will make flowers bloom from your eyes, but what it does instead of taking you on a surgical colon-cam through the title character’s world (as Moore’s tale did) is to re-evaluate Batman through a carefully aligned sequence of narrative prisms that alleviate all necessity for truth to history and continuity and boil Batman down to an essence in relation to his world’s cast members.

This issue is a page-by-page Wonderland that opens up with heroes and villains attending a funeral, and it has this sort of Canterbury Tales feel to it because Gaiman frames and cites the narrative so well. The Alfred thread is by far the most compelling element of the story and part of what makes “Caped Crusader” unique when held up next to “Man of Tomorrow.” Whereas Moore set up a kind of whimsical psychological pinball game of plot threads, Gaiman is content to let his storytelling and construction do the heavy lifting without bringing in too many fight scenes or epic memorable visuals — and Kubert does what he needs to, but you won’t come out of Batman #686 with any iconic scenes stuck in your head for the road. That’s probably the biggest weakness of part 1, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It just suffers from its name more than it should be forced to.

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